Two thousand eight may have been a bad year for the economy, but it was a great year for the United States’ passenger railroads, notwithstanding the horrific crash in Chatsworth, Calif., on Sept. 12 that killed 25 people.
Nearly every U.S. railroad showed big ridership gains in 2008. Those at the bottom of the list below tend to be big-city, big ridership operations already, which means that movement up or down will tend to be muted because the denominator in the calculations is already a large number. Gasoline prices increased rapidly through July, accounting for much of this, of course, but ridership did not decline along with the gasoline price collapse that began in mid-July. This upholds the conventional wisdom that once people try the train, they stick with it.
|Railroad||Service Territory||Jan.-Sept. YOY Ridership Change|
|Rail Runner Express||Albuquerque region||+24.90%|
|Tri-Rail||Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region||+24.64%|
|Shore Line East||New London, Conn., to Stamford, Conn.||+17.45%|
|Altamont Commuter Express (ACE)||San Jose to Stockton, Calif.||+17.16%|
|Caltrain||San Francisco Peninsula, San Jose||+12.69%|
|Trinity Railway Express||Dallas-Ft. Worth||+11.76%|
|SEPTA Regional Rail||Philadelphia region||+11.22%|
|Metrolink||Los Angeles region||+10.04%|
|Virginia Railway Express||Washington, D.C., Virginia suburbs||+8.97%|
|Coaster||San Diego to Oceanside, Calif.||+7.25%|
|MARC||Washington, D.C., Baltimore, suburban Maryland||
|MTA Metro-North Railroad||New York City, northern suburbs, Connecticut||+5.18%|
|NJ Transit||New York City & northern New Jersey, Philadelphia to Atlantic City||+4.82%|
|MTA Long Island
|New York City, Long Island||+4.40%|
|MBTA Commuter Rail||Boston region||+1.69%|
|South Shore Line||Chicago to South Bend, Ind.||-0.43%|
|FrontRunner||Salt Lake City to Pleasant View, Utah||N/A|
|Music City Star||Nashville to Lebanon, Tenn.||N/A|
In terms of infrastructure, 12 new passenger rail stations were opened in 2008 where none had existed before, and three inferior stations were replaced with improved new ones.
- On January 21, NJ Transit opened its new station at Mt. Arlington, N.J., in Morris County, which offers service on the Morristown Line and the Montclair-Boonton Line. This is the first new regional rail station to open in the New York metropolitan area since NJ Transit opened its Secaucus Junction station in December 2003.
- On April 26, service began on FrontRunner, which expands the passenger rail network from Salt Lake City, which was already served by Amtrak‘s California Zephyr, north to six stations in Utah: Clearfield, Farmington, Layton, Ogden, Roy, and Woods Cross.
- On May 31, Sounder opened its third station on the North Line, Mukilteo, Wash., in Snohomish County.
- On July 28, Shore Line East closed its old station at Madison, Conn., and opened a new ADA-compliant station with high-level platforms.
- On September 29, FrontRunner expanded north to Pleasant View, Utah, in Weber County.
- On October 16, Amtrak opened a new and improved station at Picayune, Miss., served by the Crescent.
- On November 19, Amtrak opened a new and improved station at St. Louis, allowing for the long-sought closure of the “AmShack.”
- On December 17, Rail Runner Express opened its Phase II, beginning service to Santa Fe, N.M. at two stations, Santa Fe Depot, and South Capitol, and simultaneously opened its station at Isleta Pueblo, N.M., in Bernalillo County.
The trend of new station openings should continue until next year, as the Portland-area Westside Express Service is scheduled commence operations in February with five new stations. Right here in the South Bronx, Metro-North’s new Yankee Stadium station, with game day service on all three of Metro-North’s main lines, and daily service on the Hudson Line, is scheduled to open in the spring.
Will ridership trends continue upward? In a faltering economy with fewer job opportunities and hence, need for commuting and travel in general, quite possibly not. However, with car repossessions all over the country turning two-car households into one-car households, it’s possible that the railroads will be an increasing presence in the lives of those lucky enough to live in the regions they serve.