M A S S    T R A N S I T    P I C T U R E    S T O R Y 

No longer the voice of the Commuter Council, Jim Cameron is making things happen, even more directly, for rail users!.

Bullet trains for the east coast Japan above.  "Stimulus" package for high speed corridors...will this work?  Safety on mass transit...more safety (train crossings, school bus).  2013 METRONORTH; AIRBUS in the French Alps, construction site in Stamford raise different types of ethical questions to us.
This page, "MASS TRANSIT," is part of a suite of pages related to transportation;  please visit these others as well:  VISUAL ISSUES explores land use/transportation relationship;  TRAIN SERVICE follows CT DOT matters and New CT DOT page);  better "journey to work" just one thing that might help residents of one small city?  Check out the new design of the exterior of rail cars!  Lastly, is anyone thinking about TRUCK TRAFFIC?

2015 in CT:   OPM Public Hearing testimony on HB6851;  Mussolini made the trains run on time.  To the floor!

T A B L E    O F    C O N T E N T S

Is this the same thing as previous "light-rail" from South End to Bull's Head?  At right, the model for visionary, rear-view mirror variety, transit, in and around city center.

BLT, city officials fall in love over new trolley service (not the previous, real thing)
Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 1:00 am, Saturday, February 15, 2014

STAMFORD -- City leaders and Building and Land Technology officials were feeling the love this Valentine's Day as they cut the ribbon on a free trolley service connecting the South End and downtown neighborhoods.

The relationship between city officials and Norwalk developer BLT, which is in the middle of a $3.5 billion redevelopment of Stamford's South End, has been a bumpy road over the past few years. BLT is credited with sending millions in building permit fees and property taxes to city coffers, but has also been criticized for sidestepping building permit and zoning regulations.

On Friday morning there were only warm, fuzzy feelings of affection on display, however, as city officials and the developer celebrated the launch of the new public trolley service at BLT headquarters on Washington Boulevard.

"This marriage between the South End and the downtown has been a long time coming," said Mayor David Martin. "This whole thing is another symbol of our vibrancy as a city."

Downtown Special Services District President Sandy Goldstein, who battled BLT in 2012 over the developer's inclusion of a large ballroom in its proposal for a waterfront hotel on Washington Boulevard, delightedly accepted a bouquet of flowers and oversized stuffed dog from CEO Carl Kuehner.

"We are very, very grateful to Carl, my Valentine, and (Zoning Board Chairman) Tom Mills and his zoning board cohorts for making this happen today," Goldstein said. "This is one of the first steps, and there will be many, of connecting the South End, which is extraordinary, to the downtown, which is just magnificent."

Goldstein said her office believes there will be strong demand for the trolley service, which is free to all riders and will run hourly seven days a week.

"I hope people ride it because BLT is putting a lot of money into this," Goldstein said.

BLT Spokesman John Freeman declined to disclose how much money BLT is spending on the trolley service, which is funded in part by a $487,000 grant from the Federal Transit Authority. The trolley fleet includes four buses, which were built in the United States and seat 30 people.

Raising his champagne flute for a toast before the trolley's inaugural ride, Freeman said the new transportation service is a result of successful collaboration between BLT and city officials.

"Together, we can move mountains," he said.

The trolley's 3.3-mile route, which includes 14 stops, starts at Harbor Point Square on Washington Boulevard. The trolley then stops at the downtown train station and Government Center before turning right onto Broad Street, looping down Tresser Boulevard and traversing the South End.

Mills, who along with other zoning and land use officials clashed with BLT over its decision to raze the city's last working boatyard in violation of local zoning laws in 2011, said he was impressed with the trolley's wood-paneled interior.

"This is gorgeous," Mill said Friday. "These are the things we know BLT can do on a regular basis."

NEW MEANING OF TRIPTYCH (in Grand Central Station it is called a "trip ticket")
Reminds us of a winter version of famous triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights"
by Hieronymus Bosch

Malloy, Rail Officials Find Agreement Over Commuter Complaints
by Christine Stuart | Feb 17, 2014 6:53pm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy let Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast know that they had lost the trust of the rail commuting public in Connecticut.

