MEMPHIS -- In Memphis and across the nation, more people are taking the train.
The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/YHNZuB) Amtrak ridership in Memphis has increased nearly 93 percent since 1997.
Last year, a record 73,116 riders bought tickets to or from Memphis, an 11 percent increase over fiscal year 2011.
Nationally, Amtrak saw a record 31.2 million riders last year.
A study by the Brookings Institution released last week found that Amtrak's passenger totals are increasing faster than other domestic transportation modes. Most of the growth is being driven by the increasing popularity of routes under 400 miles, such as the Memphis-New Orleans corridor.
Donna Derryberry, of Memphis, said she takes that route regularly to visit her sister in Covington, La. She told the newspaper, "It's convenient, it's cheap and it's easy."
The Brookings report says that short-distance routes carry 83 percent of Amtrak's riders. In fiscal year 2011, these routes generated a positive operating balance of $47 million while long-distance routes lost $614 million.
The increase in passengers means Amtrak now covers 85 percent of its operating expenses from tickets and other revenues, spokesman Marc Magliari said. Ticket sales alone brought in $2.02 billion last year. Meanwhile the operating grant the system receives from Congress dropped to $466 million last year.
Magliari said the increase in ridership is due to volatile gas prices and improved on-time performance of the system's trains.
"Whenever there's a big move in gas prices ... people start looking for other options," Magliari said. "And certainly, for going north or south from Memphis, we're a very good option."
Kurt Hansen, of Bartlett, recently took Amtrak to Wisconsin and back.
"For one person, it's actually cheaper than driving," he said. "It's pretty nice -- there's plenty of leg room."
O'Dell Scott, who was visiting from Milwaukee concurred.
"It's much better than the bus."
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com