Riding high: Metro-North passenger volume hits record
Record ridership on Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line was cause for celebration Tuesday.
“What was already the busiest commuter rail line in the nation has only gotten busier,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, as he announced that in 2015 there were 40.3 million passenger trips on the line — a 2 percent increase over the 2014’s 39.6 million trips.
“This is a demonstration that, if we’re going to grow, we must continue to invest,” Malloy said. “Our future hinges on it.”
Malloy and James Redecker, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Union Station in New Haven to trumpet the increase in passengers, and particularly weekday commuters.
The data released Tuesday show that commuter ridership on the New Haven Line was up 1 percent in 2015 compared with 2014, while non-commuting, discretionary ridership was up 2.9 percent.
“It’s interesting to note the increases in non-commuting passenger trips, because it proves that the New Haven Line is not just for people going to and from work,” Redeker said.
By the numbers
40.3MPassenger trips in 2015, a record for Metro-North’s New Haven Line and the most volume of any commuter rail line in America
39.6M Passenger trips in 2014 on the New Haven Line, which stretches from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal
3.6% Growth in passenger trips in 2015 between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal
1.3% Growth in passenger trips in 2015 between Stamford and New Haven
Choosing the train
Riders arriving at and departing from the Fairfield Metro station Tuesday said rider fluctuations were hard to notice, but they preferred taking the train over driving.
“I've only been doing it since about Oct. 7, and it’s just absolutely amazing, because some people are on there every day and you get to know what’s going on in their world,” said Frances Belviso, who recently took a new job in Fairfield and commutes from New Haven. “It’s great for the carbon footprint, the cost, plus traveling from New Haven, it would take forever to drive.”
Belviso said ridership seemed to mostly remain constant, aside from a few more empty seats during the holidays. But, she said, “I noticed a lot more new faces and people I’ve been talking with lately.”
Ester Flores, a nurse who lives in Fairfield, takes Metro-North every morning to Harlem, where she said the train lets her off two blocks from where she works. She said she had heard of recent train collisions and malfunctions on Metro-North, but was not worried, since she gets on an early train — 5:32 every morning.
“I’ve never had that kind of problem,” she said. “Those problems happen after that,” during more crowded commuting hours.
At the Danbury train station, Natsha Strempski-Sandoval said she has been commuting to that city about once a week from her home in Fairfield for the past seven months, and has noticed an uptick in riders.
“At night and on the weekends, it’s next to never finding a seat,” she said.
Strempski-Sandoval thought there were a number of reasons causing more people to ride the rails, including that “it’s just cheaper to train it.”
The state DOT owns the tracks Metro-North uses in Connecticut and has made a number of investments in recent years, most notably putting into service 405 new M8 rail cars.
The so-called “inner portion” of the New Haven Line — between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal — had ridership growth of 3.6 percent last year. The “outer portion” — between Stamford and New Haven — was up 1.3 percent.
The Danbury and Waterbury branches also had significant ridership growth of 9.4 percent and 2.9 percent respectively. The New Canaan Branch had a decline of 1.7 percent in total ridership in 2015.
‘An hour to yourself’
The jump in ridership is easy to understand when you consider the alternatives for getting to work, said Sam Drozdov, of Scarsdale, N.Y.
Drozdov and his brother developed an app called Passenger, which provides Metro-North schedules, service advisories and delays in real time. The app, available for both Apple and Android devices, was released in August.
“We love the train; commuting is a great thing when you basically have an hour to yourself,” Drozdov said. “I can read a book a week by taking the train.”
Ridership is up, too, “because there are many alternatives now to owning a car,” Drozdov said. “There’s Uber and other ride services, and a lot of ways to get where you’re going without driving.”
Smoother, safer and more reliable service may also be driving the increase in Metro-North customers.
The railroad has replaced nearly 100,000 ties, laid 16.5 miles of continuous welded rails, rebuilt 88 switches and made other systemwide improvements, according to a progress report on the Metro-North website. The Federal Railroad Administration is lending Metro-North $967 million for its infrastructure upgrades, and Connecticut has allocated $115 million for its share.
Margaret Lombard, who recently moved to Boulder, Colo., after living in Sacramento, Calif., bought her first-ever ride on Metro-North on Tuesday.
Lombard said trains on the East Coast have a leg up on those in her her home state.
“I think it’s much more efficient here,” she said. “I’ve ridden Amtrak in California, there’s a number of trains, but you know, you always end up having to get on a bus to your final destination.”