LANSING — Amtrak has been rolling along on some pretty good news recently.
First, the National Railroad Passenger Corp. learned it had its best first quarter ever in its 30-year history. Then, the State of Michigan more than doubled its financial commitment to Amtrak for two passenger routes.
Nearly six million people rode Amtrak between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, which generated over $298 million in ticket revenue for the company. December ridership was the key to Amtrak’s record-setting quarterly performance.
For the month, the number of passengers grew by 8 percent compared to the previous year, and ticket revenue jumped 14 percent from December of 1999.
For the last four years, Amtrak has had increases in riders and revenue.
“Travelers are responding to our guarantee of satisfaction, better service and improved marketing,” said Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington in a release.
Last month, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) increased the state’s subsidy to Amtrak, raising it from $2.05 million to $5.7 million. The money was designated to keep the Pere Marquette and International lines running.
But in making the announcement, the new MDOT director noted that his agency favors spending the dollars on hardware.
“The Michigan Department of Transportation prefers to invest in capital improvements such as rail, crossings, signals and other infrastructure. But in order to maintain the service, we are more than doubling the amount of subsidies provided to Amtrak,” said MDOT Director Gregory Rosine, who was appointed to that position by Gov. John Engler a week before the funding decision.
“The subsidies will also allow passenger rail services to continue through Sept. 30,” added Rosine.
The Pere Marquette runs daily between Grand Rapids and Chicago with state stops in Holland, Bangor, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor and New Buffalo.
The International operates on the Detroit-to-Chicago route to Battle Creek, then branches off to East Lansing, Flint, Lapeer and Port Huron before arriving in Toronto.
The state money goes to subsidize the daily operations of the routes, which were in danger of being eliminated in 1999 when Congress discontinued federal support to Amtrak.
At that time, Amtrak suggested that states help with the rail’s operations in order to keep the trains running.
With the additional state money, however, comes a catch. The new MDOT agreement calls for Amtrak to make its trains run on time. Amtrak officials have agreed to do that.
One way it hopes to do that is by stepping up its meetings with the freight railroads, which own the tracks that Amtrak uses. The two sides will now meet on a quarterly basis.
Winter weather has caused Amtrak to delay and even cancel some routes in the state, including the Pere Marquette, which leaves from downtown Grand Rapids.
Business Journal calls to Amtrak headquarters were not returned by press time.
The Michigan-Amtrak contract needs to be approved by the State Administrative Board, which is scheduled to meet tomorrow, Feb. 6.
“I am pleased we have taken this step to continue Amtrak services,” said Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow, R-Port Huron.
“But we must continue to increase ridership, reduce cost of Amtrak service and the amount needed from the State of Michigan.”