MN Amtrak Ridership Declines Again in 2018

Amtrak continues to lose passengers in Minnesota, even as DFL Governor Tim Walz, MnDOT and the national rail service continue to pursue a partnership to initiate two new Amtrak-operated but heavily state-subsidized routes from the Twin Cities to Duluth and Chicago.

RELATED: Are Minnesotans Being Taken for a Ride by Amtrak?

Ridership on the only Amtrak line in Minnesota, the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, has waned nearly 30 percent in recent years. The latest numbers compiled by the Rail Passengers Association indicate the Empire Builder lost another 10,000 riders in 2018, dropping to a total of 126,700 compared to 177,600 passengers in 2012.  No wonder the Empire Builder alone ran an operating deficit of more than $50 million last year.

Meantime, a check of Amtrak’s track record of arrivals and departures over the last year at Union Station in St. Paul reveals an on-time performance record of just 33 percent. Two out of three of the 715 Empire Builder trains arriving in the Twin Cities from July 18, 2018 to July 18, 2019 arrived later than scheduled, according to an online tracking website. The longest delay was 21 hours, 4 minutes on August 28, while the average delay for the Empire Builder was 1 hour, 4 minutes over the last 12 months.

Amtrak’s poor customer service has even attracted criticism from All Aboard Minnesota. The passenger rail advocacy group has notified Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) that Amtrak apparently left passengers at Union Station without a ticket agent on duty in late June.

It has very recently come to our attention that Amtrak is not filling ticket agent positions at St. Paul Union Depot, which is causing staffing shortages. This past Saturday, June 22 in fact, there were no ticket agents at all on duty in the evening. This obviously is concerning, and not serving the public well especially at a major city station like St. Paul – Minneapolis in the busy summer travel months…If can happen once, it can happen again, and we will monitor this situation.

Of course, customer service has always been less than reliable on the Empire Builder route, according to passenger reviews compiled by the website Amtrak Guide.

Top tips and takeaways from online reviews:

  • Most staff helpful, but some not, so a mixed bag depending on your train
  • Expect delays (Amtrak has to give freight trains that share the tracks priority)

Declining ridership, a miserable on-time performance record, no ticket agents at Minnesota’s main train station and spotty customer service. Why wouldn’t Gov. Walz be on board with directing millions of Minnesota taxpayer dollars to Amtrak to subsidize the proposed routes to Duluth and Chicago?