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Rail News: Passenger Rail

First-quarter ridership declines

For the first time in several years, public transportation ridership recorded a quarterly decline according to data released last month by American Public Transportation Association.

First-quarter ridership sank 2.39 percent in 2002’s first three months, compared with a similar period in 2001. Overall, California commuter rail systems were hit hardest, with San Jose’s Atamont Commuter Express and San Francisco’s Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) ridership dropping 21.24 percent and 11.05 percent, respectively. Declines there likely were a result of layoffs related to the sluggish economy.

However, commuter rail systems in Dallas, Seattle, and Alexandria, Va., posted gains of 74.42 percent, 43.73 percent and 13.04 percent, respectively. Seattle’s Sound Transit and Dallas’ Trinity Railway Express both opened new service areas during the past year.

Meanwhile, first-quarter heavy-rail ridership decreased 3.17 percent in 2002 compared with 2001. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey posted the greatest loss, 30.08 percent — likely a direct result of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Port Authority operated stations beneath the World Trade Center and the Exchange Place. New York City Transit also experienced significant damage to its tunnels in the attacks. Although ridership declined only 1.92 percent, the decline represents 8,526.5 trips, compared with Port Authority’s 5,593.5 fewer trips.

Despite the losses experienced by their heavier rail transport brethren, light rail systems posted a 1.18 percent ridership growth, aided primarily by Utah Transit Authority’s initial service ramp-up. UTA posted 3.325.7 trips in first-quarter 2002, more than doubling its 1,532.3 trips during the same 2001 period. New Jersey Transit posted a 35.91 percent ridership gain resulting in part from traffic having been rerouted to Hudson-Bergen Light Rail with decreased ridership to Lower Manhattan.

Public transportation ridership had been growing steadily from 1995 to 1998, posting 1.58 percent, 4.65 percent and 5.01 percent gains. In 1998-1999, the growth rate tapered to 4.84 percent followed by 2.66 percent in 1999-2000 and 2.21 percent last year.

While January and February numbers trailed the same period last year, March 2002 ridership was 9 million trips lower than March 2000.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/12/2002