Falling Gas Prices Affecting Amtrak Ridership

When gasoline prices are spiking, rail passenger advocates like to play up how taking the train is a solution to avoid high fuel prices.

But in recent years, the price of gasoline has dropped from its peak prices in 2010 and Amtrak patronage has either fallen or leveled off.

Between them, the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief serve six stations in Iowa and for fiscal year 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, ridership was 57,611, a decline of 16 percent from what it was five years ago when 68,744 used Amtrak in Iowa.

The 2015 figure is about a 1 percent increase from the 57,238 who used Amtrak in Iowa in fiscal year 2014.

Aside from falling gasoline prices, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said patronage suffered when Amtrak experienced reliability issues triggered by freight congestion on the BNSF tracks that Amtrak uses in Iowa.

“When gasoline prices get into the low $2 or lower per gallon, it tempts people to drive, even though the cost of driving is not always reflected solely in the gasoline price,” Magliari said.

The California Zephyr stops in Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston on its route between Chicago and Emeryville, California.

The Southwest Chief serves Fort Madison on its Chicago-Los Angeles route.

Although Amtrak’s overall ridership and revenue remained fairly steady in FY 2015, patronage and ticket revenues were down 0.1 percent compared with FY 2014.

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