Amtrak’s Secret Business


Amtrak operates (or has operated) commuter trains for several local/regional transportation authorities, but they don’t publicize this at all. Find out more about this profitable operation in a time when Amtrak looses all kinds of money.

In March, 2006, we received a question from a reader
“What are the 8 commuter railroads operated by Amtrak?”

K.C. Jones answered: I only count 7

Amtrak was created to provide long-distance rail service.

It has (did) operated commuter service on a contract basis:

Metrolink in Southern California

MBTA in Boston

San Diego Coaster

Caltrain (San Francisco)

Seattle Commuter Rail (Sounder)

MARC (Maryland)

VRE (Virginia Railway Express)

Many of its “State Corridor” projects (funded by individual states) are really commuter operations.

Their annual report for 2005 shows $119,354,000 income from “commuter”, but they don’t talk much about this elsewhere on their site.

Then we discovered (remembered) that Amtrak has operated Shore Line East under an agreement with the Connecticut DOT since the service started in 1990.

The Shore Line East starts at Union Station in New Haven and takes commuters to Old Saybrook. It operates four weekday trains that carry passengers between Stamford and Old Saybrook, but most Metro North commuters not taking the Shore Line trains must transfer at the New Haven station to go farther east.



Metrolink in Southern California

Metrolink is a regional rail system that serves the Southern California region, including commuter and other passenger services.

Metrolink was established in 1991 as the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) and service began the following year. In 2003, it had an operating budget of $103.3 million. Since July 2005, Metrolink has been operated under contract by Connex Railroad, LLC. The contract extends for a period of five years and includes the provision of locomotive engineers and conductors. Prior to July 2005, Metrolink was operated under contract by Amtrak.

Metrolink’s area of service includes lines to Ventura County, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Orange County, and San Diego County. It connects to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro Rail lines at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, and to the San Diego Coaster at Oceanside. It also connects at various points to Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Southwest Chief services. Metrolink riders can ride most buses in Los Angeles and Orange County, as well as the Metro Rail, for free with their valid ticket or pass, and monthly pass holders in Orange and Ventura Counties can use Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Thruway Coach services through the Rail 2 Rail program.

As of early 2006, it served a total of 56 stations throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area, with its central hub at Los Angeles Union Station. The average weekday ridership for September 2005 was 40,078 boardings. Ridership has grown at 3-4% per year since opening; Orange County ridership grew 30% from 2002 to 2005.

The main Metrolink maintenance and storage facility is located on the east bank of the Los Angeles River in the vicinity of the Glendale Narrows, just south of Union Pacific’s Taylor Yard. The system covers 511.6 miles (823.3 km) of track, some portions of which were purchased by Metrolink from freight railroads, while other sections are still owned by freight railroads. Both the publicly and privately owned routes share track with freight trains, and many sections are single track, limiting Metrolink’s ability to expand service. Delays are particularly common on the Riverside Line, which uses Union Pacific’s main transcontinental line–one of the most congested freight rail corridors in the United States. Construction projects to expand capacity have been gradually undertaken since Metrolink began operation. As of December 2003, Metrolink had 38 locomotives and 143 commuter cars.

Lines operated are:
91 Line (Union Station – Riverside-Downtown)
Antelope Valley Line (Union Station – Lancaster)
Inland Empire-Orange County (IEOC) Line (San Bernardino – San Juan Capistrano)
Orange County Line (Union Station – Oceanside)
Riverside Line (Union Station – Riverside-Downtown)
San Bernardino Line (Union Station – San Bernardino/Riverside-Downtown)
Ventura County Line (Union Station – Montalvo)
San Jacinto Valley Line (future line)
Redlands Line (future line)
San Gabriel Valley Line (possible future line)


Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

MBTA service includes four subway lines, thirteen commuter rail lines, five boat routes, and 170 bus routes servicing approximately 3,244 square miles. Service is provided to 175 cities and towns which comprise the MBTA’s district in eastern Massachusetts with over 1.1 million riders each day.

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR), a joint venture among Connex, Bombardier and Boston’s Alternate Concepts, Inc. (ACI), today signed a $1 billion 5-year contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to provide commuter rail services. This award followed a highly competitive bid process that began last spring.

