Shore Line East ridership up 35 percent this year

New London - Ridership on the newly expanded Shore Line East train service between New London and New Haven is on a roll.

The latest numbers from the state Department of Transportation show that ridership, spurred partially by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's decision last summer to institute weekend train service to southeastern Connecticut, is on pace so far this year to rise more than 35 percent from a year ago.

"The state is recognizing that southeastern Connecticut is an important part of the transportation network," said Todd O'Donnell, co-owner of New London's Union Station.

In June, 19 trains - 14 to New London and five to Old Saybrook - were added to the Shore Line East schedule. That didn't include 30 regularly scheduled weekday trains, 12 to and from New London, that connect to Metro-North rail service out of New Haven Union Station.

"Shore Line East New London ridership for June and July 2013 showed a very strong increase," Anna Barry, deputy commissioner of the DOT, said in a statement released earlier this year. "New London ridership accounts for 17 percent of the weekend ridership in June and 26 percent in July."

Eugene Colonese, rail administrator, said the DOT expects ridership growth through the end of the year.

Numbers show that Shore Line East ridership continued its momentum in August and September, more than doubling in each month compared with a year ago. The DOT was unable this week to provide numbers for October and November, but ridership through September was already well above levels seen for all of last year.

O'Donnell said ridership increases have been spurred by both increases in train service as well as fuller cars. Trains are full on Fridays and Sundays, he said, bringing people from New York City and Fairfield County to local tourist attractions, including the region's two casinos.

"It's been a great success," he said.

O'Donnell predicted continued growth in ridership over the next two to three years because it takes time for word to get out about new train service. He added that the state service is doing a good job of moving people along the train routes, compiling an on-time record around 95 percent.

Ridership on Shore Line East that had totaled less than 13,000 three years ago is on schedule to reach more than 40,000 this year, he said.

O'Donnell noted that the increases have occurred throughout the year, not just in the summer. January ridership this year, for instance, was up more than 50 percent. Riders, he said, perceive the train to be both a convenience and a good deal. Travel between New London and New Haven, for instance, is only about $9 one way.

Some people, he added, hop on a train just for the fun of it between New London and Old Saybrook or Madison.

"It really is one of the prettiest rides you'll ever find," he said.

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