The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroads made headlines last week when it announced record ridership in 2016 of 214,063, shattering the record of 210,347 set in 2012.
The record means a couple of things. First, there were no washouts or other service disruptions in 2016 to depress patronage.
Second, it was an aberration. Ridership over 200,000 has been rare on the CVSR.
If history is any guide, the CVSR will struggle to sustain its success. After carrying more than 200,000 passengers in 2012, ridership in 2013 fell to 186,270 and continued to fall in 2014 (185,912) and 2015 (185,500)
The 2016 uptick is due to a number of factors, including lack of service disruptions caused by weather or track work, the institution of new programs to attract new business, record ridership in the Bike Aboard! program, and good ticket sales for steam in the valley.
Excursions behind Nickel Plate Road 767 (a.k.a. NKP 765) sold out.
Like a fast food franchise, the CVSR must constantly introduce new products and promote those that it has.
It can be difficult to find ridership data for the CVSR before 1990, but a news report following the first year of operation in 1975 said that 7,000 rode 21 weekend trips, most of them pulled by steam locomotive 4070 in 1975.
In 1990, the last year that the 4070 operated, ridership was 9,300 on 32 trips.
The following year, there were 91 trips and ridership of 15,700. In 1992, ridership increased to 24,000.
Patronage took a massive jump in 1995 when 475 trips netted ridership of 61,000 compared to 42,000 over 300 trips in 1994.
Ridership hit triple digits for the first time in 2000 when 100,130 rode. By then the CVSR was operating 1,000 trips a year.
Since breaking the 100,000 mark in 2000, ridership has remained in the triple digits with the exception of 2003 when it plummeted to 93,000.
The drop in ridership that year can be explained in one word: flooding.
It knocked the CVSR out of operation when 14 miles of track suffered severe damage. Service was suspended for nearly three weeks.
Ridership can also be depressed by other factors.
In October 2013 a stalemate over the federal budget that shut down the federal government knocked the CVSR out of service for about a week during the busy fall foliage season.
That played a role in the 24,000 drop in ridership that the CVSR experienced in 2013 when compared to its record-setting year of 2012.
It took three years, but at least, the railroad has recovered from that.