State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Delaware

Delaware, the home of the Vice President of the United States, “Amtrak” Joe Biden, is served at its northern end by nine Amtrak routes and by SEPTA Regional Rail‘s Wilmington/Newark Line to Philadelphia. Amtrak ridership has held steady over the past dozen years, growing 0.7% from 2003 to 2014. Let’s take a quick tour through the state’s four train stations.

Starting at the northeast corner of the state, the first station is Claymont, which according to current timetables is served by 38 trains on weekdays and 14 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Most trains from Claymont are local trains, which reach Philadelphia in just under an hour. Many continue through the city center to destinations in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs on SEPTA’s Manayunk/Norristown Line or sometimes its Chestnut Hill East Line.

The next station is Wilmington, the state’s largest city. This is the state’s busy rail transportation hub. In addition to the SEPTA trains to Philadelphia, Wilmington is a stop on Amtrak’s busiest route, the Northeast Regional, and its premier Acela route. Both travel between Boston and Washington, with the Northeast Regional also offering service to Springfield, Mass., and a number of destinations in Virginia. Wilmington is also a stop on six longer distance trains that originate in New York City: The Crescent to New Orleans, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star to Miami, the Cardinal to Chicago, the Palmetto, to Savannah, Ga., and the Carolinian, to Charlotte, N.C. And the Vermonter, originating in Washington, also stops at Wilmington. With all this service, Wilmington is the 11th busiest station out of the 500 or so in the Amtrak system.

The next station is Churchmans Crossing, served by 19 SEPTA trains per day on weekdays and none on weekends. Finally we have Newark, which is also served by the same SEPTA weekday trains and on Saturdays and Sundays receives two trains per day on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional (one in each direction). As of 2014, Newark was Amtrak’s 316th busiest station, down 28 positions from its peak rank of #288 two years earlier.

As you might expect, with scores of Amtrak trains stopping at Wilmington every day but only two trains per day on weekends at Newark, the vast majority of Delaware’s Amtrak ridership is at Wilmington. Ridership at Newark surged nearly three-fold from 2003 to 2014, but nevertheless, as of 2014, 98% of the state’s arrivals and departures were taking place at Wilmington. This pie chart illustrates the disparity.

Looked at another way, this line chart shows the disparity along with the yearly changes at both stations. Busy Wilmington has held steady while sleepy Newark has grown rapidly, barely nudging its line upward because of the scale of the chart.

And now we see the same information on a stacked column chart that also illustrates the state’s trends.

Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train, stopping at Wilmington and Newark as it travels between Boston and Washington, is the railroad’s busiest route. It has been getting busier: Average monthly ridership on the route grew 15% from September 2005 to November 2014, and it experienced its busiest month ever last October when it carried more than 753,000 passengers. Note that these figures and those in the chart below do not include the route’s extensions into Virginia, which we’ll look at when we get to Virginia, nor its branch to Springfield and Hartford, which we looked at in last week’s post on Connecticut. The Northeast Regional shares its tracks with Amtrak’s Acela, which we’ll look at when we get to Rhode Island.

Posted in Amtrak, Delaware, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Leave a comment

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Connecticut

Connecticut is a state where train ridership is on a long-term uptrend, and ridership is poised to grow faster as the state advances the Hartford Line, from New Haven to Springfield, Mass., with more and better stations, and faster and more frequent trains. Ridership on the state’s busiest railroad, MTA Metro-North Railroad, is breaking records year by year. Metro-North’s New Haven Line originates in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and runs as far as New Haven-State Street, with three branches: Stamford to New Canaan, South Norwalk to Danbury, and Bridgeport to Waterbury. Metro-North serves 38 stations in Connecticut. I’ll have the ridership chart for Metro-North when we get to New York. But for a comparable snapshot of the state’s growing train ridership, let’s look to Shore Line East, which began service in 1990 and serves 14 stations on a line running 90 miles between Stamford and New London, with most trains running between Old Saybrook and New Haven.

From its low point in July 1999 to September 2014, average monthly ridership on Shore Line East more than doubled.

Now let’s turn to Amtrak, which serves 12 stations in Connecticut. Amtrak ridership too is on a long-term upswing, growing 46% from 2003 to 2014. This graph shows monthly ridership on the branch of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional that goes from New Haven up to Springfield, Mass., via Hartford. This is the line that serves the north-south spine of the state and is being improved as noted above.

From Sept. 2005 to Nov. 2014, average monthly ridership grew 16%, to 30,860. This next line chart shows the annual Amtrak ridership at all 12 of the stations the railroad serves in Connecticut, those that are on the New Haven-Springfield line and those that are on not.