After emerging Monday from a closed-door meeting, Malloy said the railroad was going to put in place a 100-day plan to begin to earn back the trust of the commuting public by providing reliable, on-time, and safe travel from Connecticut to New York. The plan is expected to be created over the next two weeks. The two sides also agreed to an independent review of any major projects like the recent replacement of an electrical cable in Cos Cob.

“We have stressed with them that the lack of communication, in so many ways, has led to this level of mistrust and distrust between their ridership in Connecticut,” Malloy said at a press conference outside his Capitol office.

He said part of the problem with the MTA is that for too long everybody has been willing to take credit for the wins without “sufficient owning up to the losses.”

Both Giuletti, who started the job last week, and Prendergast acknowledged that there’s work that needs to be done in repairing its relationship with commuters.

But pinpointing exactly how it got to this point was difficult.

There was the derailment in Bridgeport last year, followed by the death of the worker on the track in West Haven, followed by the power outage in September which halted traffic on the New Haven line, and then the fatal derailment in the Bronx in December. That all happened in 2013.

When those investigations are completed, Prendergast said he believes they’re going to find that there was an exodus of key people who retired after being with the railroad for 30 years.

“There were also some issues with respect to track,” Prendergast said.

He said that’s why they brought in a company to look at their maintenance practices. He said there are also inspector general reports regarding employees who were off-the-job doing other things while they were supposed to be working.

“When you put that all together there’s a breakdown in management especially in that one area,” Prendergast said. “That kind of degradation occurs over time, but they manifest themselves generally down the road.”

He went on to say, “We have had a tremendous number of those instances. It’s not by coincidence. There’s something going on in the organization. There’s some management and cultural issues. We’ll find those and root them out.”

He said rooting out those problems starts by bringing in new management, like Giuletti. Prendergast has only been in the position since last June. Both promised to make the changes the governor was asking them to make.

He said there’s nothing they want more than to restore that performance to where it was when it was considered the best in the industry.

As part of that commitment, Prendergast said they’re going to be listening to commuters’ concerns.

“There’s a lot to be said for ‘listen to the customers concerns and respond to them’,” Prendergast said. “And we will commit to that. We have committed to that.”

But while acknowledging that there’s room for improvement, Metro-North and the MTA have little to worry about when it comes to its contract to manage Connecticut’s rails.

The 60-year contract is renewed every five years. If the two sides can’t agree to the terms, then it goes to arbitration. That leaves Connecticut with very little leverage to get Metro-North to voluntarily comply.

“We have gone to arbitration in the past,” Malloy said. “As a result, we pay some additional dollars, but I think we paid that without commensurate reliability. I have to say I think they were doing a pretty good job for a period of time, but have fallen off a cliff.”

The question is how quickly can the new leadership team restore that level of performance.

Malloy said the state will be asking for bids in the near future for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line.

“I think that demonstrates our willingness to look at other options,” Malloy said.

Commuters Take To Social Media To Keep In Touch with Metro-North
by New Haven Register | Jan 28, 2014 7:16am

A new rail commuter advocacy group is using social media and the Internet to pressure lawmakers and Metro-North to fix problems as they arise.

James Cameron, who resigned from the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council because its focus was shifting to larger-focus issues rather than nitty-gritty issues, said the new group, Commuter Action Group, would give commuters a new voice.

“This is in no way a competitor to the council,” Cameron said Monday, when he also released a “Commuter Manifesto” empowering commuters. “I think we’re certainly meeting toward the same ends. I see this as a grass-roots, technology-based empowerment tool for commuter ... using the power of politics ... to allow commuters to hold them accountable for helping fix these problems.”

At Grand Central during breakdown...of Metro North personnel.

Cold weather, cold shoulders plague Metro-North
Daniel Tepfer, Greenwich TIME
Updated 6:57 am, Monday, January 27, 2014

On the heels of a frigid weekend and disastrous rail breakdowns that left riders stranded for hours last week, berated Metro-North officials are starting to feel like local commuters.  Frustrated and cranky.

"We can't do a damn thing about the cold weather," an exasperated Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Sunday. "We are still going to have cold weather, and we are still going to have cold-weather delays."

