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Like the classic electoral college map filled in each Election Night, train maps don't tell you much about the stuff that counts: people.
With that in mind, Mike Hicks, a transit blogger in Minneapolis, plotted boardings and alightings on a simple state map. As you might expect, the result drives home the preeminence of the Northeast Corridor route — individual cities are lost in a foam of overlapping bubbles. The three northern cross-country routes are equally (un)crowded, while the Mexican border route (the tri-weekly Sunset Limited) hardly sees much traffic at all. Texas, for example, has three of America's ten largest cities: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
Looking at this positively, the juxtaposition indicates some areas (Ohio, Texas) ripe for additional rail travel. And then there are cities like Houston or Cincinnati that have train stations, but are stuck with second-rate service and third-rate connections.

A travel industry veteran in northern California looks at airlines, trains, hotels, car rentals, and destinations.
Although after the war railroads invested heavily in new, streamlined passenger railroad equipment for longer distance travel, by the mid-1950s it was clear that more and more of the public was leaving the rails for the sky or for their own cars operated over the ever expanding interstate highway network. Not only are the longest lines the least popular, their train frequency can be one-sixtieth that of the system's busiest lines. Using numbers from Amtrak's State Fact Sheets and a list of GPS coordinates for Amtrak stations published by Bill Ensinger, Hicks funneled ridership data into circular, geographic containers. California and the Pacific Northwest both have substantial (if largely separate) traffic on the rails, as does the Chicago area, with heavily traveled prongs extending east into Michigan, south to St. But the inexplicable lack of a direct rail connection between Houston and Dallas makes the state look, on Hicks' map, emptier than Missouri. Ohio, though crossed by regional routes on its northern and southern borders, has no train at all connecting the state's major cities.

It also makes it clear why the Obama administration has tried to garner support for a high-speed rail proposal in Florida, whose population density ought to make it the East Coast mirror of the Seattle-Portland line. Some of these, like Phoenix, are cities that grew after the golden age of passenger rail travel. Neither the service provider nor the domain owner maintain any relationship with the advertisers. Density is one factor in good train routes, but a comparison helps illustrate where there are other problems -- or opportunities -- with train service.
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