Saturday, June 14, 2008

Americans rediscover the railroad

BOSTON (Reuters) - As oil prices spike, many Americans are rediscovering the railroad.

Amtrak, America's struggling passenger railroad, saw record numbers in May when ridership rose 12.3 percent from a year earlier, and ticket sales climbed 15.6 percent, according to company data.

Amtrak President Alex Kummant said the numbers point to a sixth straight year of record passengers. He estimated a more than 11 percent rise this year on its 21,000 miles of track, building on last year's 26 million passengers.

He attributes about half that growth to higher gas prices. "It depends on the service but certainly our ridership growth is linked to the fuel prices," he said in an interview. "We are up against capacity limits."

The Bush administration has sought to scrap direct federal funding for Amtrak, a for-profit federal corporation that has bled red ink since its 1971 creation. Its backers contend that passenger rail services in other countries also lose money.