Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Nation’s busiest railroad struggles with old wires

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press

As published in the Sunday edition of the Record Journal on August 21, 2011

NEW HAVEN — After passengers became stuck in a disabled train with no air conditioning in stifling heat last month on the nation’s busiest rail line, Metro-North Railroad pointed to a familiar culprit hanging around for a century.

Metro-North said the severe troubles on July 22 that led desperate passengers to call 911, remove emergency windows and even flee the train to walk along the railroad were caused by overhead wires that power the trains. Portions of the catenary system date to 1914 and are prone to failure in extreme heat when wires sag and become tangled in mechanical arms on top of the train cars.

Metro-North promised this week to work with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to replace the wires and other aging infrastructure “as expeditiously as possible.” Connecticut began replacing the wires in 1996 and the project is about 60 percent done but is not expected to be finished until 2015. “This system is decades past its useful life and the fragile condition of the system leads to regular failures, significantly impacting service reliability,” the railroad wrote in a report of an investigation into last month’s troubles.

The overhead wires are responsible for about 8 percent of delays on the New Haven line, Metro-North said. With nearly 400 trains operating on the line daily and Metro-North carrying 37 million people annually, train officials said it’s challenging to make improvements.

New York has already replaced its catenary system and has not experienced failures, according to the report. Metro-North noted that new train cars are arriving in Connecticut and promised to improve its emergency response when trains are disabled.

“It is important to note, however, that these actions cannot overcome years of disinvestment in infrastructure and equipment,” the report stated.

Gene Colonese, railroad administrator for DOT, said the original goal was to finish the project by 2010 but it proved more complicated. He said officials recently decided to focus more on upgrades to the wires rather than railroad bridges, but still doesn’t expect to finish the work before 2015.

The real issue was Metro-North’s emergency response and failure to communicate, said Jim Cameron, who heads up the rail commuter council. Downed wires are a common cause of major delays, but DOT projects are always delayed and even new wires can be pulled down by old train cars, he said.

A new fleet of train cars has been slowly arriving, but Cameron said it’s been delayed more than a year.

“These are all excuses Metro-North can use, none of which deal with the fundamental issues of their personnel and their incompetence and their lack of communication when something happens,” Cameron said. “Passengers were that desperate that they felt the call to 911 was going to be necessary to save their lives.”

Frank K. Darmstadt, a 47year-old New Jersey resident who was on the train to visit his parents, said passengers sat in the train for about 45 minutes in Westport with little communication by Metro-North. Passengers begged for water and began opening emergency windows for air, he said.

“People were on the verge of passing out,” Darmstadt said, noting there were pregnant and elderly passengers. “There was a sense of nobody knew what the heck was going on and nobody knew what to do in this emergency type of situation.”

Ron Kovis, a 53-year-old graphic artist from Fairfield who was on the train when it broke down in Westport, said it felt like the train was well over 100 degrees. He said passengers pleaded with train personnel to open the doors, an elderly man next to him was struggling and two women managed to get off the train and were walking alongside it. “It was very claustrophobic and extremely hot,” Kovis said. “I couldn’t believe how hot it was.”

Metro-North apologized and promised to make more frequent announcements and enact other reforms, including stepped up coordination with local first responders.

Cameron said his group has tried unsuccessfully for years to get Metro-North to improve its communications.

Kovis said he wasn’t surprised to hear Metro-North blame the catenary system.

“It seems like most of the time when we have problems it’s related to the overhead wires,” he said. “It seems like it’s taken forever.”

Kovis said commuters are also frustrated with the slow arrival of the new trains, adding “probably the richest area in the country and I think we probably have the worst train system in the country. There’s just something wrong with that.”

Proposed Changes in Fares on New Haven Line

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

http://www.mta.info/mta/news/hearings/

The public is invited to comment on fare increases proposed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation ("CDOT") for travel between Connecticut and New York stations on MTA Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line, as well as for travel between stations within Connecticut on that line. The fare increases, which are proposed to become effective on November 1, range from 0% to 30% (with most fares increasing 14% to 18%), with additional proposed increases of 1% per year for the years 2013 through 2018.

CDOT also proposes to increase certain bus and Shore Line East rail fares, which would cause a corresponding increase in UniTicket and UniRail fares. More detailed information on the proposed fare increases will be available on or about August 15, 2011, on CDOT’s and Metro-North’s websites at www.ct.gov and www.mta.info or at Metro-North’s Customer Service Center (8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) located on the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, and at the offices of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, 3rd floor of Union Station, 50 Union Avenue, New Haven.

