Jan. 28--Ridership on Metro-North's New Haven Line reached an all-time high in 2013 despite a string of disasters, service mishaps and prolonged maintenance delays.
The numbers actually fell short of the railroad's expectations.
"(It was) the trials and tribulations of the last year," Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said of the slower-than-expected growth.
Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Fairfield County Business Council said the railroad's ability to grow even during a continuous string of service disruptions reflects growth in the economy and that riders are not abandoning the rails despite growing impatient with shortcomings of the service.
"The message here is that people really want to take rail, but if you have these continual service outages it really affects ridership," McGee said. "The rail system remains attractive but we have to be careful because we have a major unfunded need to improve the system to make sure it runs reliably and safely."
Terri Cronin, chairwoman of the state-appointed Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, which advocates on behalf of commuters, said she had expected the myriad problems of 2013 to contribute to a drop in ridership, not an increase.
"I'm really amazed to know the numbers are up given the disruptions and delays there have been on a daily basis," Cronin said. "I hope it is a trend and by seeing this possible trend Metro-North and CDOT need to react to it and do everything in their power to keep the trains in service and to provide seats." She explained that a persistent complaint among riders this year has been a lack of seating on M8 trains, which have fewer seats than the state's older cars, which are to be eliminated completely by the end of 2014.
The increase in ridership was less than in 2012, when the numbers went up 1.5 percent, despite service interruptions caused by superstorm Sandy and a blizzard.
Metro-North planners projected that 2013 ridership systemwide -- including the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines west of the Hudson River -- would reach 86.3 million trips. The actual total ridership was 83.4 million. The New Haven Line accounts for 39 million of that.
"Despite a tough and challenging year, the bottom line is that ridership continues to grow," Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman Judd Everhart said. "That is good news no matter how critics might try to parse the numbers. Growth is good -- period."
Those challenges are numerous: The May 17 derailment and crash in Bridgeport injured 76 people and suspended service between South Norwalk and New Haven for five days as the railroad rebuilt a 2,000 foot section of track had been destroyed; a track worker was killed by a train in West Haven not long after; a train was stalled during heat wave without air conditioning for several hours in Westport; the massive power outage on Sept. 24 severely limited electric train service during the 13 days it took to get the power back up, and; the year was capped off with the violent derailment in the Bronx that killed four and injured dozens of other passengers.
And during all that time, commuters have been subjected to slower trains, longer trips and unpredictable schedules, largely due to the extensive track inspections and repairs ordered after the May derailment, which federal investigators found was caused by a piece of track that broke and did not have the necessary level of support from the underlying track bed.
Copyright 2014 - The Stamford Advocate, Conn.