State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Pennsylvania

Railroad ridership in Pennsylvania is booming. Ridership on SEPTA Regional Rail, the railroad serving Philadelphia and surrounding counties, is up 63% from where it was 20 years ago, and reached a 20-year high in March 2015, the most recent month of data available. Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership in Pennsylvania is up 31% from where it was 12 years ago, making Pennsylvania the 29th fastest growing state for Amtrak ridership over that time frame. Let’s look at the trends and the details on ridership after a quick review of the state’s overall train system layout.

Between SEPTA an Amtrak, Pennsylvania has 163 railroad stations, the third highest total in the nation after Illinois and New York. Seventeen of the stations have Amtrak service, 139 have SEPTA service, and seven are served by both Amtrak and SEPTA, including Ardmore, Cornwells Heights, Downingtown, Exton, North Philadelphia and Paoli. The hub of the state is Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, which is served by all 13 SEPTA routes, NJ Transit‘s Atlantic City Line, and 11 Amtrak routes: the Acela, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, and Vermonter. The main routes serving the rest of the state are the Keystone Service, with multiple departures per day between Harrisburg and New York City, and the Pennsylvanian, with daily service across the state between Pittsburgh and New York City. The only other route to serve the state that doesn’t go through Philadelphia is the Lake Shore Limited, with daily service to Erie.

With SEPTA carrying most of the state’s riders and serving most of the state’s stations, let’s look at SEPTA first.

SEPTA ridership first surpassed 3.5 million riders per month in May 2008, and it reached a 20-year high of 3.66 million in March 2015. As noted, average monthly ridership is up 63% over the time frame shown in the chart, which goes back as far as the statistics from the American Public Transportation Association will take us.

Ridership is similarly up on Amtrak’s Keystone Service.

The Keystone Service’s average monthly ridership is up 86% from September 2005 to July 2015, which is as far back as we can go using Amtrak’s statistics. It is a similar story on the Pennsylvanian, where ridership is up 64% from December 2003 to July 2015.

Now let’s turn our attention to Amtrak’s station-by-station breakdown of passenger counts. Unsurprisingly, as the state’s biggest city and offering the most routes, Philadelphia is the busiest station in the state. In 2014, it accounted for two thirds of the state’s passengers. What’s interesting is that Philadelphia’s share of the state’s ridership has actually declined as the state’s quieter stations have grown at a faster rate than its big city. In 2003 Philly accounted for 77% of the state’s riders. This pie chart has the breakdown.

Next, let’s look at a stacked column showing how each station’s contribution to the state’s total ridership has changed over time.

And finally let’s turn the lens more closely to the individual stations, to the extent we can. This next line graph shows each station’s ridership.

Philadelphia’s ridership has grown 14% over the time frame shown. But its ridership is so high that all of the rest of state’s stations hard to discern. You can barely make out Lancaster and Harrisburg, but that’s pretty much it. So let’s rebuild the graph but exclude Philly. Here’s how it looks.

This shows us a little more detail. Ridership at Lancaster is up 94% over the time frame shown. Harrisburg is up 71%. Paoli is up 163%. Pittsburgh is up 38%. Elizabethtown is up 154%. Exton is up 232%. Middletown is up 228%. The quieter stations have outpaced Philly in a big way. The fastest growing station in the state is Tyrone, which grew 346% from 750 passengers in 2003 to 3,346 in 2014.

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