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As gas rises, travellers take to rails

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
The soaring price of gas is leading a number of travelers throughout North Carolina and the rest of the nation to turn to train travel.
Amtrak’s ridership is up markedly from a year ago.
Consider the numbers:
– Ridership on the Carolinian, which travels from New York to Charlotte, was up 9.1 percent last month as opposed to April 2007. A total of 25,689 riders took the train last month compared to 23,553 for the corresponding period a year ago.
– On the Piedmont, which carries passengers from Raleigh to Charlotte, the increase is even higher ó up 18.3 percent. This past April, the train carried 5,169 passengers. In April 2007, the number was 4,370.
– Since last Oct. 1 (the start of Amtrak’s fiscal year) ridership on the Carolinian is up 18.4 percent ó from 136,358 to 161,445.
– During that same time period, ridership aboard the Piedmont has soared 26 percent ó from 28,309 to 35,681.
– Nationwide, the number of people taking Amtrak has increased 10.6 percent since last October.
– In April alone, ridership increased by 5.1 percent as gas prices reached unprecedented highs.
“We don’t have any surveys, but we can’t help but feel that’s one of the main reasons people are choosing the train,” said Tracy Connell, a spokeswoman for Amtrak in Washington, D.C., when the record price of gas was mentioned.
“It’s the gas prices and the convenience of taking the train,” she continued. “A lot of people enjoy being able to just sit back and relax while they travel.”
Jack Taylor took the Piedmont from Raleigh to Salisbury one morning last week. His son, Ben, was waiting for him when he disembarked about 9:30 a.m.
It was a pleasant trip, the elder Taylor said, and the train was virtually empty when he climbed aboard in Raleigh. Not only did he have his choice of seats, he said, but he relaxed with a newspaper and drank a cup of coffee, glancing out occasionally to watch the scenery that rolled by.
“You see things from the train that you don’t see from the car,” Taylor said, recalling watching a great blue heron fly from beneath a bridge as the Piedmont rumbled across en route to Salisbury.
Amtrak is subsidized by the government, but advocates of rail travel point out that no country in the world operates a passenger rail system without public support for capital costs and/or operating expenses.
Amtrak generated $2.15 billion in revenue in fiscal 2007 compared with $2.63 billion in expenses.
Not all of Amtrak’s trains operate at a loss. Amtrak’s Northeast corridor trains that operate between Washington and Boston posted a $288.2 million profit last year, but long-distance routes operate at losses written into the federal budget.
Rail advocates in Congress point out that Amtrak serves many areas that don’t offer airline service and is a more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly operation than air and ground transportation.
Airline greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile, they say, are 2.25 to 3.25 times greater than Amtrak’s, while Amtrak uses 21 percent less energy per passenger-mile than cars and 15 percent less than airlines.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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