Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises
By MATTHEW L. WALD
June 21, 2008
WASHINGTON — Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.
And they are good news, up to a point.
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.
But 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.
Many of the long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer. Want to take Amtrak’s daily Crescent train from New York to New Orleans? It is sold out on July 5, 6, 7 and 8. Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 5? The train is sold out, but Amtrak will sell you a bus ticket.
“We’re starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints,” said R. Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.
The problem is that rail has shriveled. The number of “passenger miles” traveled on intercity rail has dropped by about two-thirds since 1960, and the companies that build rail cars and locomotives have also shrunk, making it hard to expand.