August 2, 2002
After 15 stormy years operating and maintaining the MBTA’s commuter rail system, Amtrak will not compete for another contract, officials said yesterday, arguing that new requirements would put the national railroad in jeopardy of violating federal laws, the Boston Globe reported.

The new five-year contract offered by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would require the winning bidder to shoulder liability for passenger injury and equipment damage, as well as the cost of utilities, putting Amtrak “in real danger” of violating laws that prohibit the agency from subsidizing commuter services, Amtrak president David L. Gunn said in a letter to T officials.


Seattle Commuter Rail (Sounder)

Sound Transit’s rush-hour trains operate Monday through Friday in the peak direction. There are four morning trips between Tacoma and Seattle northbound with stops in Sumner, Auburn, Puyallup, Kent, Tukwila, and at Seattle’s King Street station. In addition, there are two morning trips between Everett, Edmonds and Seattle southbound. In the afternoon there are four trips from Seattle southbound to Tacoma serving all stations, and two trips northbound from Seattle to Edmonds and Everett. Train riders traveling between Everett and Seattle can also take advantage of the RailPlus Program by using their monthly pass on select Amtrak trips. Amenities on Sounder include worktables and computer plug-ins, fully accessible restrooms in each car and cup holders. Ride Sounder to the Seahawks, Mariners baseball, and more.



Caltrain (San Francisco)

Caltrain is a commuter rail line on the San Francisco Peninsula and the Santa Clara Valley. It is currently operated under contract by Amtrak and funded jointly by City and County of San Francisco, San Mateo County Transit District, and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority through Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.

Caltrain’s northern terminus is in eastern San Francisco, California, at 4th and King streets, and its southern terminus is in Gilroy, California. Hourly train service is provided year-round, with more frequent service provided during normal weekdays commute hours. As of 2005, Caltrain has 29 regular stops, one football-only stop (Stanford Stadium), and two weekend-only stops (Broadway and Atherton). Weekday ridership in February 2006 was 32,031 boardings.



Shore Line East (SLE) is a commuter rail service operating in southern Connecticut

A fully owned subsidiary of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), SLE provides weekday service along the Northeast Corridor from New London east to New Haven, with continuing service to Bridgeport and Stamford, and connecting service to New York, New York via the Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line. It operates along tracks owned by Amtrak (New London to New Haven) and Metro-North (New Haven to Stamford).

The section of the Northeast Corridor SLE operates on was once the New York-Boston mainline of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

In recognition of the large role played by the New Haven in the history and heritage of the state of Connecticut, ConnDOT paints SLE’s diesel-powered locomotives in the New Haven’s colors and “NH” markings.

SLE was established as a temporary service to newly-reopened local stations between Union Station in New Haven and Old Saybrook, to alleviate traffic congestion that arose from scheduled construction work on the parallel Interstate 95. The restored service proved more popular than expected, and the service was made permanent, and extended one station east to New London. To attract more riders, some peak hour trains were extended to provide one seat rides via SLE to employment centers in Bridgeport and Stamford.

Station Improvements

New train stations in Branford and Clinton were opened to the public in the fall of 2005. Both stations include south-side platforms.

The Guilford station, which features a pedestrian bridge connecting the south-side platform to the north-side parking, opened to the public in November 2005.

New England Road of Clinton, CT has been selected as the lowest bidder to construct the new train station in the town of Madison. The $6 million construction project is expected to take approximately one year to complete.

Station upgrades is Westbrook are expected to begin design and construction in 2007.

The highlight of the I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program’s transit improvements is the new State Street commuter rail station in downtown New Haven. Since opening on June 7, 2002, the station has become an increasingly attractive alternative to the automobile commute – daily Shore Line East ridership has increased from approximately 1200 to 1500 passengers since the station’s opening.

State Street Station is a new facility for Shore Line East commuters traveling between Branford and New Haven’s Union Station. The station is located on State Street, between Court and Chapel Streets, in New Haven. Only two blocks from the New Haven Green, the station is a convenient walk to many downtown businesses.

Limited New Haven Line (Metro North) trains provide service to State Street Station for enhanced access to downtown from areas west of the city.

This new commuter station was designed for pedestrians. While automobile parking is not available on site, a number of parking lots are located downtown within walking distance. Convenient bus and shuttle connections are available to take commuters to destinations in New Haven and throughout the region.


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