After freezing temperatures overnight Monday, winter's chill continues to be a threat, although not like it was when the mercury plunged into the single digits recently.

"Who knows what is going to happen as the cold weather continues?" commuter advocate Jim Cameron said Sunday. "Anyone who commutes regularly on Metro-North knows they should assume the worst and hope for the best, and keep checking for updates."

Although Monday morning's rush hour is expected to be normal, officials said, the aftershocks of two service disruptions last week -- including one that affected the New Haven, Harlem and Hudson lines for hours -- have left Metro-North riders bitter and skeptical.  Last Wednesday, more than 200 passengers were stuck in the cold for two hours near Westport. A day later, the system-wide shutdown isolated thousands of riders in Connecticut and New York for another two hours. Rail officials blamed that service disruption on poor decision-making.

When Anders was asked about Metro-North testing its computer-based electrical system during the evening rush Thursday, she responded: "Are we going to fire the (expletive) electrician? I'm sure the appropriate disciplinary action has been taken."

Maybe so, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions for this beleaguered commuter railroad.  For example, what quality-control improvements can Metro-North make right away? What cultural and policy changes can be enacted quickly?  Cameron, who has often criticized the railroad and those who manage it, is somewhat sympathetic to Metro-North's plight.

"It appears Margie's a little on edge," he said Sunday. "Things seemed to go from bad to worse."

On the plus side, Cameron said, he thinks Metro-North has tried hard to provide as much service as they can considering the recent weather conditions.

"They are doing better this year than previous years because of the new (M8) cars," he said. "In previous years, (Metro-North) just about shut down in bad weather."

Last Thursday's electrical test, meanwhile, stranded riders from about 7:45 to 9:45 p.m. Trains were stopped on the Danbury branch line at the Branchville, Redding and Bethel stations until 12:25 Friday morning.

"Metro-North customers deserve better, and I extend my sincere apology to all of them," MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said later. "I have directed Metro-North to bring in an independent consultant to examine how and why these mistakes were made, and to recommend any necessary changes to operating procedures to ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

Last Wednesday, a Metro-North train broke down near the Greens Farms section of Westport when 100-year-old overhead wires became brittle in the extreme cold and snapped.  The breakdown was in the same area where a Metro-North train was stranded in July 2011 because of extreme heat, said John Hartwell, vice chairman of an advocacy group, the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Passengers, sweltering in cars with no air conditioning, removed emergency windows and fled the train to walk along the tracks.

"About Town" guest in 2007 quoted
When breakdowns on commuter trains were the subject.

Metro-North barrels into political headwind
Neil Vigdor, CT POST
Updated 10:46 pm, Saturday, January 25, 2014

There's a new third rail in politics: Metro-North Railroad.

The voltage coursing through it can be felt by lawmakers in both Connecticut and New York.

Plagued by a series of mishaps in the past year -- two of them resulting in fatalities and the rest incurring the wrath of commuters -- one of the nation's busiest commuter networks finds itself in a defensive posture over its governance, safety record, funding stream and what critics say is an unchecked monopoly on rail service.

Two weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Metro-North's president was stepping down, the embattled railroad suffered its latest self-inflicted incident...read long, excellent story here.

Conn. announces $121 million for high-speed rail
Oct 1, 3:45 PM EDT

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) -- State and federal officials on Monday announced $121 million in federal funding for a high-speed rail project between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.

The 62-mile project calls for service every 30 minutes during peak periods and every 60 minutes at other times. Speeds would reach up to 110 miles an hour.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office projects 1.26 million riders annually by 2030.

"Achieving this milestone means we can complete the design and construction of new track, signal and communication systems, bridge and station infrastructure improvements between New Haven and Hartford and provide an economic boon for the region," Malloy said.

The $121 million will be combined with $174 million in state bond financing. The funding announced on Monday brings to $191 million the federal commitment to the project. In total, $365 million in state and federal funding has been committed to the Connecticut portion of the New England rail system.

Service is expected to begin in 2016, when service aboard 12 trains a day will be increased to 34, or 17 round trips.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that although Congress must figure out how to reduce the federal debt that totals more than $16 trillion, funding for New England high-speed rail should be exempt from spending cuts because the regional rail system promotes economic development.

