Amtrak is enjoying a ridership boom across Western and Central New York, with a nearly 23 percent jump in passengers heeding the "All Aboard" call.
Ridership counts for Amtrak trains between Niagara Falls and Albany climbed from 288,365 to 354,492 for the 12 month period ended September 30 -- an increase of 23 percent.
"It shows that rail travel is a viable option that's growing in popularity," said Bruce R. Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association.
The uptick, among the five highest for any Amtrak corridor, was cited in the rail system's annual report released Monday. Nationwide, Amtrak ridership for the Oct. 1, 2007 through Sept. 30, 2008 period rose 11 percent to 28.7 million passengers.
Ticket revenue on Niagara Falls to Albany trains rose 29 percent to $21.7 million from $16.8 million.
Becker, an East Amherst resident and frequent Amtrak traveler, said the numbers support what he's observed when riding the rails.
"It's more families, more students, and more business travelers," Becker said. "I think there are a number of factors behind the increase, led by the cost of gas and the hassle of airlines."
The train ride from the Depew Station to the Albany-Rensselaer station takes anywhere from five to six hours, and costs as little as $43 each way.
US Airways Express currently offers one daily direct flight from Buffalo to Albany. The lower round trip fare for the 65 minute flight is $143.
By car, the cost of the 288 mile, one-way trip includes approximately $12 in tolls, plus the price of gas for the four-and-a-half hour drive. For a car getting 30 miles per gallon, gas would cost about $34 each way at today's local prices for a total fuel and toll cost of about $46.
Buffalo area residents are served by four daily Amtrak trains through the Depew station to the state capitol, with three more connecting through Buffalo's Exchange Street station and Niagara Falls. Becker, whose group has long pushed for enhanced Amtrak service across the state, said the just-released passenger numbers add muscle to it advocacy.
"Our No. 1 issue is adding more cars to these trains, especially during holiday periods and peak summer travel periods when there are sell-outs. Amtrak only uses five-car trains and we believe that adding cars would maximize revenues and increase ridership," Becker said.
The ridership rise on Albany to Buffalo and Niagara Falls routes, which utilize Amtrak's Empire Builder and Maple Leaf lines, was the largest in the state in the past 12 months.
Amtrak's Adirondack line, between New York City and Montreal, saw an 11 percent ridership increase, while its Empire Service, between Albany and New York City, charted a 4 percent gain.
Total ticket revenue for Amtrak's fiscal year rose 14 percent to $1.7 billion. That increase reflects higher passenger totals and a 5 percent systemwide fare increase that went into effect this spring.