Tennessee’s Amtrak Ridership Remains Down as State Officials Prepare Study on Passenger Rail

by Jon Styf


Ridership on Tennessee’s one line of Amtrak service has dropped considerably since pre-pandemic numbers as the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations prepares a study on passenger service in the state.

The line of Tennessee service runs daily on a route between Chicago and New Orleans that stops in both Memphis and Newbern-Dyersburg.

In the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2019, a total of 64,401 passengers used the service. That number dropped off significantly to 34,885 in FY 2020 and then was 27,124 in FY 2021.

As of FY 2021, Tennessee had 10 residents who were Amtrak employees making a combined $1,431,118 in total wages, according to Amtrak.

Overall, Amtrak said in December 2021 that ridership was back to 70% of pre-COVID levels nationwide and expected to reach 80% in FY 2022.

This comes as Amtrak announced a 2035 plan to bring service back to Nashville on a route from Nashville to Atlanta that would then connect to other major cities in the Southeast including Savannah, Georgia, Charlotte and New Orleans.

Nashville last had Amtrak service in 1979, when the Floridian running from Chicago to Miami discontinued service due to poor ridership.

After that Amtrak announcement, Tennessee legislators started a push and then passed a law asking TACIR to do a study, completed by July 1, 2023, on passenger rail service within Tennessee connecting Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

Gov. Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 2343 into law on June 1.

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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter at The Center Square. Styf has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.
Photo “Amtrak Train” by Ken Lund. CC BY-SA 2.0.


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15 Thoughts to “Tennessee’s Amtrak Ridership Remains Down as State Officials Prepare Study on Passenger Rail”

  1. william delzell

    If you improve the vehicle quality and frequency of train services, you would have a MAJOR upswing in passenger rail service. Many Tennesseans would LOVE to use a train–that is, if the train served their places. It beats wasting money on more freeways and parking lots!

    1. TN railroader

      L&N, Norfolk Southern, Chessie all stopped the passenger services decades ago because they could not make a profit relative to cargo transport. If the private companies ( who OWN the tracks) can not make it economically then…

      well read other comments here on government efficiencies

      1. william delzell

        They WANTED their passenger services to fail. That is why they made their trains so unpleasant that people would not want to ride them! These companies defrauded the American people by deliberately setting up their business to fail.

    2. 83ragtop50

      Can I please have a train stop at my front door? Oh, that’s right I somehow must magically get to the depot which is typically in the armpit of the city it serves.

  2. Molly

    Amtrack has never turned a profit doubt it ever will
    Union payoffs to politicians, lobbyists, contractors etc…
    It’s just another great suck of $$$


  3. 83ragtop50

    Just another government money pit. Last time I was on Amtrak a trip that would have been 2.5 hours by car took almost 6 hours – a portion of which was by BUS. The only reason Amtrak exists is to give the big shot on the east coast a cheap government provided transportation system. Tennessee dos NOT need any more passenger rail “service”.

    1. william delzell

      The airlines and long distance bus services are going the same way as Amtrak, it seems.

      1. 83ragtop50

        Real businesses go under when they no longer provide a service that consumers want and need. Too bad that is not the case with WEGO and the Music City toy train.

  4. Cannoneer2

    Must be bad… doesn’t benefit Williamson County.

    1. william delzell

      Cuz Williamson County doesn’t have any train service! What do you expect?

  5. Gloria OSteen

    I would enjoy having Amtrack in Nashville. We need a connection to Memphis so we could either north or south. Riding the train certainly beats trying to drive to Chattanooga or Atlanta!

  6. AWM

    Bring the service back ONLY if it can support itself. No state or federal subsidies. Feds take responsibility for the tracks and nothing more.

    1. Cannoneer2

      This will at least be more useful than all of the golf courses the state still owns and operates at a loss.

    2. william delzell

      Right now, Amtrack does not own the tracks except in the U.S.’s Northeast Corridor. The freight companies own the rest of the tracks in the U.S. Plus, unlike the airlines and freeways, Amtrack has to pay for itself instead of enjoying airline subsidies.

      1. 83ragtop50

        Amtrak pays for itself? Really? Same as the USPS?