Ridership on new RI commuter rail line to TF Green below projections, but increase expected

Ridership on new RI commuter rail line to TF Green below projections, but increase expected

  • MICHELLE R. SMITH Associated Press
  • First Posted: April 03, 2011 – 1:33 pm

WARWICK, R.I. — A little more than 100 people a day are using the new commuter rail line between T.F. Green Airport and Providence — about half of what had been projected before it opened four months ago in December.

  • The service, provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in an agreement with Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation, makes 11 stops a day at the airport station — with six trains picking passengers up and five dropping them off during peak commuting times. The DOT had projected daily ridership at 237 people on the line, but an analysis of ridership numbers provided by the MBTA and DOT shows that from the beginning of February to early March, the most recent numbers available, about 109 people per day on average took the line.
  • Transportation officials say the service is still building, and that once additional trains are added this year and service to North Kingstown’s Wickford Junction Station is added later this year or early next, the number of riders will grow because the line will become feasible for a greater number of people.
    “Is it what we hoped for? Not really, but we didn’t anticipate full ridership on day one,” said Stephen Devine, the DOT’s chief of intermodal planning. “It’s going to take some years to build up.”
  • Devine said the service from Boston to Providence, started in 1998, also took time to build and now serves 2,000 people per day. A commuter would typically take two trips, so it’s 4,000 trips a day arriving or departing from Providence, he said.
    The MBTA does not pay for service to Rhode Island. Instead, the state hands over federal transit capital funds to the MBTA and has paid for things such as double-decker trains used on the line. Some state funds in the past have been paid to the project to match federal funds — amounting to about $1 million to $2 million, the DOT said.
    Among the issues is that fewer trains are running than had been originally planned. But new trains can’t be added until Amtrak, which owns the tracks in Rhode Island, completes work on the line to allow more trains to run on it. That should be finished mid-year, and then additional trains to T.F. Green could be added by the fall, Devine said.
  • Currently, trains run out of the airport station at 6:13 a.m., 6:52 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., then at 6:27 p.m., 7:36 p.m. and 7:51 p.m. Trains arrive at T.F. Green at 6:01 a.m. and 6:25 a.m., then 6:17 p.m., 6:53 p.m. and 7:26 p.m. No trains run into or out of the station in the middle of the day, and the earliest passengers can get into Boston if they leave from T.F. Green is 7:45 a.m. Those times also mean the line — designed to serve commuters, but with a side benefit of running to the airport — has limited options for those who want to take the train to catch a flight.
    Charles St. Martin, a spokesman for the DOT, said they are still working out schedules for additional trains, but they hope to nearly double the number of stops to 20 or more, possibly adding a midday train that could increase options for air travelers or one that runs earlier in the day to serve commuters who have early-morning work hours in Boston.
    “The more options you provide, you could get more people,” he said. “It might meet more people’s schedules.”
    Officials expect the real payoff of the extension to be later this year or next, when service begins to North Kingstown, opening up the line to commuters in the southern part of the state who work in Providence. They’ve projected 1,500 riders would use the Wickford Junction station every day.
  • Among those who use the train every day, it’s a popular service. Neusa Bernardo, 50, of Warwick, has commuted to Boston for 12 years for her social services job. She called it a “godsend” that saves her time and the aggravation of driving in traffic through Providence on her way to or from the MBTA’s South Attleboro, Mass., stop where she used to park and board. Now, it’s just a 10 minute drive to the airport station, where she can hop on the train inside a covered garage protected from the snow and rain.
    “When I heard this was being built, I was so happy,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.

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