RI rail passenger count up; still lower than hoped

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — More passengers are using the commuter rail line between Providence and Rhode Island's main airport, transportation officials reported Friday, but not as many as was hoped when the trains started rolling in late 2010.

Ridership statistics show an average of 149 people take the train to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick each weekday. An average of 177 people catches the train each day at T.F. Green and head north to Providence, Boston or points in between. The numbers come from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which operates the rail service under a deal with the state.

Though that's twice as many passengers as a year ago, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said officials wanted to see more passengers taking the train by now.

"Obviously, it's a slower start than we'd hoped for but we have all the pieces in place to make it work," he said. "The key is to make it as convenient as possible or people won't use it."

Bryan Lucier, a spokesman at the state Department of Transportation, notes passenger rail service south of Providence is still in its early stages. Lucier said that so far, ridership at T.F. Green "has exceeded RIDOT's expectations."

The state is poised to extend commuter service farther south to the new Wickford Junction in North Kingstown. Service to the station, which includes a four-story parking garage and links to local bus service, is scheduled to begin on April 23.

Wickford will be the southern-most stop on the Providence-Stoughton rail line. It should help boost passenger counts by giving residents in southern Rhode Island a new way to commute or travel to T.F. Green, Avedisian said.

State officials have long discussed the possibility of extended commuter rail service all the way to Westerly. A 2001 report outlining that goal projected that more than 450 passengers would board trains in Warwick daily, with 3,000 more using a station in North Kingstown.

Passenger rail service connecting the airport to Providence began in December 2010. A year ago, the MBTA reported that 109 people on average were using the new service each day.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed toured the new Wickford station this week. Reed, a Democrat, pushed to secure $33 million in federal funds for the new facility. He said in a statement that rail service offers a good alternative to commuters now dealing with rising gas prices and highway traffic.

"By getting more commuters off the highways and on to mass transit, this project will help relieve congestion along the I-95/Route1/Route 4 corridor, and improve air quality," he said.

Trains will run Monday through Friday from Wickford north to Warwick, Providence and Boston. The service will offer 20 trips a day, and fares will vary depending on destination.