With the travel industry in complete upheaval due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amtrak — America’s “quasi-public” passenger rail service — has been in the news a lot lately.

Amtrak’s president said the company saw ridership decline by 97% in March, though the situation has improved somewhat since then. The company is currently estimating that ridership will be at about half of its usual level in 2021, prompting some in Congress to request more federal stimulus funding for the rail service.

With that in mind, CivicScience surveyed more than 4,000 U.S. adults about their experience with Amtrak and their plans for riding the rails in the next 6 months. Overall, one-third (33%) of American adults say they’ve used Amtrak, and another 16% say they plan to do so. 

But in the late July / early August survey, only 6% of U.S. adults said they were even “somewhat likely” to travel with Amtrak in the next 6 months, and 7% said they weren’t sure.

Among past Amtrak passengers, 15% said they’re at least “somewhat likely” to use Amtrak within the next 6 months. Notably, a similar proportion of Amtrak intenders said the same.

Who’s Likely To Travel With Amtrak?

The 6% of U.S. adults who said they’re “very” or “somewhat” likely to use Amtrak soon are, unsurprisingly, much more comfortable than others with traveling mid-pandemic.

More broadly speaking, those who are likely to use Amtrak within 6 months are mostly male (62%), and tend to be wealthier, more educated, and more urban than those who are “not at all likely” to use Amtrak soon.

This is mostly in line with the typical Amtrak rider versus non-rider comparison — except for the gender disparity. It seems female Amtrak riders are less comfortable returning to the rails than their male counterparts.

Potential near-future Amtrak riders were more likely than others to say they’re planning to attend a major event soon as well. Of course, this may be at least part of their motivation for riding the rails.

These potential train-riders (58%) were also much more likely than others (32%) to plan to fly with an airline in the next 6 months as well, and more likely to fly within the next month (13% vs. 5%).

Those who plan to fly on American Airlines — notably the major US airline whose favorable customers lean most conservative (more on that point below) — have the most synergy with Amtrak in the short-term, followed by Delta and Southwest.

The Political Component

It would appear that, typically, liberals are substantially more likely to use Amtrak than conservatives, with political moderates landing somewhere in between.

However, the pandemic has made liberals (27%) less likely than conservatives (36%) to say they’re comfortable with traveling right now. That may explain why there is now little statistically significant difference in plans to use Amtrak soon between liberals and conservatives.

There’s also a strong geographical factor at play here. Those living in the Northeast or West are typically far more likely to use Amtrak than those in the South or Midwest.

However, those living in the South were actually more likely than those living in the West to say they’re likely to ride with Amtrak in the next 6 months.

Usually, a large part of Amtrak’s customer base is made up of city-dwelling, liberal-leaning folks in the Northeast and West. However, with the pandemic causing this group to be much more cautious about travel, the small number of Americans who do plan to ride the rails in the next 6 months may look more conservative and more male than usual.