Time & Place of the Hearings

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
4:00 to 6:00 PM and 7:00 to 9:00 PM
General Re Auditorium
University of Connecticut, Stamford Branch
One University Place, Stamford, Connecticut

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
4:00 to 6:00 PM and 7:00 to 9:00 PM
Hall of Records, Room G-2
200 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
2:00 to 4:00 PM and 5:00 to 6:00 PM
Downstairs Hearing Room, Silas Bronson Library
267 Grand Street, Waterbury, Connecticut

FROM WALLINGFORD – Truth overtakes rail project

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

V-Knight_S

This week’s FROM WALLINGFORD was written by Stephen Knight

As published in the Record Journal, Sunday August 7, 2011

I have been a student of the railroad industry for my entire adult life; as a student in graduate school, as a keenly interested observer, and as a professional transportation consultant. So I write this column with considerable angst, because it is my conclusion that the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail project that will run through Wallingford is a boondoggle of fantastic proportions. My inherent predisposition to support this project is overwhelmed when confronted with the 1) downright mythical speed and service projections, 2) wildly optimistic ridership projections and 3) blindly underestimated capital and operating expenses.

Speed and service projections: In a May 9 press release, Gov. Malloy stated that these trains would reach “speeds up to 110 miles per hour.” I say: only if you catapult the trains from every station like they do jet fighters off an aircraft carrier. Why? First of all, there will eventually be 11 stops in the 62 miles between New Haven and Springfield. That’s an average of less than six miles between stops. So where exactly will these trains do 110 mph? And — are you ready for this? — the service will commence with hand-me-down equipment from Shoreline East. According to their latest schedule, those trains, making all the stops, move between New Haven and New London averaging less than 50 mph, and do so on the most advanced, best maintained railroad track in America. Secondly, this speed in a corridor with thirty-eight grade crossings? Really? So calling the NHHS project high speed rail is utterly fictitious.

Ridership projections built on the sentiment “Build it and they will come”: in calculating potential ridership, the numbers presented assume a) many more daily Amtrak trains running on the line; b) enormous numbers of passengers feeding the line from the so-called “Knowledge Corridor” line in central Massachusetts which has yet to be rebuilt; and c) thousands upon thousands of people willing to live in this corridor and work 2 ½ hours away in New York City. In other words, the number of commuters between New Haven and Springfield that is supposedly the driving force behind this project could never, ever justify the price tag, so numbers assuming a complete northeastern United States rail system build out are used to puff up the stats.

Capital and operating expenses: The price tag for rail line and station construction alone is $647 million, and the project is counting on huge support from the feds. Here is the latest fed response: State of Connecticut request — $227 million. Fed grant: $30 million. Result: the project has already contracted to providing trains only during peak commuter times. And how much money is allocated to purchase rolling stock — the stuff you ride on? Zero. As mentioned above, the plan is to use the existing Shore Line East equipment until, well, who knows?

As for operating expenses, somehow the project is making revenue estimates, but they haven’t even set the fare schedule. How do you do that? But even assuming (do you see that word a lot here?) their revenue and ridership projections are accurate, there is an inherent, unavoidable, inevitable huge annual cash subsidy. This is not unusual. This is the norm, but could someone in Hartford admit that?

So here’s the rub. Even more than I love railroads, I love the truth. The unvarnished, straight up, tell-it-like-it-is, we can take it truth. And we aren’t getting it. We are being fed pretty pictures, fantastic blue-sky fuzzy numbers and gauzy descriptions of an idyllic life in a future northeastern U.S. economy that seems farther from reality every single day.

If these words seem harsh, they spring from disappointment.

Disappointment that this project is not a practical, financially sensible fit for the market in which it is to operate, and disappointed that you and I are, yet again, being treated like proverbial mushrooms: kept in the dark and covered with . . . well, you know what I’m saying.

REMINDER – Information meeting set Aug. 4th regarding the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail project

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

As published in the Record Journal Friday July 22, 2011

WALLINGFORD — The office of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. will sponsor a public information meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 4 in the Town Council chambers at the Town Hall, 45 S. Main St.

Representatives from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and their consultant team will provide an update on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail project and its impact on Wallingford and possible station locations, including the property on South Cherry Street next to Judd Square Condominiums.

After the presentation, a question-and-answer session will be open to all attendees.

For information, call the mayor’s office at (203) 294-2070 or the engineering department at (203) 294-2035.

GOV. MALLOY ANNOUNCES $40 MILLION FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL FUNDS RELEASED TO CONNECTICUT

Friday, April 8th, 2011

GOV. MALLOY ANNOUNCES $40 MILLION FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL FUNDS RELEASED TO CONNECTICUT

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that $40 million in previously allocated stimulus funding was released today to Connecticut. Governor Malloy spoke at length with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about this when they met last month. While the funding for high speed rail was previously allocated, if not actually released to Connecticut by April 8, the state would have lost the money altogether.

