A Solution to the Crumbling Rail System: More Republican Passengers?

Philip Bump: “Congress has delayed passing long-term legislation to fund Amtrak since 2013, instead repeatedly reauthorizing existing funding levels. The last time it passed a long-term bill, in 2008, the vote passed only after a rail disaster.”

“The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that not very many Americans use the rail system. Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system.”

“There are 184 congressional districts in which not one person got on or off a train in 2014 … Of those 184 districts, 116 are currently represented by Republicans. On average, ridership in Republican districts was about 41,000 in 2014 — compared to 261,000 in Democratic districts.”


  1. For the most extreme in the GOP it doesn’t matter how many passengers were carried in their district – they will vote to shut it down anyway.

  2. There is nothing surprising about this data. Republicans are strongest in the rural areas of the US, and public transport (including Amtrak) is utilized most heavily by those who live in urban areas.

    1. Rail is also likely not the best solution for those rural areas, at least not as a way to get to the big city — too expensive compared to the number of potential riders. Though passenger rail connecting several small- to medium-size cities has proven quite popular where it’s been tried.

      1. To be cost-effective, a passenger rail system requires lot of passengers which can come either from a certain degree of density or from a significant amount of constant traffic between major cities. That’s why passenger rail systems have been successful in Japan, China and many European nations, but generally have not been successful in the US.

        Constant traffic between major cities is the reason the DC-NYC-Boston rail corridor is so well traveled, and is the basis for Gov. Brown’s proposal to build a high-speed rail system that connects the SF Bay Area to LA and San Diego.

  3. I ride trains fairly frequently, and I always note that a lot of the people on the trains resemble me in most demographics (white, 65+, middle class, love a trip to read or nap while avoiding highways and airports) but sure do sound and look like they might be Republicans.

    I suspect Republican legislators, many of whom are approximately my age, think train riders haven’t changed since we were young and Amtrak got started: College students going to or from school and older black ladies going to visit relatives somewhere.

    Train fans need to educate legislators before it’s too late. Oh, and I’d recomment supporting a group I joined some years ago: the National Association of Rail Passengers.

    1. Where do you live / take the train? That doesn’t sound at all like the Amtrak ridership demographics from my own experience. I have seen much more diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and age…

      1. Same here. I’m in the East Coast corridor and have often taken trains up to NYC.

  4. Almighty Oil wants people out of the trains and into gas-guzzling SUV’s and trailers.

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