WASHINGTON (AP) – Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million people last year, with each of its routes seeing gains, the national passenger railroad said Friday.

The company has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth, recently benefiting from high gas and airline prices. The number of trips over the past year increased 11 percent over the 25.8 million taken in fiscal year 2007.

Total ticket revenue for the year that ended Sept. 30 reached $1.7 billion – also a record for the 37-year-old government-owned corporation and a 14 percent increase over the $1.5 billion taken in the previous year.

“Amtrak has solidified its role as a leader in the nation’s transportation network and proven intercity passenger rail’s relevance in today’s world,” chief executive Alex Kummant said in a statement.

He said highway and airport congestion, high gas prices, increased environmental awareness and improved Amtrak service all contributed to the successful year.

Kummant has previously predicted that annual ridership could grow to 50 million in 10 years.

Amtrak, long criticized for its reliance on government subsidies, has also been enjoying a stronger position in Washington.

Earlier this month, Congress passed legislation that sets funding targets of $13 billion over five years in a major vote of confidence for the company. President Bush, a staunch Amtrak critic, is expected to sign the bill, which also includes broad new rail safety provisions.

The bill also calls for about $1.9 billion in federal matching grants to states for rail projects. Amtrak hopes that money will encourage more states to pay for short-distance, “corridor” service.

Those kinds of routes have provided recent success stories for Amtrak, and they accounted for the steepest gains in the figures announced Friday.

The Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee, for example, carried 750,000 passengers last year, a 26 percent increase. Several other Illinois routes also posted double-digit gains.

The Keystone Service, which connects New York City, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., saw ridership surge 20 percent to 1.2 million. Ridership increased 31 percent to 474,000 on the Downeaster, between Portland, Maine, and Boston.

As usual, the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston was strong, with a 9 percent increase in ridership and a 15 percent increase in ticket revenue.

Among long-distance routes, the Texas Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio saw the biggest ridership jump, growing 15 percent to about 252,000 passengers. The Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, remained the most popular long-distance train with 554,000 riders, a 10 percent increase over last year.


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