“There was a very clear deadline by which we needed to have these funds released, and I wasn’t about to let $40 million in money for our state go somewhere else,” said Governor Malloy. “When I spoke with Secretary LaHood, I made our state’s case clearly and asked for his help cutting through the red tape to make sure that we got this money released to Connecticut by the deadline. I’d like to thank Secretary LaHood for his help on this matter, and I look forward to working with him closely on high speed rail and other transportation issues of import to the state.”

“High-speed rail will open up a new world of economic opportunities for Connecticut,” said Secretary LaHood. “The Administration’s initial $40 million investment in upgrading the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line will create jobs now and help ensure that in years to come, Connecticut residents will have access to world class high-speed rail service and economic opportunities throughout New England.”

The $40 million in previously allocated funds will be used to double-track ten miles of existing track between Newington and Meriden, which is necessary for the full New Haven-to-Springfield rail line to move forward.

###

For Immediate Release: April 8, 2011

Contact: David Bednarz

David.Bednarz@ct.gov

860-524-7315 (office)

860-770-9792 (cell)

Twitter: @GovMalloyOffice

Facebook: Office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy

GOV. MALLOY MEETS WITH METRO-NORTH PRESIDENT HOWARD PERMUT

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today met with Metro-North President Howard Permut to talk more about the disruption in service on Metro-North’s New Haven line, and what can be done going forward. Mr. Permut met with Governor Malloy in his office in Hartford earlier today.

“The fact that Metro-North’s New Haven line is the busiest in the United States offers little solace to the commuters who depend on its service every day,” said Governor Malloy. “The issues we’re experiencing there are illustrative of the problems our state is facing generally – for too long we’ve deferred our problems, and instead, we’ve covered them up with a band-aid until some later date. Well, the band-aid has worn off and there is no later date. The average age of the New Haven railcar fleet is 32 years, versus the average age of other lines’ fleets which is 6 years – it’s no wonder the New Haven line is having trouble keeping up. And I’m very mindful of the concerns of the commuters who use the Waterbury line, who’ve gotten the short end of the stick over the years.  I’m determined to address their legitimate concerns as quickly as time and resources allow.

“Mr. Permut and I had a broad discussion about a capital investment program to get new cars on line as soon as possible. The final stage of testing for the current M8 cars is scheduled to begin shortly, and my bond commission agenda includes funding for the final 38 cars. I’m not pretending this will solve all of our problems – it won’t. But I don’t have the luxury – nor do I have the inclination – to wait around and let someone else deal with this. I asked Mr. Permut for regular updates on the cars currently being repaired, as well as the reduced winter schedule.

“There is no silver bullet, but I am committed to getting the New Haven line back to where it needs to be to serve the people of Connecticut.”

For Immediate Release:

Colleen Flanagan

Director of Communications

860.524.7308 (o)

860.770.8090 (c)

Colleen.Flanagan@ct.gov

Metro North Sucks

Friday, February 4th, 2011
I used to be a big fan of the railroad and Metro North but these delays are inexcusable; stuck on the train AGAIN for no apparent reason (the 4:34 on Friday evening). Other trains go screaming by and we sit here. If it isn’t the weather, it’s a switch problem. If it’s not a switch problem, it’s an electrical one. I’m on a diesel engine today – what’s the problem? No fuel?
Where’s Thomas the Tank Engine when you need a Really Useful Engine?

Now they’ve finally gotten the train started but they are going to force everyone off the train at Stamford to switch trains and I am sure that train won’t be over crowded at all.

If Metro North and the MTA had to refund customers for all of these inconveniences, delays and so forth they’d be broke by the end of the shortest month of the year.

There is no reason for this at all on a day like today where there are no weather issues.

State gets $120m for rail project

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday October 26, 2010


By Robert Cyr
Record-Journal staff

rcyr@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2224

MERIDEN — Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other officials gathered at the downtown train station Monday to announce the federal government’s $120 million grant for high-speed rail service between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, adding to the $260 million already approved by the state.

The planned 11 stop, 62-mile rail line through the center of the state is estimated to cost about $800 million to $1 billion to complete, which the state Department of Transportation hopes to do by 2016. Meriden, Wallingford, Berlin and Bradley International Airport would be stops along the new line.

“This is one of the best projects put together in the country,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. “We’re relieving pressure along the Northeast corridor, and this is the critical piece needed to do that.”

The first phase of the project involves laying double track the length of the railway and constructing rail stations, Dodd said. Earlier this year, 10 miles of track were doubled between Newington and Berlin with $40 million in federal funding and $26 million in state money.