"There's no question that federal spending has to be restrained but this project is multi-year and multi-use and is a wise use of federal funding to support a critical transportation system that benefits the entire New England region," he said. "It deserves priority."

Malloy, members of Connecticut's congressional delegation and federal and state transportation officials announced the funding in Meriden on Monday afternoon.

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"BRT"  (bus rapid transit)

In the past, and this has changed, we think, it was also a matter of whether or not you lived at the end of the route or not.

An opinion regarding another form  of mass transit that recently got the shaft...
The wheels on the busway go round and round
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
May 22, 2012

Hartford -- Critics of the Hartford-to-New Britain busway have called the project a lot of bad things recently: "boondoggle" and "folly," to name a few. On Tuesday, when breaking ground on the project, supporters of the $567 million busway got their turn to brand the project.

The 9.4-mile road for buses will be called Connecticut Fast Track, or CTfastrak, as the logo appears. The project includes a five-mile trail for bicycles and pedestrians.

"This opens a whole new corridor. I can't think of a better project," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The busway is the Democratic governor's first mass transit project, and he is responsible for securing the $112 million in state support for it to become a reality. The remainder of the funding comes from Washington.

Supporters at the groundbreaking -- which took place in the Parkville section -- said the project will not only ease congestion on I-84 for commuters between Hartford and New Britain, but it will also create a quick boost of 4,000 construction jobs.

"We have been in an economic depression in the construction industry -- not a recession, a depression with 40 percent unemployment," said Ed Reilly, president of the Greater Hartford and New Britain Building Trades Council, which represents construction union members. "Today we know we are going to put thousands of Connecticut construction workers to work."

Jack Frigon is one of those unemployed workers.

"I want to go back to work," he said, and then pointed to the bus with the new CTfastrak logo displayed on it. "This hopefully will get me back to work."

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the project, including Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington. His attempts to get the legislature to shut the project down failed this past legislative session.

"Gov. Malloy has dug his political grave with that shovel up there. He has taken ownership for this mistake," Markley said, standing at the back of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. He predicted the busway will never get the ridership expected.

Others have also been skeptical, including then-Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, former co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, who wrote committee members saying the project should be reconsidered in light of the cost almost doubling.

"Today's $600 million busway is not what was proposed and sold to the legislature in 2006," wrote DeFronzo, who has since joined Malloy's administration as commissioner of administrative services.

Oz Griebel, the leader of the MetroHartford Alliance, a regional business collaborative, blamed the rising costs on the delay in breaking ground. The initial planning occurred during the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland, now a radio host critical of the busway.

"Time is money," said Griebel, who is cautiously supportive of the busway. State transportation officials have said the busway will draw 16,000 daily weekday riders.

"Just because they build, it doesn't mean they will come," Griebel said, noting the state has a lot of promoting to do.

The 11-stop busway trail will resemble a trolley or light-rail system, using custom buses instead of trains. Buses also would run over city streets to the busway from Westfarms mall and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Express buses to Hartford from Waterbury and Cheshire would enter the busway in New Britain. Buses will operate from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Malloy said.

Twelve years after planning and studies for this project began, Malloy said Tuesday he's glad he decided to move forward with this project. Early in his tenure as governor, Malloy faced a critical decision on the project's future. Some hoped he would chose a train connecting Bristol and Waterbury instead, which he has said he is considering.

"Let's get moving," he said Tuesday at the groundbreaking. "This is a great day."

The busway is slated to open in 2014.

So struck by this photo (l), which evokes memories...of looking for the next train!
Pictures above reminds me standing in the front car, nose pressed against the window - a token was 15 cents then!

We saw this originally, but only read it carefully now!
Tunneling to Long Island

Martin B. Cassidy, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 09:24 p.m., Saturday, May 19, 2012

NEW YORK -- At least five days a week, workers filter past Track 117 on the lower concourse of Grand Central Terminal toward a busy work site sealed off and buffered from thousands of daily commuters.

