FILE - Amtrak

An Amtrak train heads to its destination. 

(The Center Square) — Amtrak ridership in Georgia declined between 2017 and 2021, but a Center Square analysis shows ridership is rebounding slightly in 2022.

The number of riders in 2021 was up 7.8% compared to 2005 numbers and is less than half of what it was in 2017. In 2022, ridership is already 32.5% higher than all of 2021.

In fiscal 2021, Amtrak reported 75,988 riders, down from 84,460 in fiscal 2020 and 141,707 in fiscal 2021. In fiscal 2022 thus far, Amtrak reported 100,651 people boarding or disembarking in The Peach State, Kimberly Woods, senior public relations manager for Amtrak, told The Center Square.

Since 2010, the high mark of Amtrak ridership in Georgia came in 2011, when the passenger railroad reported 203,964 riders.

"From a taxpayer point of view, spending money on Amtrak is 100 percent bad," Randal O’Toole, a public policy analyst, told The Center Square. "The average American traveled more than 15,000 miles by automobile in 2019; 2,200 miles by airline; and 19 miles by Amtrak. Why spend billions of dollars on a mode of travel that is so trivial?

"The reality is that Amtrak is an obsolete form of travel," O’Toole said. "Planes, buses, and cars can do everything Amtrak can do for less money."

Amtrak trains serving Georgia are the Crescent, the Palmetto, the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star. The Auto Train passes through Georgia but does not stop.

Amtrak stops at five stations in the state: Atlanta, Gainesville, Jesup, Savannah and Toccoa. Numbers show Atlanta is the busiest Georgia station, followed by Savannah, Jesup and Gainesville.

According to Amtrak documents, in fiscal 2017, the passenger railroad forecast operating losses of $204.90 per passenger for the Crescent, $51.50 per passenger for the Palmetto, $156.50 per passenger for the Silver Meteor and $155.40 per passenger for the Silver Star. Those numbers are for the entire route, not just the Georgia segment.

As part of a $75 billion passenger rail proposal released last year, Amtrak wants to make Atlanta a rail hub again. The Gate City’s former railroad stations downtown were razed decades ago, and Amtrak uses a station Southern Railway constructed more than a century ago as a commuter stop.

Under the proposal, Amtrak would establish routes connecting Atlanta with Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Macon; Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Savannah.

In recent years, the federal government has sent billions of dollars to Amtrak, including $66 billion in last year’s infrastructure bill.