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Web www.startsandfits.com
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
2008: A Boom Year for U.S. Passenger Railroads
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.

RailroadService TerritoryJan.-Sept. YOY Ridership Change
SounderSeattle region+26.79%
Rail Runner ExpressAlbuquerque region+24.90%
Tri-RailMiami-Ft. Lauderdale region+24.64%
Shore Line EastNew London, Conn., to Stamford, Conn.+17.45%
Altamont Commuter Express (ACE)San Jose to Stockton, Calif.+17.16%
CaltrainSan Francisco Peninsula, San Jose+12.69%
Trinity Railway ExpressDallas-Ft. Worth+11.76%
SEPTA Regional RailPhiladelphia region+11.22%
AmtrakNational intercity+11.11%
MetrolinkLos Angeles region+10.04%
Virginia Railway ExpressWashington, D.C., Virginia suburbs+8.97%
CoasterSan Diego to Oceanside, Calif.+7.25%
MARCWashington, D.C., Baltimore, suburban Maryland
MTA Metro-North RailroadNew York City, northern suburbs, Connecticut+5.18%
NJ TransitNew York City & northern New Jersey, Philadelphia to Atlantic City+4.82%
MTA Long Island
Rail Road
New York City, Long Island+4.40%
MBTA Commuter RailBoston region+1.69%
South Shore LineChicago to South Bend, Ind.-0.43%
FrontRunnerSalt Lake City to Pleasant View, UtahN/A
Music City Star
Nashville to Lebanon, Tenn.N/A
Statistics courtesy of the American Public Transportation Association and Amtrak.

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.
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.

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