The remaining miles of track will take about five years to complete, he said. The work will be done by Connecticut-based companies, generating almost 5,000 jobs, Dodd said.

Although state officials fell short in their award package, they were undeterred and will look for more sources of funding, said Rell. The state originally applied for $220 million from the $2 billion in federal money to address state infrastructure projects.

“It’s not everything we asked for,” she said. “There will be other applications available, and we’ll certainly pursue those.”

Rell said the railway connecting the business centers of the state would bring attention to the smaller cities along the line, spreading business opportunities throughout the corridor.

“I always use Meriden as a good example,” she said. “This is one of those town-cities we can finally focus on when we get high speed rail.”

While a cost-benefit analysis has yet to be done on the project, preliminary state transportation studies have found that the trains would take an estimated 4,000 cars off the road each day, reducing carbon emissions by 10,000 tons a year, Dodd said.

The rail line would pass through the heart of the state’s “knowledge corridor” of 2 million people, a swath of cities of all sizes containing 32 colleges with 120,000 students, and 40,000 businesses, mostly small, he said.

“Certainly, there will be studies done,” he said. “But if you give people a chance to drive a short way, park their car and get on a train to go to work, and they’ll jump at a chance to use that system. This kind of project will remind people what we’re capable of doing.”

This month, Meriden officials learned the city had been awarded almost $1 million in state urban development and transportation funds to help acquire property in the area of the State Street train station, while $230,000 is earmarked for planning expenses.

Wallingford was forecast to have the busiest station on the line in a 2005 study, with 250 riders coming and going each day, although some say that number could be higher with spikes in gas prices. The town submitted a recommendation to the state Department of Transportation last summer that, should the commuter line materialize, the town would like its station relocated from where Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac Street intersect with Route 5 to the intersection of North Cherry and Parker streets, to ease traffic congestion in the downtown area.

Congressional representatives, state and local politicians and DOT Commissioner Jeffrey A. Parker also attended Monday’s announcement.

Connecticut’s announcement came on the same day that U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire announced more than $2 million in stimulus funds to study a $300 million high-speed rail corridor. That project would run from Boston to Nashua, and on to Concord.

Massachusetts has already received $70 million in federal money to upgrade deteriorated tracks from Springfield to Vermont. The tracks now carry freight trains at speeds no faster than 10 miles per hour, but repairs are expected to eventually boost speeds to about 60 and 70 miles per hour.

Train service for years has been diverted east to Palmer to avoid the run-down tracks. Transportation officials want to rebuild those tracks to provide north-south passenger service to population centers in Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst and Greenfield.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report. 

CT RAIL COMMUTER COUNCIL LAUNCHES ONLINE SURVEY TO GAUGE RIDERS’ RESPONSE TO NEW BAR CAR DESIGN

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Commuters are being given a chance to weigh-in on proposed designs for new bar cars on Metro-North. The state-appointed CT Rail Commuter Council has launched an online survey of riders to share proposed designs and ask for commuters’ reactions.

“Bar cars are an important part of many commuters’ lives,” says Commuter Council Vice Chair Terri Cronin of Norwalk. “We want to be sure that, as CDOT moves forward seeking bids on new M8 bar cars, they do so with riders’ input.”

Currently Metro-North’s eight bar cars are the only such cars in commuter rail service in North America. Though they have been recently rehabilitated, many hope new bar cars will be included in the state’s order of 300+ new M8 cars from Kawasaki.

To see the proposed design and answer the 16 question survey, commuters can visit the Commuter Council’s website at www.trainweb.org/ct and follow the link on the homepage to the survey site.

The Council hopes to complete the survey in a month and will share the results with CDOT, Metro-North and the public upon its completion.

For More Information Contact: 

JIM CAMERON  (Chairman)
Phone:    203-655-0138
Cell:  203-952-5758
E-Mail:  Cameron06820@gmail.com

Bradley to add JetBlue to lineup

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

WINDSOR LOCKS — State officials say JetBlue Airways will begin service from Bradley International Airport later this year with nonstop service to Florida.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said Monday that beginning Nov. 17, New York-based JetBlue will provide nonstop service twice a day from Bradley to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood and Orlando international airports.

Bradley lost its overseas link last year when Northwest halted service to Amsterdam.

But the airport picked up more domestic flights. Delta Air Lines will restore service to Los Angeles beginning June 10 and Southwest Airlines last month began daily nonstop flights to Denver.

From the Jetblue site:

Hartford, CT (BDL) and Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) starts November 17, 2010.

Hartford, CT (BDL) and Orlando, FL (MCO) starts November 17, 2010

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