By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ridership on Amtrak’s Cardinal train, the tri-weekly New-York-to-Chicago route that serves eight stops in southern West Virginia, saw a 7.25 percent jump in ridership for the 2016-17 federal fiscal year, according to company ridership and revenue reports.
The Cardinal carried 112,432 passengers for the year, up 7,601 riders from 2015-16.
The Cardinal’s numbers paced a record year for the national rail passenger service, which recorded 31.7 million passenger trips, an increase of 1.5 percent over FY 2016, with total revenue of $3.2 billion, up 1.1 percent over 2015-16, according to figures from Amtrak’s annual report.
“Obviously, any time we have an increase, I’m pleased,” Riecks said, adding that the numbers were particularly encouraging, given issues with on-time performance for the Cardinal in past months, the result of ongoing operational problems with CSX freight trains on the route.
White Sulphur Springs saw the most significant increase in Cardinal ridership in the state, with 5,878 passengers, a 12.6 percent increase from 2015-16.
“I would attribute that increase to adding the business class car,” Riecks said.
In January 2016, Amtrak added a business class car to the Cardinal, in part to attract more ridership to The Greenbrier resort. The car features 18 leather seats, as opposed to 59 seats in coach class, and includes complimentary beverages and a lounge area reserved for business class and sleeper car passengers.
Thurmond — the smallest town in America with regularly scheduled passenger rail service — saw the largest proportional jump, an 18 percent increase to 345 passengers.
Charleston (9,812 passengers), Prince (2,988) and Alderson (449) each saw slight increases in ridership in 2016-17.
Huntington and Hinton saw sharp decreases in ridership in 2016-17, in part because Amtrak had previously counted riders on Amtrak coaches on the New River Train, operated four times a year between those cities, toward those cities’ passenger counts. That added about 2,800 passengers each year to each city’s ridership figures.
Riecks said he had long been at odds with Amtrak executives for adding “leaf train” passengers to the overall passenger counts at those stations.
Hinton dropped from 7,344 to 4,463 passengers, or a drop of about 81 passengers excluding the New River Train passengers.
Huntington dropped from 10,723 to 6,925 passengers, or a decline of 998 passengers (-14.5 percent) excluding the New River Train ridership. In December 2016, Amtrak eliminated the station manager position at Huntington, which eliminated ticket sales and checked baggage at that location.
“That clearly reflects the loss of the station agent,” Riecks said of the decline in Huntington passengers.
Montgomery also saw a decline in ridership, dropping from 669 to 500 passengers.
The two other West Virginia cities served by Amtrak, on the Capitol Limited route from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, also saw ridership increases in 2016-17.
Martinsburg remained the leading Amtrak stop in West Virginia in 2016-17, with 11,267 passengers, up 146 from 2015-16, while Harpers Ferry saw a 12 percent increase in passengers to 8,267.
The Capitol Limited operates daily, with 14 trains a week through Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, as opposed to six trains a week for stations served by the Cardinal. That averages out to 15.5 passengers per stop in Martinsburg, compared to an average of 31.5 passengers per stop in Charleston.