State of U.S. Passenger Rail – New York

New York had the highest Amtrak ridership of any state in the union in 2014, a title it regained after losing it to California in 2006. And New York is served by the three busiest regional railroads in the country: MTA Long Island Rail Road, MTA Metro-North Railroad, and NJ Transit. With due apologies to Illinois, my home state of New York is the passenger railroad powerhouse of America. First, let’s look at ridership on the LIRR and Metro-North.

The LIRR has long been the busiest passenger railroad in the country, a title it easily retains as reported in statistics from the American Public Transportation Association. Metro-North has been growing steadily over the decades since it was founded in 1983. Passenger railroads around New York City date to 1834, and the tracks, stations and still a few trains that are now part of Metro-North had lost ridership under previous services in the mid 20th century. Metro-North has been bringing those riders back year by year. Metro-North’s average monthly ridership has grown 33% from Sept. 1995 to March 2015, while the LIRR’s has held steady, logging a positive growth rate of 1.5%.

Upstate, ridership growth is even more pronounced. First, let’s turn to the Adirondack, a daily train between NYC and Montreal.

Ridership on the Adirondack (north of Albany) is up 54% from Sept. 2005 to May 2015. This next chart shows the number of riders traveling between New York City and Albany aboard the Adirondack, but also Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, and Maple Leaf trains.

In this segment, ridership has grown 23% over the timeframe shown. This reinforces trends we’ve seen elsewhere, that the most rural stations are the fastest growing. Now we turn to the western part of the state, with ridership on Empire Service and Maple Leaf trains between Albany and Niagara Falls, and with Maple Leaf continuing to Toronto.

Ridership has grown 49% on this segment over the timeframe shown.

Now let’s turn to the individual Amtrak stations data. The amazing thing about New York being the busiest state in the Amtrak system is that most trips that begin in New York end in another state, and vice versa. So each trip only gives “half credit” to New York. Meanwhile, in the Empire State’s closest competitor, California, most train trips that begin in the state end there as well, giving each trip two notches instead of just one. And in this next graph, we see just how dominant New York City’s Pennsylvania Station is when it comes to the New York’s totals.

With more than 10 million passengers in 2014, Penn Station is by far the busiest in Amtrak’s system, accounting for 16% of Amtrak systemwide ridership. It accounted for 83% of New York State’s ridership in 2014, while Albany-Rensselaer accounted for another 6%, and the state’s remaining 24 stations accounted for the remaining 11%.

This pie chart shows the statewide ridership breakdown by region.

Let’s look at the growth of the ridership at individual stations. First, this chart shows the entire state. At this scale, there are only two stations that even show up: Penn Station, and Albany-Rensselaer. The state’s other 24 stations all cluster in the gray mass below.

Penn Station ridership is up 18% over the timeframe shown, while Albany-Rensselaer’s is up 23%. Now let’s look more closely at the state’s other 24 stations.

For the growth rates in this graph, we have: Hudson, 36%; Rhinecliff, 13%; Syracuse, 42%; Rochester, 58%; Buffalo (Depew), 47% (while the 132% growth rate at Downtown Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station, shown in gray, made it the fastest growing station in the state); Poughkeepsie, 83%; and New Rochelle, 31%.

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