On the way back from Portland Monday, Amtrak’s Cascades train was so crowded that the conductor was seating paying passengers at dining car tables because all the regular coach seats were full.
While the holiday helped created a nearly standing-room-only situation, Amtrak trains, both here in the Northwest and across the country, have been operating closer to capacity all year.
New figures show that nationwide Amtrak ridership is up 11 percent this fiscal year. And in the Northwest, ridership has been up steadily January through April.
Amtrak figures show patronage on the six daily Cascades trains that operate in the corridor from Eugene, Ore. to Vancouver, B.C., ridership was up 13 percent in January, 13.5 percent in February, 16.2 percent in March and 8.7 in April.
Those March and April figures were skewed because Easter was in March this year instead of April as it was last year.
Figures aren’t yet in for May, but Amtrak regional spokeswoman Vernae Graham said those figures should be “very interesting.”
Amtrak attributes about half the patronage gain to gas price increases and the economic slowdown and half to the growing interest in and availability of trains. Amtrak traffic nationwide has grown for four consecutive years even without the meteoric fuel price rises we’ve seen in the last few months.
Amtrak hopes to begin twice daily service from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. beginning later this summer. One train a day now connects the two cities, and another goes as far north as Bellingham before terminating. Track improvements and an agreement with the Canadian government will allow that train to continue on to Vancouver.
Tacoma now has 10 daily trains serving its station on Puyallup Avenue. Those trains are eight European-designed Talgo trains and two are conventional two-level streamliners, the north and southbound Coast Starlight, that connect Seattle with Los Angeles.
Since the Coast Starlight is a long distance train, its ridership is not counted in the Cascades corridor traffic.
Coast Starlight service was interrupted from mid-January to late April because of a major landslide in the Oregon Cascades.