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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 05/20/2010

Demand is there for passenger rail

By Peter Galuszka

A half-century ago, Washington's Union Station was a bustling hive of activity with trains in cheerful livery from purple to green to citrus to blue and gray whisking passengers hither and yon.

Now there's evidence of pent-up demand for more train travel along routes long abandoned

Amtrak has reported that an experimental passenger train from Lynchburg in Central Virginia to Washington has exceeded expectations since it began in October. From then until March, it carried 55,025 passengers, already beating its annual goal of 51,000 passengers while generating $2.8 million in revenue, or $200,000 more than had been expected for the year.

In Maryland, meanwhile, MARC spokesman Terry Owens told me that the system had its biggest ridership ever in April, with 34,617 passengers, for a 4.2 percent increase from last April. Ridership on its D.C. to Baltimore Penn line was up 3.5 percent.

What this says is there is certainly a future for passenger rail. The problem is that while MARC and Virginia Railway Express have decent performance levels, Amtrak's performance is atrocious south of the Potomac. This blogger had to wait 90 extra minutes for an Amtrak train from Fredericksburg to Union Station in March.

Another issue is that in the first round of federal stimulus funding to get higher speed rail in Virginia, the state managed a paltry $75 million of the $8 billion made available nationally. The funds will help speed up Richmond to D.C. service by unsticking a CSX Freight bottleneck in Stafford and Prince William counties.

Obviously much more needs to be done. Riders are waiting.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | May 20, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Baltimore, D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, Maryland, Prince William County, Virginia, development, economy, energy, environment, traffic, transportation  
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