October 28, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

Coming back from depressed ridership during the pandemic years, ridership on Amtrak trains in Texas shot up dramatically in fiscal year 2023, compared to the previous year. 

Ridership on the one daily Heartland Flyer train between Fort Worth and Okahoma City shot up from 42,303 passengers in 2022 to 63,051 in 2023. The Flyer is a joint partnership between the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation. 

The Texas Eagle, which makes one round trip daily from San Antonio to Chicago jumped from 151,700 passengers in 2022 to 253,500 this fiscal year that ended September 30th for Amtrak.

The tri-weekly Sunset Limited which serves a number of Texas cities on its cross-country run from Los Angeles to New Orleans saw ridership climb from 57,611 in 2022 to 73,868 this year.

The increase in ridership would have been even more dramatic if Amtrak would not have been constrained by a lack of coach and sleeping car equipment during the year. Many of the national network trains ran with skeletonized sets of equipment that resulted in sold-out trains. 

Heartland Flyer

Fort Worth Central Station saw Amtrak boardings on the Heartland Flyer jump from 37,193 in 2022 to 56,708 in 2023.  The other Texas Amtrak station on the Flyer, Gainesville, saw ridership increase from 3,666 to 5,236 this year. Oklahoma stations also saw impressive increases in ridership.

Top city pairs by ridership, 2022 on the Heartland Flyer:

1. Fort Worth, TX - Oklahoma City, OK 206 mi
2. Fort Worth, TX - Norman, OK 186 mi
3. Ardmore, OK - Fort Worth, TX 104 mi
4. Gainesville, TX - Oklahoma City, OK 141 mi
5. Fort Worth, TX - Gainesville, TX 65 mi

This past summer the Heartland Fyer almost faced suspension of service when the Texas Department of Transportation failed to respond to increase costs due to inflation, resulting in a funding shortfall. TxDOT did not build inflation costs into their share of Heartland Flyer funding for the past decade. Fortunately, the North Central Texas Council of Governments stepped in at the last minute with an emergency injection of funds to fill the gap of some $800,000. The state of Oklahoma managed to hold up their end of the service from year to year.

Sunset Limited

The average trip on this tri-weekly train that parallels Interstate-10 for most of its cross-country journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles was 696 miles in coach amd 1,084 miles in sleeper class cars. 

The Sunset Limited picked up 12,000 additional passengers, compared to 2022. 

A number of top city pairs by ridership were at Texas stations. Among the Top 10 city pairs in 2023 were San Antonio-Los Angeles; Houston-New Orleans; Houston-Los Angeles; El Paso-Los Angeles; New Orleans-San Antonio and, ranked at number 9 was the 210 mile short-haul between Houston and San Antonio.

The average coach fare was $73.00 while the average sleeper fare was $450.00. The Sunset serves El Paso, Alpine, Sanderson, Del Rio, San Antonio, Houston and Beaumont in Texas. 

Texas Eagle

This daily round-trip Amtrak Texas Eagle service between San Antonio and Chicago shot up from 151,700 passengers in 2022 to 253,500 in 2023 despite a lack of equipment that some days resulted in trains with only three cars. The average trip on the Texas Eagle was 436 miles in coach class and 944 miles in sleeper class. 

Texas stations made impressive gains in ridership with Dallas jumping from 23,202 passengers in 2022 to 41,321 in 2023. Fort Worth saw an increase from 22,378 to 39,651 riders. Austin went from 15,509 to 27,508 passengers. 

A number of intrastate city pairs made the top 10 ridership list including Austin-Fort Worth (201 miles); Fort Worth-San Antonio (294 miles); and Dallas-Longview (127 miles). 

The Texas Eagle serves San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin, Taylor, Temple, McGregor (Waco), Cleburne, Fort Worth, Dallas, Mineola, Longview, Marshall and Texarkana. 

These numbers point out that with more equipment, with additional frequencies and with support from the Texas Transportation Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation that there is more demand from passenger rail service that is still to be met. 

Photo credit: San Antonio Express-News
Charts courtesy of railpassengers.org