New Haven is the busiest station in the state, with almost twice as many passengers as the next busiest, Stamford. As of 2014, New Haven is the 10th busiest out of the roughly 500 Amtrak stations in the country, having risen from #17 in 2003. By comparison, Stamford is the United States’ 29th busiest Amtrak station as of 2014. Bridgeport, where ridership of 80,571 in 2014 is a 59% increase over 2003, still seems low in the list of stations ranked by ridership. But it’s actually within the top quarter when measured against the entire U.S., at No. 104. This next chart shows the same information in stacked column form.

The following pie chart shows the importance of New Haven to the state’s overall ridership. It accounted for 41.6% of ridership in 2014, while Stamford accounted for 23.4%, Hartford 10.4%, New London 9%, and the remaining eight stations together accounted for 15.5%.

Things are continuing to look upward for rail ridership in Connecticut, as the Hartford Line is expected to yield at least two new stations, in Newington and Enfield, and perhaps North Haven or Hamden. On the busy New Haven Line, where two new stations were recently opened, at Fairfield Metro and West Haven, the state is moving forward to build two more new stations, in Orange and East Bridgeport (Barnum Station). Metro-North will soon retire the last of its 1970′s-era M2 electric coaches, meaning the line will be served virtually entirely by the popular brand new M8 electric cars. And the railroad, which has never had more frequent service than it does today, is incorporating lessons learned from a tough year in 2013, including numerous safety improvements and a massive track work project to improve speeds and reliability. (Full disclosure: The author is employed as a spokesman for the MTA and Metro-North.) So all in all, the future of railroading is looking bright in the Nutmeg State.

Posted in Connecticut, Shore Line East, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Leave a comment

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Colorado

Train ridership in Colorado is poised to grow rapidly with the opening of FasTrack, a Denver-area public transportation expansion that will include four regional rail routes and some light rail lines. But for now, train ridership across the state is holding steady as it has over the past 12 years, growing just 4% over the time period.

The state has nine train stations on two long-distance Amtrak routes. Six are on the California Zephyr and three in the southeast corner of the state are on the Southwest Chief. As of 2014, 55% of Colorado train passengers get on or off at Denver. Two other California Zephyr stations, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, account for another 32% of ridership. That leaves the remaining six stations to round out the final 13.4 percent. Ridership at those six stations is fairly evenly divided. 6.6% of ridership is at the three stations of the Southwest Chief: La Junta, Lamar and Trinidad, and another 6.8% is at the state’s remaining three stations on the California Zephyr: Fort Morgan, Fraser-Winter Park, and Granby. This chart shows the ridership breakdown, highlighting the sliver of ridership comprised by the state’s stations on the Southwest Chief.

Now we have two graphs that show the relative dominance of Denver. The first is the line graph. In 2005, 2008 and 2010 ridership at Denver almost surpassed 130,000 but fell just shy of that magic number.

Next we have a stacked column graph that again shows Denver accounting for more than half the state’s ridership, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction taking up another third, and the six remaining stations accounting for about a tenth of the state’s ridership.

We’ll wrap things up with a look at the state’s main train route, the California Zephyr. This is a 2,438-mile overnight route that originates in Chicago and travels to the San Francisco Bay Area via Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Nevada. I’ve taken it to Iowa twice to get to RAGBRAI, a cross-state bike ride. As you can see, ridership on the route has grown slightly since 2003, mirroring the trend in Colorado.

Posted in Amtrak, California Zephyr, Colorado, Southwest Chief, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Leave a comment

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – California

Despite the widespread idea that driving is the only way to get around in L.A., California is actually one of the busiest states for passenger trains. And it is getting more so every year. Besides serving as the terminal for four long-distance trains (the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief and joint Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle), California has three state-supported Amtrak routes: The Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquin Service. But most of the state’s train passengers are carried not by Amtrak, but by California’s four regional railroads: ACE, Caltrain, Coaster and Metrolink. Let’s look at ridership on the busiest two regional railroads first, serving San Francisco and Los Angeles, and then turn to ridership on Amtrak’s in-state routes along with the two other regional railroads.

