State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Idaho

The boundary between Idaho and Wyoming is defined by the meridian 111° 3′ W longitude. If the 38th Congress, when it created the Montana Territory out of Idaho in 1864, had continued this boundary northward, Idaho today would have nine train stations. Instead, Congress placed the Idaho/Montana boundary sharply to the west, along the Continental Divide and the Bitterroot Mountain Range. As a result, Amtrak’s Empire Builder traverses Idaho at the state’s narrowest point, the northern tip of the panhandle, leaving Idaho with just a single station, Sandpoint, up in Bonner County. (Montana, as we’ll see, ended up with 12 stations out of the bargain.)

Sandpoint is a stop on the Empire Builder, an overnight long-distance train that travels 1,879 miles from Chicago to Spokane, Wash., where it splits into two smaller trains that continue to Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Idaho’s Amtrak ridership, which is to say passengers to or from Sandpoint, surged 92% from 2003 to 2014. Let’s take a look at the graph.

From 2003 to 2011, the station averaged 5,488 passengers per year. Then in 2012, the ridership surged 66.4%, to 8,815, from 5,296 the previous year. And since then, the station has been averaging 8,833 passengers pear year. What accounts for the big jump? It is a mystery to me. Sandpoint is a tourist destination, and it could be that a new resort opened in town. Or it could be that Amtrak adjusted the schedule of the Empire Builder to make arrivals or departures at Sandpoint more convenient. Or it could be something else.

Now let’s look at monthly ridership on the train that serves Sandpoint twice a day (once in each direction): the Empire Builder.

Average monthly ridership grew steadily from 2003 until November 2008, rising 27% over the time period to a peak of 46,718. Passenger volume then essentially held steady until August 2013, with a one-month exception that accounts for the dip in the average that began in June 2011 and stayed in the average through May 2012. That was a big service disruption in June 2011 when severe floods closed the tracks in North Dakota and forced Amtrak to replace trains along part of the route with bus service. That month’s ridership, 23,721, remains the lowest month between 2003 and 2014. It was down 53% compared to June 2010′s ridership of 50,795, or down 54% compared to June 2012′s ridership of 51,111.

Since August 2013, ridership has been on the decline, to the point that it is now exactly back where it was in 2003-2004 before the ridership increases began. The decline is being caused by the huge oil shale boom underway in North Dakota, which has resulted in a surge in the traffic of freight trains hauling oil tank cars. All of the freight train traffic has resulted in delays to the Empire Builder that has caused people to find alternate forms of travel. While I’m all for American energy independence, hopefully BNSF will be able to increase track capacity through North Dakota to accommodate all of the new freight trains and let the Empire Builder get back on schedule. My wife and I have ridden the Empire Builder twice, from Chicago to Seattle in July 2007, and from Chicago to Portland in August 2014. It is an amazingly great experience.

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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Georgia

Train ridership to and from Georgia grew 22% from 2003 to 2014, with a surge of growth coming between 2005 and 2011 that was followed by a slight slackening. We’ll see the trends below, but first let’s take a look at the state’s five train stations.

The northern part of the state has three stations on Amtrak’s Crescent: Atlanta, Gainesville, and Toccoa. In the southeast coastal part of the state, Savannah is served by six trains a day, one each direction on the Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star. And further south, Jesup is a stop on the Silver Meteor.

Atlanta is the state’s largest city, while Savannah has the most frequent train service; as a result, these two stations dominate the ridership picture. As of 2014, they account for 91% of the state’s ridership. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

This next chart shows the same information as a line chart.

The biggest success story in the state in terms of an increasing volume of passengers is definitely Savannah. Ridership there has grown 53% from 2003 to 2014, to more than 63,000 annually. This may partly result from Amtrak transforming the former Silver Palm train into the Palmetto in 2004, which is a daytime train from New York City that terminates at Savannah. But the biggest success story in terms of a percentage growth rate is little Jesup, where ridership grew 73% over the same time frame, to 10,636 passengers in 2014 from 6,160 in 2003. Georgia’s two rural communities served by the Crescent both logged impressive growth rates as well, with Gainesville growing 37%, and Toccoa 24% from 2003 to 2014. Atlanta’s passenger volume has essentially held steady, with a modest 4% over the time frame.

When you look at the stacked column graph, you can see how the whole state has fared together.

As noted above, ridership for the state as a whole has grown 22% from 2003 to 2014. Nearly all of that growth has come from the four stations other than Atlanta. With so much of the growth happening at Savannah, terminal of the Palmetto, let’s take a look at ridership on that train.

It would seem that ridership at Savannah mirrors the growing trend for ridership on the Palmetto as a whole. Average monthly ridership on the Palmetto has increased 59% from October 2005, the first month for which an average datum is available, and December 2014.

Posted in Amtrak, Crescent, Georgia, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Florida

Passenger railroading in Florida took a hit after Hurricane Katrina, as we’ll see below, but it’s on the upswing in a big way with the newly launched SunRail regional railroad in Orlando, and this year’s planned opening of Miami Central Station to intercity and regional trains.

As shown in the map, Florida today has 40 train stations served by three railroads. For intercity service, Florida is the southernmost destination for two long-distance Amtrak trains from New York City, the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star, and for the unique Auto Train, which originates in Virginia’s suburbs of Washington, D.C. Twenty-nine of the state’s train stations have Amtrak service on at least one of these routes.

