Despite the effects of Superstorm Sandy, Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line provided a record 38.8 million customer trips in 2012, driven by ridership growth in non-commutation, intermediate and trips to and from stations from Stamford to New Haven.
Ridership on the line grew about 1.5 percent from last year's record-breaking 38.2 million rides in 2011, according to Metro-North.
Overall, the railroad's three lines provided 83 million rides, its second best year ever, enough to defend its claim as the nation's busiest commuter railroad from the Long Island Railroad, which provided 81.7 million rides in 2012.
Metro-North's highest overall ridership total was 83.6 million in 2008, and it provided 82 million rides in 2011, according to Bob MacLagger, Metro-North's vice president of planning.
MacLagger said until the aftermath of Sandy, the railroad was on target to break its all-time ridership record, but lost a total of about 1.8 million rides in November and December, first due to a service disruption and then for a more prolonged period due to storm-ravaged offices in lower Manhattan remaining unoccupied.
"The numbers we had are despite the impact of Hurricane Sandy," MacLagger said. "That's the biggest weather event ever, and we've never had a weather event that was still causing ridership losses two months after the event."
MacLagger credited the continued rally of New York City's economy, the on-time performance of trains, and the addition of more than 200 new trains a week in October for enabling higher weekend and non-commutation ridership across Metro-North's New Haven, Hudson and Harlem lines.
Metro-North is also planning to add another 151 trains weekly across all three lines beginning in April.
"We expect the addition of service in April to spur more growth," MacLagger said.
Prior to Superstorm Sandy, Long Island Railroad had posted 13 consecutive months of ridership growth until November when ridership declined 17.7 percent due to the impact of the storm, according to the railroad.
The railroad's 81.7 million rides was a less than 1 percent gain on its 81 million rides in 2011.
The losses were partially offset by gains on the LIRR's Brooklyn Line since the September opening of the Barclays Center, which averaged 3,300 passengers per event, according to ridership reports.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, a state-appointed watchdog group that advocates on behalf of commuters, said the continued strength of weekend and non-commuter trips is encouraging news for the economy.
The continued arrival of the New Haven Line's new M-8 cars has probably also prompted more people to use the railroad to travel, he said.
Cameron said he hopes continued growth in ridership and fuller cars would reduce the likelihood the railroad or the state would propose additional fare increases.
The railroad also needs to remain vigilant to respond to persistent crowded conditions when they occur on off-peak and weekend trains and add cars when warranted, he said.
"I'm concerned that the increased ridership has led to serious crowding problems again on weekend trains," Cameron said. "I also hope that means less pressure for a fare increase if they are carrying more passengers on the same set of equipment and have higher revenue."