RALEIGH, N.C. — Last month was Amtrak's busiest month ever. The New York-to-Charlotte route through Raleigh was up almost 27 percent this May over last May.
The Raleigh-to-Charlotte route is up more than 40 percent.
So, while Raleigh’s Amtrak station looks the same on the outside, on the inside the passenger carrier is riding high. It’s seeing passengers new and old.
“This is the first time since I was 12 years old. How about that? And I'm 80,” said Louise Edgel.
Edgel wanted to get to Tampa and was faced with “terrible, terrible gas prices right now.” She said a one-way flight would have cost $263.
“I called up the train, and it was $58.50,” and that was all she needed to put her on the rails, along with many others.
Tim Carroll has been a ticket agent for 22 years.
“This is the busiest I've ever seen it,” Carroll said.
Record ridership has posed some challenges for Amtrak, however. The parking lots are packed, and the trains are crowded, but the rail carrier is looking for answers.
“We're working with the city to possibly use decks in the area with shuttle buses or use some nearby parking lots, and so we're working on that to accommodate the expansion” said Jeff Mann, Amtrak’s senior director in the area.
The train clearly isn’t as fast as plane travel in almost every case, and it will take Louise almost 24 hours to get from Winston-Salem to Tampa, but she has no regrets.
“You can get up and walk up and down, go in and have a snack without having to get up and park the car,” she observed.
Because ridership on the Raleigh-to-Charlotte route is up so dramatically, Amtrak will add a third daily train early next year. That trip takes less than 3½ hours. A trip to Washington will take about six hours.