More travelers opting to ride Amtrak

With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, more travelers are rejecting the pump and taking the train.

Nationwide, Amtrak ridership has risen steadily during the last five years. But Amtrak officials say gas prices are the No. 1 reason for an 11.3 percent spike in riders nationwide so far this year.

The Cascades route, which runs between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., has seen a 9 percent increase in riders this year, with a total of 611,924 passengers traveling along the route.

The Empire Builder route, which runs between Seattle and Chicago with service to Spokane, saw an 8.3 percent jump this year, with a total of 445,525 passengers. The Empire Builder has the highest ridership of any overnight train nationwide, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

"Ridership is up on nearly every route and nearly every train across our system," Magliari said. "The single biggest reason for this passenger growth is people avoiding the higher prices of driving their own cars and trucks."

Mary McDowell, an attendant at the Amtrak ticket office in Bellingham, said she's already taking reservations for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"Our ridership is insane right now, with gas prices," McDowell said. "August is crazy busy anyway, so yeah, I'm tired. We're all tired."

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