During the budget year that ended on September 30, Amtrak trains carried a record 30.2 million passengers, the most of any year since its inception in 1971. That number reflected a 5 percent increase from the previous record, set in fiscal year 2010.
The Amtrak press release announcing the record explains that outside factors--like high gas prices--combined with train improvements like free WiFi service has caused people to turn to rail travel with increasing frequency. Amtrak has certainly seen significant increases in the past decade, setting new passenger records all but one fiscal year since 2002. That the trend continued in 2011 is particularly impressive because several instances of extreme weather as well as construction caused service disruptions in the past year.
But despite America's committed and increasing dependence on Amtrak, the railroad's future remains uncertain. Last month, the House Appropriations Committee released a bill that threatens to cut Amtrak's budget by 60 percent and doesn't approve funding for High Speed Rail or Intercity Passenger Rail Service. That bill, which will be discussed in Congress this week, could negatively impact the 30 million Americans who relied on Amtrak last year.