The busiest railroad in the state is Caltrain, which serves 32 stations on a line that runs along the spine of the San Francisco Peninsula, traveling 77.4 miles from Gilroy, in Santa Clara County, through San Jose to San Francisco. Next is Metrolink, which serves 55 stations on seven lines in southern California, six of which terminate at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. This graph shows the monthly ridership on Caltrain and Metrolink:

As you can see, ridership on both railroads is up significantly over the past 20 years. Average monthly Caltrain ridership is up 149% from October 1995 to September 2014. Average monthly ridership on Metrolink is up even more over that same time frame, 158%. Metrolink ridership started out below Caltrain and surpassed it in February 2003. Interestingly, the recession in the early 2000s (“the dot-com bust”), which reduced ridership on virtually every regional railroad in the country, including Caltrain, appears not to have had any impact on Metrolink at all. Nevertheless, Caltrain recovered from the dot-com bust in a big way. Since reaching a low point in February 2004, Caltrain ridership has surged, more than doubling; it resurpassed Metrolink in August of 2007. Meanwhile, Metrolink ridership continued to rise until December 2008, and since then has leveled off.

In addition to these two busy railroads, there are two other much smaller regional railroads, Coaster, serving eight stations on a 41-mile line that runs from Oceanside to San Diego, and Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), which serves 10 stations on a route that is twice as long: 86 miles from Stockton to San Jose.

In addition to these regional railroads, Amtrak operates three mid-length routes at the behest of the state: the Capitol Corridor serves 17 stations along a 168-mile route from Auburn to San Jose via Sacramento, which gives the route its name. Interconnecting with the Capitol Corridor at five stations is Amtrak’s San Joaquin Service, which serves 18 stations along a line that begins in Bakersfield and runs the length of the San Joaquin Valley to Stockton where it branches off to Sacramento and Oakland. In southern California, the Pacific Surfliner serves 31 stations on a 350-mile long route connecting San Diego with San Luis Obispo via Los Angeles.

There are many interconnections between these services, and I like to think of them all as one interlocking system. In southern California, the Pacific Surfliner connects with Metrolink at 19 stations and with Coaster at all eight of Coaster’s stations. Metrolink and Coaster connect with each other at Oceanside. In the Bay Area, the Capitol Corridor connects to ACE at Fremont and Great America. At San Jose and Santa Clara, ACE, Caltrain and Capitol Corridor all interconnect, and ACE connects to San Joaquin Service at Stockton.

This graph shows the ridership on all of the services over the past 20 years:

Data availability varies, but all of the train services show strong growth from when data was first available. The Pacific Surfliner is +20%, Capitol Corridor, +25%, and San Joaquin Service, +54%. Coaster has doubled. The smallest rail service, ACE, has grown the most, 168%, and is poised to overtake the San Joaquin. Serving San Jose and Silicon Valley, like Caltrain it was hit hard during the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, but has come back stronger than ever.

Looking purely at Amtrak ridership, California is the second busiest state in the nation after New York as of 2014, but it was ranked #1 in the nation from 2006 through 2013. But it is a more evenly divided ridership pattern than the Empire State’s, which as we’ll see gets the vast majority of its ridership from a single station. In California, the busiest station, Los Angeles, accounted for just 13% of Amtrak ridership in 2014, followed by Sacramento, San Diego, and Emeryville. This pie chart shows the top stations in the state. The large majority of the ridership is distributed among Amtrak’s remaining 72 stations.

Let’s wrap up with a vignette about California Amtrak ridership that gets lost in the huge volume of data. On October 29, 2007, the Pacific Surfliner began service to two stations in Orange County that are also served by Metrolink’s Orange County Line and Inland Empire-Orange County Line. For four years, rider volume grew modestly but did not skyrocket, then it sagged about 25% in 2012. Service was discontinued on April 1, 2013. A few months later, the Pacific Surfliner began stopping at four stations also served by Coaster: Carlsbad Poinsettia, Carlsbad Village, Encinitas and Sorrento Valley. In its first year, ridership to those stations has already surpassed the Orange County stations by a wide margin. The changes of 2013 look like they were a good move.

Posted in Altamont Corridor Express, Amtrak, California, Caltrain, Coaster, Metrolink, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Arkansas

Amtrak ridership in Arkansas doubled over the decade from 2003 to 2013, before falling off a bit in 2014. But even with the one-year drop, Arkansas’ growth rate of 77% from 2003 to 2014 makes it one of the fastest growing states in the country for rail ridership. This post will look at where that growth is coming from.

But first, let’s take a quick look at the rail stations in the state. Running right through the middle of the state from its northeast corner to its southwest corner runs Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, an overnight route with sleepers and coach service that originates in Chicago and runs daily 1,305 miles to San Antonio, Tex., via St. Louis and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Three days a week, the train is extended another 1,423 miles to Los Angeles as a combined train with the Sunset Limited. As shown in the map, there are six train stations in Arkansas, all served by the Texas Eagle.

