I ride the Amtrak Downeaster five days a week, commuting into Boston from southern New Hampshire. It's about 90 minutes each way but it sure beats driving into Boston and lets me work for a very fun and exciting startup smack in the middle of downtown Boston.
When i started riding in March the train was typically about 70% full. That's a rough, totally off the cuff estimate from my memory of 6 months ago, but based on how often I had a seat to myself I think it s fairly accurate. In May ridership picked up and trains were often at or near 100% capacity. They said this would only last during the summer. Well, summer is over and it is 5:01pm right now. As the train is pulling away from North Station (as I type this sentence) there are still people looking for seats. I suspect there are people sitting in the Cafe car already, even tho they are not supposed to.
It's about to get MUCH worse. More below the fold.
So, a little background for those of you unfamiliar (or slightly familiar) with the Downeaster line. This is primarily a commuter run designed to ferry people into Boston in the morning and back out in the evening. Including the end points Boston and Portland there are a total of 10 stops and 5 runs in each direction every weekday (weekend runs as well but the weekend is a totally different dynamic and not one I'm familiar with since I only ride during the week.
The primary commuter runs are two inbound runs in the morning and two outbound in the late afternoon. Let's call these M1, M2, A1 and A2 for easy of reference.
M1 gets into Boston at 8:15am
M2 gets into Boston at 10:30am
A1 departs Boston at 5:00pm
A2 departs Boston at 5:40pm
As I mentioned, there are 5 runs in each direction, but for those of us commuting into Boston to work these are the only viable runs, and if you miss that 5:40pm train the next train is at 11:20pm (great if you want to catch a show in Boston but not even a good option for dinner in town before heading home).
Come November 1st Amtrak is adding two new stops on the far side of Portland, extending the line upto Freeport (yay free train rides to LLBean since I am only a monthly pass). Extending the line is good, but it's how they have decided to handle the longer runs which is a problem, and I'll get to that in a moment.
Like many commuters, I ride the M1 train in the morning. Some days I ride the M2 instead, especially if I was up until 1am the night before working on a customer issue or some time sensitive project. The M2 train is a mix of day trippers and office types who can afford to get into the office after 10:30am.
Heading home I try and catch the A1 train so that I can be home in time for dinner. In the rare occasion when I miss the A1 I can always catch the A2. Both the A1 and the A2 have a high concentration of commuters, and I know many people who ride the M1 take the A2 home.
Come October 15th things are going to get interesting.
The M2 and A1 trains will stay essentially the same.
The M1 train will get into Boston about 20 minutes earlier.
The A2 train has been moved to 6:45pm
It's that last part that is the kicker. Those riders who leave the office at 5pm to catch the 5:40 train now will have two voices come October 15th. They can stick around in the office for another hour and catch the 6:45pm or they can cut out a little early and catch the 5pm.
I'm guessing that a very significant percentage of the people who currently ride the 5:40pm train will opt for that second option and move themselves to the 5:00pm train. I'm guessing we'll see close to 25% of the 5:40 riders switching to the 5:00pm train.
Remember how I said the 5:00pm train is at 100% capacity? I've asked repeatedly if we are going to see an extra car added onto any of the trains to address the increased capacity, but to date have not gotten even a hint that this might happen.
Amtrak is not prepared.