I-Team: Ridership at Wickford train station slowly increasing
On one recent morning, only five people boarded the 5:58 a.m. train that makes stops in Warwick, Providence, several in Massachusetts and ends at South Station in Providence.
The Wickford station and the adjoining parking lot cost taxpayers $44 million. The project was funded mostly with federal funds.
Michael Lewis, the director of Rhode Island's Department of Transportation, said ridership has increased 48 percent since the station opened in 2012. But in real numbers, that translates to approximately 175 riders purchasing round trip tickets each day.
Lewis dismisses skeptics who have criticized the Wickford station as a waste of tax dollars, citing low ridership, and a 1,100 parking space garage that sits largely empty, despite a recent move allowing free parking to attract riders.
"So we see over the long haul, we will see the kind of growth and kind of ridership in the South County service that the projections predicted five years ago," Lewis said.
Lewis said when the commuter trains from the Providence Amtrak station went on line many years ago, only about 200 people rode the trains daily.
"But now, that ridership is up to 2,400 daily riders. I expect the same type of growth over the next 10 years at the Wickford Junction Station," Lewis said.
The cost of maintaining the parking garage is $58,000 a month. Lewis said it's managed by a private company "because the state is not geared up to perform that type of service."
Lewis said the monthly bill to manage the garage is paid for by a multi-year federal grant. The grant is designed to help states improve their mass transit systems and encourage people to leave their cars at home and take the train.
Lewis said he hopes to implement weekend service at the Wickford Junction station in the near future.
Several passengers talked to the I-Team and expressed satisfaction with the service out of Wickford Junction.
"It's awesome," one woman said, as she boarded the 9:10 a.m. train to Boston.