As shown in the pie chart below, the most popular station in the state is the state’s capital, Little Rock. As of 2014, Little Rock accounted for just over half of the state’s ridership, a pattern that has held fairly steady throughout the past eleven years.

As shown in the line graph below, ridership trends impacting Little Rock are the same as for the state’s next two busiest stations, Texarkana and Walnut Ridge. In all cases, ridership grew quickly over the late aughts and early 2010s. Using 2003 as a base year, ridership to Little Rock doubled by 2011, nearly doubled at Texarkana by 2013, and more than doubled at Walnut Ridge by 2010. Ridership at the state’s two least busy stations has growth substantially as well. It doubled at Arkadelphia from 2003 to 2013, and it’s risen 50% at Malvern from 2003 to 2014.

As shown in the column chart below, the growth at all of the stations has helped the state grow as a whole from 2003 to 2012. In 2013, ridership would have dipped slightly, but Amtrak opened a new station in Hope, which kept the state’s total ridership even from 2012 into 2013. Passenger volumes at hope grew quickly from 2013 into 2014, rising 46% in its first year of service. Nevertheless, this growth was not enough to outweigh ridership reductions at the state’s other stations in 2014.

The growth in ridership in Arkansas over the past decade has helped fuel ridership growth on the Texas Eagle over the time period. The chart below shows monthly ridership on the Texas Eagle. Average monthly ridership on the route grew by 47% from January 2004 until it peaked in December 2012; as of October 2014 it had fallen 9% from the peak, mirroring trends in Arkansas.

Coming next week, we’ll look at California, a busy state for rail ridership with four regional passenger railroads, three state-supported Amtrak routes and the terminals of four long-distance routes.

Posted in Amtrak, Arkansas, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Texas Eagle, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Arizona

Amtrak ridership in Arizona has grown significantly in recent years, and this post, part of a series looking at rail ridership in each state, will look at the factors driving the trend.

Arizona is served by two long-distance Amtrak routes running east-west across the state. Across the northern part of the state is the Southwest Chief, with daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles via Kansas City and Albuquerque. Across the southern part of the state, the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle run together as a combined train, making three runs a week in each direction.

Amtrak’s ridership growth in Arizona is mostly being driven by growing ridership at the stations served by the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle. This map shows the location of Arizona’s eight Amtrak stations, color-coded by route. The four Southwest Chief stations are red, and the four Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle stations are blue.

The Sunset Limited runs six trains per week across the state while the Southwest Chief runs more than twice that number, 14. So with the greater train frequencies on the Southwest Chief, one would expect its ridership in the state to be more than double the Sunset Limited’s. That was traditionally the case, but in recent years, ridership at Tucson and Maricopa has risen substantially while ridership at most of the other stations has been flat. So while Flagstaff has been and remains the most popular stop in the state, Tucson is catching up quickly, with a ridership boom that began in 2006 and has not let up. Ridership at Tucson more than doubled between 2006 and 2014, rising from 10,965 to 27,917.

The view in the following chart shows the evolving trend. Growing ridership at two Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle stations, Tucson and Maricopa, is the primary factor driving increasing train ridership in Arizona. And although the scale is lower, ridership to or from the lower-ridership stations on the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle has been surging as well. The number of passengers going to or from Yuma doubled between 2005 and 2012, rising from 1,993 to 4,011 over the period, and ridership at Benson more than doubled from 2006 to 2014, rising from 833 to 1,961.

You can click through the years in the pie chart below to see how the relative importance of different stations has changed over time. Flagstaff has gone from accounting for almost half of the state’s ridership in 2003 to about a third in 2014. And while the Southwest Chief previously account for a clear majority of the state’s ridership, the growth of ridership on the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle means that Arizona’s ridership on its two routes is now split roughly fifty-fifty.

The increasing ridership on the Sunset Limited in Arizona is contributing to the route’s overall growth. The route originates in Los Angeles and previously ran as far as Orlando. Since Hurricane Katrina, Sunset Limited service has been suspended at 17 stations east of New Orleans, reducing the length of the route from 39 stations to just 22. But Sunset Limited ridership has been building tremendously since the storm, to the point that it is now set to reach its pre-hurricane high, even as a shorter route. My wife and I rode the Sunset Limited all the way from L.A. to New Orleans as part of our honeymoon in July 2007. It’s a great route, and I highly recommend it.

We’ll look at the Texas Eagle’s ridership next week when we get to Arkansas, and at the Southwest Chief’s ridership in a few months when we get to Kansas.

