Figures released by the nation's intercity rail operator show Amtrak carried 27.2 million passengers during the 12 months ending Sept. 30. Amtrak's record was 28.7 million passengers during the previous year, a period coinciding with record high gas prices.
Still, ridership was up over two years ago by 5.1 percent.
Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman blamed the decline on the weakened economy, although travel was up on some short distance routes and on the railroad's 15 long distance trains.
"In a difficult year for the economy _ particularly in the travel industry _ Amtrak ridership has remained strong albeit with some regional variation," Boardman said in a statement. "In particular, reduced business travel along the Northeast corridor prevented us from reaching the ridership we achieved last year."
The number of passengers Amtrak carries increased steadily from 2002 to 2007 before the sharp spike last year. This year's ridership appears to be a resumption of the previous growth trend, Boardman said.
Amtrak said ticket revenue for the past year was $1.6 billion, down 7.8 percent from last year but up 5.3 percent from two years ago.
Some short distance corridors that saw increased traffic over the past year:
_ Chicago-St. Louis, up 6 percent
_ Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York Keystone Service, up 2.7 percent
_ Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont, up 3.8 percent
_ Washington-St. Albans Vermonter, up 1.9 percent.
Also, the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight ridership was up 22.3 percent from the previous fiscal year, recovering from a 15-week service disruption in 2008 that closed a portion of the route in northern California.
Amtrak's on-time performance systemwide averaged 80 percent over the past year, up sharply from 71 percent in the year ending Sept. 30, 2008.