Ridership on Shoreline East, the commuter rail line between New London and New Haven, has been climbing, a trend mirrored on MetroNorth, which operates between New Haven and New York City, and nationally on Amtrak, whose Northeast Corridor run stops in New London.
"All across America, the demand to travel by Amtrak is strong, growing and undeniable," Joe Boardman, Amtrak's president and CEO, announced this week.
Connecticut Department of Transportation officials might say the same about train travel in the state.
According to state DOT statistics, Shoreline East provided more than 614,000 "rides," or single boardings, in 2011, a 4.9 percent increase over 2010. Since 2006, the number of rides has risen 33.9 percent. In the five years from 2006 to 2011, the number of rides increased each year except 2009, when it dipped slightly compared to 2008.
Ridership has also climbed year over year in 2012. In January, it was up 18 percent over January 2011, and in February, it was up 13 percent. It was even in March, up 2 percent in April, down 3 percent in May, down 4 percent in June and up 10 percent in July.
"Generally, it's been trending upward," Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman, said of Shoreline East ridership, referring to 2012 and over the last several years. "I would attribute some of the increase to additional service - we've added trains to New London, for example - but part of the reason is economic. When gasoline is $4 a gallon, rail can be a better option than a standalone vehicle."
As for MetroNorth, the state's major commuter line, the number of rides in 2011 totaled 38.2 million, up 1.9 million, or 5.2 percent, over 2007. In that period, new rail cars have been placed in service and more new ones are scheduled to come online, but basically, "it's the same number of seats," Nursick said.
Amtrak reported that through the first 11 months of the federal fiscal year - October 2011 to August 2012 - ridership was up 3.4 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. When the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, Amtrak expects its ridership total to surpass the record 30.2 million passengers it carried in fiscal 2011. From fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2011, Amtrak ridership increased 44 percent, setting records in eight of the nine years.
Nursick noted that the number of Connecticut commuters traveling by rail still represents a small percentage of the overall commuting public. Among workers 16 and older, about 80 percent travel alone in a car, he said. About 8 percent car-pool, about 4.5 percent use mass transportation and the rest use other modes.
Of those who use mass transportation, about half ride buses and the other half ride trains, mostly MetroNorth, Nursick said.