Posted in Amtrak, Arizona, Southwest Chief, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Alabama

Train ridership in Alabama nearly doubled from 2006 to 2012. This post will look at the factors driving that trend. Alabama is served by three stations on Amtrak’s Crescent, an overnight train with sleeper service and coaches that travels 1,377 miles daily between New Orleans and New York via Atlanta and Washington. Previously, Alabama had two other stations, along the Gulf Coast, that were served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited; service to them was suspended after Hurricane Katrina. But despite the reduction in the number of stations serving the state, there have been a lot more passengers riding the rails to and from Alabama in recent years than there were a decade ago. Most of that growth has come from surging ridership to/from Birmingham. The map shows the locations of Alabama’s three active stations, in Anniston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

Of the three stations, Birmingham has the lion’s share of passenger volume, almost 75% as of 2014. The number of passengers using Birmingham rose dramatically between 2006 and 2011 and reaching a peak in 2012. It is harder to see because of the smaller scale, but passenger volume at Tuscaloosa has also nearly doubled from 2006 to 2012, rising from 7,222 to 12,290.

As seen below, the growth of passengers at Birmingham has been the main driver of Alabama’s overall growth rate over the past 12 years, more than making up for the termination of Sunset Limited service to Mobile and Atmore.

The chart below shows the comparative volume of passengers at Alabama’s Amtrak stations over the years. As of 2014, Birmingham accounts for 74% of the state’s ridership, Tuscaloosa 18% and Anniston 8%.

And we’ll close this post with a look at the Crescent. The chart below shows monthly ridership on the route from 2003 to the present, along with a 12-month rolling average. Ridership on the line has been trending upward over the long term. I’ve taken it five times to get between New York and New Orleans, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to do post-Katrina Habitat for Humanity, and Meridian, Mississippi, to get to my friend’s wedding in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s an enjoyable experience and well worth it!

Posted in Alabama, Amtrak, Crescent, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

New Series: State of U.S. Passenger Rail

Train stations can form a hub of civic life and give a focal point to a downtown. Today I’m starting a new series that will indirectly aim to celebrate that quality.

Each Sunday starting today and lasting for the next 47 weeks, I’ll publish a post looking at the health of passenger rail in each of the 46 states in the continental U.S. that have passenger trains plus Washington, D.C. Specifically, this series will feature interactive charts showing passenger volumes at each Amtrak station for the past 12 years and rider volume over time for 25 regional railroads as relayed via the American Public Transportation Association. This project builds off of my U.S. rail stations map, and, thus the focus is on intercity and regional railroads; it excludes subways, light rail services, and excursion trains. (Sorry, I have to keep the focus narrow enough to be manageable.)

This should be pretty fun! I’ll have interactive maps and charts for each state. I’ll go through the states alphabetically.

Posted in Amtrak, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

Fun Project – U.S. Rail Map

You can take the train to a lot of places in the United States. Specifically, 1,624 places in 46 states. The map you see above shows them: All of the stations on the 25 passenger railroads serving the Lower 48 States. Since most of them interconnect, I like to think of them as one system. There is also a full size version of the map.

These are the stations served by Amtrak and the 24 regional (a/k/a “commuter”) railroads that operate in the Lower 48. It is color-coded by state. Clicking on an icon will tell you which railroads and lines serve a given station, and the state and county in which the station is located.

This map is ever evolving, as shown in this log. In recent years, U.S. passenger rail has been in growth mode, with new systems being added and big existing systems adding new stations. The map does not include subways, light rail, or excursion trains.

Posted in Amtrak, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail | Comments Off

The Coolest Greenway in New York

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

Check it out! This is definitely the coolest greenway in all of New York City. It is the Hell Gate Pathway (according to signs along the path) or Randall’s Island Connector (according to media references) underneath Amtrak’s monumental Hell Gate Bridge viaduct.  This greenway will eventually connect the Port Morris section of the Bronx with Randall’s Island. For now, only the Randall’s Island segment has been built. It has that brand-new quality with perfectly-striped and marked new pavement and great amenities like these:

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

This is being built by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is slated to have the path connected to the Bronx by 2015. The path will bridge the Bronx Kill waterway over the little red bridge nestled within the bigger Amtrak bridge seen here in this kayak’s-eye photo.

Hell Gate Bridge

Hell Gate Bridge over the Bronx Kill

And here’s one more shot of this beauty from a biker’s perspective.

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

Posted in Bicycling, Bronx, Hell Gate Pathway | Comments Off