Just north of the terminal, members of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council walk carefully down one of four massive wells that will one day hold 17 escalators to carry the bulk of 80,000 Long Island Rail Road passengers to the surface from a mammoth two-level terminal to be completed later this decade, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"It's quite amazing to see," said Rodney Chabot, a New Canaan member of the council, which represents the interests of state commuters, during a tour of the site Wednesday.

Work on the escalator wells and other parts of the $7.3 billion East Side Access Project to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal is continuing around the clock, according to officials.

While work on the part of the project under Grand Central is on schedule, complications drilling tunnels under the Sunnyside, N.Y., railyard may push the project's estimated completion date back a year to 2019.

The completion of the terminal could benefit Connecticut commuters, and is a prerequisite to long-discussed hopes of allowing Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Line trains to travel through the Hell Gate line in the Bronx, N.Y., to Penn Station.

"Until the Long Island Rail Road is bringing some of its traffic into east Manhattan, Metro-North cannot bring trains into Penn Station," Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. "When this is finished, we think we can make the argument they have the capacity."

After major excavation of the two-level tunnels was finished, crews more than 100 feet underground are continuing to pare away rock to establish upper- and lower-level terminals for the trains, each with four platforms.

Work to excavate tunnels began in autumn 2007, and burrowed two 22-foot-diameter tunnels capable of accommodating four tracks each.  On Wednesday afternoon, heavy machinery carried excavated rock and other materials from the tunnels out of the work site to be disposed of or sold as building material.

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron, a first-time visitor to the site, said he was impressed by the amount of work being conducted without disrupting service at Grand Central Terminal.

"It's incredible to see and especially to think it is going on just feet from where hundreds of thousands of people travel each day," Cameron said.

Metro-North is conducting an environmental assessment study on the impact of running service through Hell Gate Bridge into Penn Station.  The plan also includes building new stations in Co-Op City, Parkchester and Hunts Point, along with revamping other stations, allowing Bronx residents to reverse-commute to Connecticut, according to plans.

Terri Cronin, vice chairman of the rail commuter council, said restoring Metro-North service through that corridor would not only revitalize some areas of the Bronx, but help Connecticut and New York City economically by reducing travel time to and from the Bronx and reduce traffic on Interstate 95.

"There are old stations there, but we just need to revamp them," Cronin said. "We need to continue to work with politicians to make sure that work happens when East Side Access is finished because it is something that would benefit everyone."

With major excavation of tunnels and the terminal space done, rock is being cleared mostly by drilling and some blasting, which is typically conducted when trains are out of service, Anders said.  Just next to the work elevator leading to the lower levels of the project, the names of scores of employees are arranged by which of three around-the-clock shifts they work.

"These guys work around the clock five days a week and sometimes seven days a week," said Dennis Ferrier, a safety inspector on the project.

Second train crash at same site
John Burgeson, CT POST
Updated 8:23 am, Sunday, May 19, 2013

BRIDGEPORT -- That Fairfield Avenue overpass where two Metro-North Railroad trains crashed Friday was the site of another train wreck that occurred on July 12, 1911, at 3:30 a.m.

Twelve people died in the 1911 crash when the eastbound Federal Express, one of the fastest trains on the New Haven line, jumped the rails when it hit a switch while traveling at an estimated speed of 60 mph.

That was the era of mixed freight and passenger trains.  The first car on the train was filled with fish, and was supposed to be uncoupled at the Bridgeport station only a mile away. Investigators surmised that the engineer was either unaware of the fish or had forgotten about them.  Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, the car was filled with trout that were on their way to stock lakes and ponds in New England.  The fish car, a baggage car and four of the six Pullman cars, along with the steam locomotive and its tender, hurtled off the tracks, and the engineer, Arthur M. Curtis, was killed instantly.

"The four derailed Pullmans were torn and crushed into a jumbled mass," said a newspaper account of the wreck.

The survivors included members of the St. Louis Cardinals, who were in the last two Pullmans; they were on their way to play the Boston Rustlers.  While the coincidence of two train crashes at the same location is noteworthy, derailments on commuter lines are by no means unusual occurrences.

There were more than 1,700 derailed trains in the U.S. in 2008, for example, which wasn't a particularly exceptional year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The vast majority of these involved freight trains.  According to the FRA, the most common cause of derailment is track problems (48 percent), followed by human factors (25 percent), followed by damaged, poorly maintained or improperly loaded cars (14 percent).