There are also two regional railroads, the brand new SunRail, which began serving 12 of Florida’s stations in and around Orlando on May 2, 2014, and Tri-Rail, which began service in 1989 and currently (prior to the opening of Miami Central Station) serves 17 of Florida’s stations in and around Miami. Let’s look at the ridership of these two regional railroads going back to October 1994.

As you can see from the chart, average monthly ridership on Tri-Rail has grown to 367,633 rides a month as of September 2014, up 61% from September 1995. (There was no data available for January-March 2006.) It has now surpassed the spike of 2008-2009 that resulted in part from high gas prices. If you look closely at the chart, you can also see that little SunRail has just announced its existence. Over the railroad’s first five months of service, it averaged 67,300 rides a month. Now let’s look to Amtrak’s annual ridership on a station-by-station basis.

The busiest station in the state is Sanford, the terminal of the Auto Train. This might seem surprising, until one realizes that the Auto Train makes just two stops on its entire route. So this one station accounts for essentially the train’s entire ridership since every passenger either gets on or gets off here. The next busiest station is Orlando, a major destination for families going to Disney World and other area resorts. Ridership there has held steady from 2003 to 2014, even though the station no longer receives passengers from Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which was shortened after Hurricane Katrina and no longer serves Florida. Tampa, meanwhile, has grown into a major destination, with ridership doubling then doubling again between 2003 and 2014. Now let’s look at the same information in stacked column form, color-coded in the same way.

When the Sunset Limited stopped traveling as far as Orlando, it also reduced the number of trains serving Deland, Jacksonville, Palatka and Winter Park, which all retain service on the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. It also meant the end of train service altogether for seven stations in Florida’s Panhandle, Chipley, Crestview, Lake City, Madison, Pensacola, Sanford and Tallahassee. Also during the same general timeframe, Amtrak truncated its Silver Palm train, which had run from New York to Miami, to Savannah, Ga., got rid of sleeper cars, made it a daytime-only train and renamed it the Palmetto. This resulted in the end of train service to four Florida stations: Dade City, Ocala, Waldo and Wildwood. Service ended at these stations on October 31, 2004. All together, these 11 stations were not huge ridership stations, and they appear in the chart above as the pink stations at the top of the columns for 2003-2005 and then disappear. Now we can look to the same information in pie chart form. Despite the state’s loss of the Sunset Limited and the Silver Palm, Amtrak ridership in Florida grew 23% from 2003 to 2014.

While ridership has slackened in recent years at some stations in Florida, it’s continued in the upward direction for the Auto Train. Let’s close out this post with a look at the Auto Train’s ridership. As we noted, the train is unique, in that it makes only two stops, and lets you take your car aboard with you. This is evidently a feature people are increasingly growing to appreciate. Mirroring the trend we saw for annual ridership at Sanford, average monthly Auto Train ridership has risen 36% during its steady climb over the past 11 years.

Posted in Amtrak, Auto Train, Florida, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, SunRail, Sunset Limited, Tri-Rail, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – District of Columbia

Whether you look at statistics from Amtrak or from the two regional railroads that serve Washington, D.C., and we’ll do both below, ridership on trains to and from our nation’s capital is booming. The District is home to two railroad stations.

One is a platform at L’Enfant Plaza just south of the National Mall, which serves commuters from the Virginia suburbs via the two lines of Virginia Railway Express: the Manassas Line and the Fredericksburg Line. As noted in VRE timetables, a few Amtrak trains that cater to VRE customers do stop at L’Enfant. The station is not listed on Amtrak timetables, nor does it appear in Amtrak’s stations listing.

The District’s main hub, however, is Union Station, which has service on 10 Amtrak routes to places as far away as Chicago (Capitol Limited and Cardinal), Miami (Silver Meteor and Silver Star), New Orleans (Crescent), North Carolina (Carolinian), Vermont (Vermonter), Savannah, Ga. (Palmetto). It’s also the second busiest station on the Northeast Corridor, with frequent Acela service to Boston and Northeast Regional trains between Boston or Springfield and endpoints in Virginia.

Washington’s Union Station is the second-busiest station in Amtrak’s system, surpassing five million riders annually for three years running. It has been Amtrak’s second busiest station every year since 2003 with the exception of 2005, when it was overtaken by Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Ridership to and from Washington has grown 41% since 2003, as shown in the graph below.

Union Station is also the terminal hub for Washington’s two regional railroads, Maryland’s MARC, which has three lines radiating out from Union Station (the Brunswick Line, Camden Line and Penn Line), and Virginia Railway Express. MARC was created in 1983 to take over train services that dated as far back as the 1830s. Virginia Railway Express began service in 1992.

From October 1995 to September 2015, average monthly MARC ridership grew 87.5%, to more than 750,000. Over the same time period, average monthly ridership on Virginia Railway Express grew 139%, to about 370,000. Despite Washington’s large size and commuter population, these railroads fall into the middle of the spectrum in terms of size for the United States. They carry far fewer passengers than the biggest six railroads serving New York City, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, but conversely, they are much busier than 15 other regional railroads around the country. One reason that they aren’t larger is that the majority of suburban rail commuters to Washington use its subway system, the Washington Metro, which extends deep into the suburbs, unlike New York’s subway, which goes no further than the city line.

Posted in District of Columbia, MARC, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Virginia Railway Express, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

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 | Comments Off

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 | 1 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 | Comments Off

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