Weekend commuter rail off to good start

Unlike weekdays, weekend ridership near pre-pandemic levels

WEEKEND SERVICE on all of the MBTA’s commuter rail lines returned on July 3, and already ridership is back close to pre-COVID levels.

Saturday ridership is roughly 77 percent of what it was during the summer of 2019, while Sunday ridership is 100 percent, according to Justin Thompson, a spokesman for Keolis Commuter Services, the operator of the T’s commuter rail system.

Trains are still under-utilized, but those are strong numbers given that weekend service wasn’t even available on most commuter rail lines during the first half of the year. The numbers also represent a stark contrast with weekday ridership, which still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic and the corresponding decline in commuting to work.

On all lines combined, Thompson said, there are approximately 14,200 trips taken on an average Saturday and 12,600 trips on an average Sunday. That compares with 29,500 trips on an average weekday, a number that is well below pre-pandemic levels of roughly 120,000. 

In January, the T shut down service on the Fitchburg, Franklin, Greenbush, Haverhill, Kingston/Plymouth, Lowell, and Needham Lines. Service was continued on the Newburyport/Rockport, Framingham/Worcester, Fairmount, Providence, and Middleborough Lines but with fewer trips.

On July 3, the T restored weekend service on all lines with the help of federal aid. The T also launched new standardized schedules with earlier trips and an increase in the overall number of weekend trains. The Needham line, for example, added Sunday service, which had never been available before.

The Newburyport-Rockport line, which runs through Chelsea and Lynn, attracted the most weekend riders – an average of 3,888 on Saturdays and 2,899 on Sundays. The Providence and the Framingham/Worcester lines had the second and third highest weekend ridership.

The Lowell line also did well, attracting an average of 1,063 riders on Saturdays and 731 on Sundays.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Fairmount line fared the worst, despite having more service – 12 inbound and 12 outbound trains — than most other lines. The Fairmount had an average of 355 riders on Saturdays and 310 on Sundays. That works out to about 15 riders per train on Saturdays and 13 on Sundays.

The Needham line, running eight inbound and eight outbound trains on weekends, was the other low-performer. It had an average of 365 riders on Saturdays, or 22 per train. The Needham line’s new Sunday service attracted 239 riders, or 15 per train.