"Broken rails or welds were the leading derailment cause on main, yard, and siding tracks, according to a 2012 report by FRA.

Derailments are usually caused by problems with tracks and by excess speed, according to data from the FRA.  The Friday derailment occurred on one of the newest stretches of track on the New Haven line. That section of track was replaced, along with the bridge that spans Fairfield Avenue on the city's West End, in a multi-year project that is just nearing completion.

The track in that stretch is relatively straight. There's only a gentle curve a few hundred yards to the west, in the vicinity of Orland Street.

The Fairfield Avenue overpass, like most of the New Haven Line, has four tracks, but only two are in operation, owing to a long term replacement of the overhead catenary system along the line, officials said. Without extra tracks as a backup, it will take longer to restore service.  As for excess speed, National Transportation Safety Board officials said that they would be analyzing the data recorders from both trains.

These include speed, throttle and/or brake settings, and other parameters. That data has already been transmitted to the NTSB investigators in Washington, D.C. But one train had just left the Fairfield Metro station, the other was pulling into it, so they probably weren't going very fast.

"We'll be looking at the breaking performance, the condition of the wheels, the condition of the car, the condition of the track and the rail bed," said Earl F. Weener, a board member of the NTSB. He said the NTSB will also looking onto signaling information as well as the behavior of the crew.

Weener said that the on-scene investigation will take seven to 10 days. After that, the data and information will be analyses over the next few weeks and months before a final report can be issued.

"We will thoroughly document the accident site," he said. "We will not be determining the probable cause while we're on scene."

Train Service in Connecticut to Remain Suspended
May 18, 2013

Metro-North and Amtrak service through Connecticut will be suspended into the beginning of the week, the authorities said Saturday, as investigators continue to seek the cause of a train derailment and collision on Friday evening that injured at least 70 people, 5 of them critically.

Both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak said they could not say when service would resume. The investigation at the scene of the crash, near Fairfield, Conn., would take a day and a half, according to Earl F. Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation.  Officials at a press conference offered few clues as to what caused the derailment of an eastbound train just east of the Fairfield Metro Station and the collision with a westbound train on an adjacent track.

After the investigators collect evidence, the tracks will be handed back to rail authorities to make repairs, Mr. Weener said. The M.T.A. said Saturday that it could not yet estimate how long those repairs might take. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said that the state’s Department of Transportation would also need time to remove debris.  And Neither Amtrak nor the M.T.A. offered any immediate transportation alternatives for travelers.

The two trains collided after a derailment at the height of the evening rush on Friday, snarling transit corridors in the Northeast.  An eastbound train heading toward New Haven derailed at the Bridgeport-Fairfield border, just east of Fairfield Metro Station at about 6:10 p.m., careening into a westbound train on an adjacent track, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“I thought there was a bombing,” said Natalie Sepulveda, 23, who had been aboard the westbound train with her 2-year-old son.

“I smelled smoke and looked outside the window and saw a whole bunch of dust, and I grabbed my son.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the derailment, but the authority said that the police were investigating “as though it were a crime scene.” The National Transportation Safety Board said that it was dispatching a team to investigate the derailment.

The crash also obstructed operations for Amtrak, which suspended service between New York and Boston. The transportation authority said Metro-North service was suspended between South Norwalk and Bridgeport.  After arriving at the scene on Friday night, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said that of the five serious injuries, one person was in “very critical” condition. He added that he had inspected the trains, and saw that the siding of one car had been ripped off. Mr. Malloy estimated that train service would return on Monday at the earliest.

The authority said the collision occurred in an area where two of the four tracks were already out of service for work on overhead wires, suggesting that service disruptions could persist.

Passengers recalled a chaotic scene after the collision, as riders tried to help one another out of the train.  With no platform for riders to step onto, fire personnel placed stepladders beneath the train doors to allow passengers to exit.  Andrea Turner, 26, said she was on the eastbound train, which appeared to be moving without incident until the derailment.

“We were just riding along fine,” she said. “We felt like the brakes were pumping, and we felt a crash.”

