Via Ryan Avent, it seems that train ridership is way up: "Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month." Nevertheless, "the railroad, and its suppliers, have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand."
We could, however, expand train service at a medium pace to meet the demand were we so inclined. It's also worth noting a few things about the state of passenger rail in the United States. One is that outside the northeast corridor the general quality of service is pretty poor. The other is that outside the northeast corridor most of the focus is perversely on long-distance routes rather than on the short routes where the demand is. And last, on the northeast corridor where a decent train runs on a reasonable route the supply is so limited that the fares are absurdly high.
Nevertheless, ridership is growing. If we were to invest money in expanding capacity on the Acela corridor, and servicing the shorter inter-city trips (Miami-Tampa, Chicago-Milwaukee rather than NY-New Orleans) for which rail is well-suited, then we'd really be getting somewhere. This is to say nothing of adopting Barack Obama's goal of actually having the fastest trains in the world.
Photo by Flickr user red arrow used under a Creative Commons license
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