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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
+6.30%
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%
MetraChicagoland+3.77%
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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Sunday, July 27, 2008
Trying to Get to Chicago

The Lake Shore Limited travels through Hastings, N.Y. (Photo by David Sommer via RRPictureArchives.net.)

My wife, Susan, and I just got invited to a wedding in Chicago on Oct. 11, two and a half months from now.

The Three Rivers hasn't run since 2005, but there are still four ways to get from New York City to Chicago by train, which is the way we like to travel. Four good routes give us options, but we still have a problem.


1) The easiest and most direct way is via the Lake Shore Limited, a 959-mile route along the southern edges of Lakes Ontario, Erie and Michigan. Despite the proximity to the lakes, the most scenic part of this route is at the beginning, when you travel along the Hudson River between New York and Rensselaer. You leave Penn Station in afternoon and travel through Upstate New York until the sun goes down. You have dinner around Schenectady and sleep through until you're in Ohio farm country west of Toledo. After a great breakfast, you're refreshed and ready for your day in Chicago.

The second and third routes both involve transferring to the Capitol Limited, an overnight train between Chicago and Washington. The chief difference between these routes is where you transfer.

2) In the second route, you take the Pennsylvanian, a mid-range route without sleepers that runs between New York and Pittsburgh. You leave at ten minutes to 11 in the morning, have lunch around Philly and pull into Pittsburgh just after eight o'clock. There is a three-hour layover in Pittsburgh, so you should quell your hunger long enough to get dinner in downtown Pittsburgh. Does anyone have any restaurant suggestions? Then the Capitol Limited rolls in just before midnight. If you're lucky enough to have a sleeper, you can fall asleep and wake up in rural Indiana just in time for a complimentary breakfast. This gets you into Chicago at 8:40 if the train's on time. This route is actually shorter than the Lake Shore Limited, only 925 miles. But it takes longer because you have to change trains.

3) In this route, you get on the Capitol Limited at the beginning of its route a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. There are any number of hourly Northeast Regional or Acela trains that will get you to Washington, so which one you take depends on how much time you want to spend there. The Capitol Ltd. leaves at just after four o'clock in the afternoon.

4) The fourth route is the longest (1,147 miles) and most infrequent because it runs only three days a week. But you ride the Cardinal the entire way, so there's no need to change trains, and you get to see appalachia up close and personal. You leave New York City at a quarter to seven in the morning, get breakfast, lunch and dinner on the train as you watch the landscape roll by. You're in West Virginia by dusk, and the train chugs through the West Virginia mountains and travels along banks of the Ohio river before pulling into Cincinnati's grand Union Terminal well past midnight. This station is every bit as elegant, sturdy and timeless as Grand Central Terminal. But where as Grand Central serves more than 3,500 trains per week, Cincinnati's Union Terminal serves exactly six, and they all come through between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m. So ou sleep through Cinncinati and wake up in Indianapolis, or if not, rural Indiana. Breakfast aboard the train, as with the other routes, leaves you refreshed and ready for your day in Chicago.

Our wedding isn't until October 11, but I wanted to book as early as possible, because the trains have been running very full lately, and Susan and I like to travel in the sleepers for long trips like this one. There is nothing like sleeping in a real bed as you travel through the night. Fortunately, we're leaving New York City on a Friday, so we have the Cardinal as an option as well.

Unfortunately, the sleeping cars are sold out on all three of the trains that have them (the Pennsylvanian is a day train with coaches only). Let me emphasize as of today, July 27, 2008, the status of sleeper roomettes for trains to Chicago on Friday, Oct. 11, 2008:

Lake Shore Limited: sold out.
Capitol Limited: sold out.
Cardinal: sold out.

So we're booked in coach for now (via Pittsburgh) and on the waiting list for a roomette. Between now and October, surely someone will cancel his or her reservation, right?

So does anyone out there care to speculate as to which train will have an opening first? Will we be traveling through Buffalo in October, or Pittsburgh, or maybe Cincinnati? Anyone want to wager as to when I might get that phone call from Amtrak telling me we've got an upgrade?

I assure you, readers, that if and when we do get that call, you will be the first to know. In fact, you'll be able to read about it only here, at Starts & Fits. No other media outlets will carry this information.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007
Green States for Transportation

States with senators co-sponsoring of S.294, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. Light green = 1 senator co-sponsoring; Dark green = 2 senators co-sponsoring.

The states above have senators who have signed on as co-sponsors of s.294, a bill that would provide five years worth of funding to Amtrak, the nation's most environmentally friendly form of inter-city travel. This is important because the bill would put an end to the yearly Amtrak appropriations battles in Washington, where every year the Bush Administration trys to get us to burn more oil driving and flying between places by reducing Amtrak's operating budget to zero.

Here's the same map, broken down by party.


Light blue = 1 Democratic co-sponsor

Dark blue = 2 Democratic co-sponsors

Purple = 1 Democratic and 1 Republican co-sponsor

Light red = 1 Republican co-sponsor

Dark red = 2 Republican co-sponsors

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