By Noel T Braymer
Through Spring of this year due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, ridership on intercity trains everywhere has all but ended. I continued to ride trains this Spring, although not as often as in the past. During this Spring I rode Metrolink, Amtrak Pacific Surfliners and Coaster trains. This covered trips to Los Angeles on Metrolink and Amtrak as well as trips to San Diego on the Coaster. What these trips all had in common were plenty of empty seats. As we see some progress in reducing the spread of COVID-19, rail ridership is far from recovering. If we want rail passenger service, we need to ride it. We also need to market it to bring more passengers to the trains. The following is a report of the status of rail passenger service in Southern California. Providing a sanitary ride with masks to prevent the spread of viruses is needed to ensure the reduction of infection when riding the train. This has been fairly successful at major stores that have been allowed to stay open this Spring
The start of the crackdown for stopping the COVID-19 virus goes back to April of this year. I took a weekend Metrolink Pass from Oceanside to Los Angeles one Saturday. Even by April almost no one was traveling by rail. I even was prevented from transferring to transit services at Los Angeles because of restrictions to avoid spreading the Corona Virus. Soon thereafter ridership crashed on most transit ridership in California and most of the rest of the country. Lack of connections and frequent passenger services derailed ridership since then to this day. The heart of transportation lies in connections to as many travel markets as possible. A major station like Los Angeles Union Station is an example of this as a major hub for connections to multiple travel markets.
This June I took a quick trip to Los Angeles Union Station from Oceanside on Amtrak. The advantage of this was the Surfliner’s greater frequencies compared with the more limited Metrolink services. I mostly wanted a quick trip to Los Angeles and back to Oceanside.While ridership wasn’t great. From the passenger cars I did go through about half of the seats on these cars were occupied. What was noticeable was the train was ahead of schedule for the entire trip. Basically people were spending less time getting on and off the trains. But the train couldn’t depart until the station’s scheduled departure time. So while we often waited at the stations, we still got to Los Angeles early. Cutting out schedule padding would encourage more ridership. The biggest problem remains how long the services at Union Station remain closed.
Just recently I took the Coaster Train from Oceanside to San Diego and back. Ridership was very low. My return train normally also would be a commuter service from Sorrento Valley (a major job center in San Diego). There was almost no one waiting at the platform to ride home going north during rush hour.
Generally the fight to control the coronavirus has been going well. Much of this came crashing down recently as several States decided to open up more businesses. What happened next was a major increase of the number of people catching the COVID-19 virus. Many of the people catching and spreading the virus were adults under 30 who had gone out drinking and partying with their friends. Even singing at church can spread the virus since the virus is spread in droplets of water as people talk or sing. We should be able to travel more with proper controls that stop the widespread infection of this virus.