February Crude Oil Derailment Took a Toll on Amtrak’s Cardinal Ridership in West Virginia

Two Amtrak routes serve West Virginia and one of them suffered a service disruption last February following a CSX crude oil train derailment.

But that did not stop the Charleston Amtrak station from seeing an increase in ridership in fiscal year 2015.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, Charleston boarded and discharged 9,844 passengers. That is an increase of 1.75 percent over the FY 2015 ridership figures.

Martinsburg, served by the daily Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited , experienced a 4.9 percent increase in ridership to 10,309 passengers.

Overall, Amtrak ridership in West Virginia fell 2.9 percent in 2015, to 54,077. Charleston was the only station served by the Cardinal to post a ridership increase.

Prince (which serves Beckley) and Hinton each saw drops of nearly 12 percent, with 2,925 passengers at Prince and 7,506 at Hinton.

Huntington experienced a 7 percent drop in ridership, going from 11,515 to 10,706 passengers in 2015.

White Sulphur Springs had a 1 percent decline, from 5,165 to 5,107 passengers. Two flag stops on the route of the Cardinal saw ridership declines of more than 20 percent, with 432 passengers at Alderson, and 295 passengers at Thurmond. The latter is the smallest town in America with regularly scheduled intercity passenger rail service.

Montgomery’s 2015 ridership of 639 was down just two passengers from 2014.

Harpers Ferry, which is served by the Capitol Limited, gained one passenger from 2014, for total ridership of 6,314.

The crude oil derailment on Feb. 16 in Mount Carbon closed the route of the Cardinal through West Virginia for 11 days. Amtrak canceled 10 trips of the Cardinal through West Virginia.

Chuck Riecks, vice chairman for government relations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and co-chairman of the Friends of the Cardinal advocacy group, expressed surprise that Charleston ridership gained in FY 2015 considering the February service disruption.

“Thankfully, they were, shall we say, in the slow time of the year,” he said. “It would have been much worse if it occurred in a peak period.”

Amtrak said the 10 cancellations resulted in a 37 percent drop in ridership on the Cardinal, which carried 4,418 passengers in February 2015 compared with 6,512 passengers in February 2014.

Peak ridership for the Cardinal came in July when it carried 10,845 passengers.

Riecks said ridership at the Charleston station has been consistent in recent years.

“Charleston’s sort of stuck in the 9,500-to-10,500 range,” he said, adding, “We never seem to crack the 11,000 mark.”

The Cardinal operates through Charleston on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in both directions.

The 2015 ridership in the capital city of West Virginia worked out to an average of 32.6 passengers boarding or detraining per train.

By comparison, 2015 ridership for other Amtrak stations served by the Cardinal included: Cincinnati, 12,503; Staunton, Virginia, 6,735; Ashland, Kentucky, 2,581; Maysville, Kentucky, 2,279; Clifton Forge, Virginia, 2,247; South Shore, Kentucky, 1,057; and Connersville, Indiana, 770.

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