Thank you for the more complete explanation and your response
We really do get great explinations from @orulz.
Do you know if they’re still planning on adding another round trip when Charlotte Gateway Station opens, or was that the one added “early” over the summer?
I also wonder if there’s not enough equipment to do another RT and we’ll have to wait for the new trainsets
So looking at the ticket situation around Thanksgiving, looks like the “basically never sells out” thing may no longer be true. Now that they are running four round trips per day, and given recent ridership gains, perhaps they don’t have enough spare coaches on hand to add as much capacity to any given departure.
NCDOT hypothetically has enough equipment to run another round trip. Actually I think it would probably just involve having an existing train just do a second round trip each day. However, this is pending some infrastructure changes beyond just Gateway Station.
I think that in order to do this, they would have to finish the Summit Ave maintenance yard in Charlotte so that one of the Piedmont trains could be based there. In addition there would need to be some extra second track built between Raleigh and Greensboro to accommodate the new overtakes that would be needed.
Are these changes in the works considering the potential increased traffic along this route due to the S-Line (and eventually the Charlotte to Atlanta route)? Somewhere I had gotten the impression that the section from Raleigh to Charlotte was pretty much complete, or at least good enough for servicing that traffic.
The capacity improvements are definitely in the plan, and in some cases being studied, but as far as I know, neither the Charlotte yard, station, nor any capacity improvements between Greensboro and Raleigh are funded in the current STIP.
There are a few grade separations and curve realignments here and there on the corridor that are funded, but I think the big hope is that NC will get a chunk of the Biden administration’s $66 billion in passenger rail grants to boost our ambitions.
Announcements on these grants are expected basically any day, but we could be waiting a few weeks or months to hear the news. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that if NCDOT does get any of this money, at least some of it will probably go to the Piedmont corridor. The question is, how much. Are we talking:
- 8 figures (a token investment, a pretty big disappointment)
- 9 figures (a repeat of Obama’s stimulus which was great, but only accelerated incremental improvements)
- 10 figures (a big deal, potentially revolutionary)
Just did some napkin math on these ridership numbers and it’s interesting to compare to Brightline, who also just had a great October in Florida after expanding service to Orlando.
NC By Train:
65,980 Oct’23 riders / 31 days ~= 2,128 riders per day / 10 trains per day = 212 avg riders per train
205,745 Oct’23 ridership / 31 days ~= 6,636 riders per day / 38 trains per day = 174 avg riders per train
I also compared the populations served by totaling the populations of counties with a station in them. Data from 2020 census. Not a perfect methodology, but I think it gets the general idea across.
North Carolina: 3,824,048
Florida has 4 counties served by a station: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange - all have populations over 1M. Additionally, Brightline is bypassing a large amount of people between their West Palm Beach and Orlando stations, which is expected to change in the near/medium term with additional stations in various planning stages at the moment.
North Carolina has double the amount at 8 counties served, but half the total population. Only two of those counties have populations over 1M.
Interested to see in how things play out for both areas in the future. There’s a lot of growth to be had for Brightline, but NC is putting up impressive numbers. Really makes you consider what it would look like if the service was better. But things are looking up! People want to ride!
Since the number you are using is 10 trains per day, that means you are also including the Carolinian - which runs between Charlotte and New York (rather than stopping in Raleigh.) Therefore I am pretty sure that the “65,000 riders” number also includes passengers traveling between (eg) Richmond and DC, or even trips entirely on the Northeast Corridor, such as Baltimore to Philadelphia - so it’s not quite an accurate comparison with Brightline, which is captive to its corridor in the state of Florida.
As for the Piedmont:
Prior to 2010, when it was just a single round trip per day, ridership grew rapidly, from 53 per train in 2003 to 93 per train in 2009.
When the second round trip was added in 2010, ridership per train held steady (2010: 91; 2011: 95), meaning that overall ridership doubled practically overnight.
Since then, aside from a dip in 2021 due to COVID, ridership per train has trended gradually upward, even against a background of increasing frequency.
In September 2023 (the most recent month for which statistics are published) about 29000 people rode the Piedmont, an average of just over 120 per train.
Whoops, pretty big mistake on my part. I just assumed that it was at least boardings or detrainings within the state. And, looking up the coach capacities, 212 per train would be pretty crazy given the capacity of a regular Piedmont consist.
I’m interested to see the numbers broken down by service for October when that’s available.
To expand a bit more on the impact of adding the 4th piedmont round trip. I picked two months in 2023, one before and one after the fourth round trip: May and August. Comparing that with the same months in 2022 can give us an idea of ridership elasticity, in other words, how much “cannibalization” of ridership is going on.
June 2022: 18,000. 6,000 per daily round trip (3x).
Sep 2022: 24,200. 8067 per daily round trip (3x).
That means that ridership is about 34% higher in August vs May.
June 2023: 19,300. 6433 per daily round trip (3x).
Sep 2023: 29,200. 7300 per daily round trip (4x).
Based on 34% higher ridership in Sep vs June from above, without the added 4th round trip, we would have expected about 25,900 riders in Sep 2023, or 8620 per daily round trip.
If there had been no cannibalization at all (elasticity of 1) we would have expected about 34,500 total riders for the month after adding the 4th round trip.
Basically, I estimate that adding the 4th RT generated 3,300 new trips on the Piedmont that month. 45% of the ridership of the new RT was new; 55% was cannibalized from other existing RTs.
So, pretty good. But not the ‘elasticity of 1’ I have observed in the past based on analyzing a full year’s worth of ridership. We’ll have to wait until October 2024 to see how that pans out!
Looks like perhaps the Summit Ave maintenance yard is scheduled for completion in 2028?
In theory, yes, but the neighbors have been making a lot of noise over it:
Those people are snowflake NIMBYs.
However, they are also right in a certain way, the yard doesn’t really belong there IMO. The western endpoint of Piedmont service should be CLT airport, not Gateway Station, so the maintenance facility belongs west of the airport, not betweeen the airport and Gateway Station.
Perhaps somewhere like: https://maps.app.goo.gl/oC4q1VVFL7z9ZFRN6