St. Vincent’s Medical Center’s emergency department admitted 27 people from the derailment, said Dianne Auger, a senior vice president.

“Most had minor injuries but there was one with a more serious head and neck injury,” she said. None of the injuries were considered life-threatening. Bridgeport Hospital was also admitting patients from the accident, she said.

Lt. Ron Rolfe of the Bridgeport Fire Department said that one woman had a fracture in her leg, and one man had “significant lacerations” in his leg.

The eastbound car left Grand Central Terminal around 4:40 p.m., the authority said, bound for New Haven with roughly 300 passengers. Traveling on the southernmost track when it derailed, the train swung to the left, striking a westbound train with about 400 passengers on a neighboring track. That train left New Haven around 5:30 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive at Grand Central at 7:18.

“The train leaned to the left and in so doing, clipped the train coming in the opposite direction,” said Marjorie Anders, an authority spokeswoman.

The crash, about 50 miles from Midtown Manhattan, caused seven out of eight cars on the eastbound train to derail, as well as the first car on the westbound train, Ms. Anders said, but both trains remained upright.

She added that there was significant track and equipment damage, including to the track bed, running rails and overhead wire. She said the train itself would need to be removed “car by car,” with the use of a crane.

Ms. Anders said the crash was the most serious on the Metro-North Railroad since at least 1988, when an engineer was killed after his train, which did not have passengers, plowed into another in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Fairfield Metro Station - previous report on construction shortfall.
We were correct that the reason 2 of the 4 tracks were under repair is because the catenary wires were under repair.

What they said,
In their words

Published 11:40 p.m., Sunday, January 8, 2012

A supplemental report on the Fairfield Metro railroad station by the law firm McCarter & English focuses on a binding letter of agreement on the project between the town and the state Department of Transportation dated July 15, 2010.

The state had asked town officials to review the letter in respect to then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto's ability to execute the agreement. The letter in question basically agreed the state would be able to deduct its debt-service payments of $19.4 million from revenue generated by commuter parking fees at the station, which the town initially expected to collect.

In the documents, Town Attorney Richard Saxl states the Board of Selectmen authorized Flatto to enter into and execute all documents on behalf of the town, and that the Representative Town Meeting had a discussion of the interpretation of a section of the agreement on parking revenues.

Here's what Saxl and Flatto had to say in correspondence regarding the matter:

A letter from Saxl to the Board of Selectmen, Dec. 7, 2011:

"As to the comment about the RTM, I believe I told (DOT lawyer) Denise Rodosevich that Ken had discussed the project update with the RTM on 5-24-10. I signed what Denise asked me to which included the words "including the specific interpretation of the section 4.3 as set forth in the Binding Lettering (sic) during the question and answer period..." I do not believe that was an accurate statement. My recollection was that Ken alluded to it in general terms only.

"In reviewing this a year and a half later, I acknowledge that I erred in my statement in the 7-15-10 letter regarding the RTM. As I said, I was under considerable time pressure to get things finalized before the awarding of the Guerrera (construction) contract on 7-16-10. I hastily signed off on the final version."

Email from Flatto to Saxl and Rodosevich, July 14, 2010:

"Dick, Denise, my goodness:

"This month old question about the validity of the letter re the reimbursement of the annual bond from parking revenues has been resolved and is beyond reproach. This really has been put to bed I will not/can not take further unneeded actions which will hold this project up. First of all, when the Attorney for a Municipality has certified to the state DOT in writing that the 'letter' is legally binding upon the town, that should be sufficient for you. Second, when a town legally adopted resolution passed by both the BOS in 2010 and by the RTM and BOF in a prior year specifically stated `the First Selectman is authorized to apply for and and accept any available state or federal grant in aid for the financing of the Project' and further `to take all necessary action on behalf of the town to receive such grants including executing any necessary documents' ... this gives me as First Selectman complete authority to execute the letter regarding defining debt payments against parking revenues signed with the DOT. This was part of the resolution the BOS reauthorized on May 5, 2010."

Letter from Flatto to the Board of Selectmen, Dec. 7, 2011:

"Based on their (DOT) requested letter's content as a clarification to the existing 2003 Agreement, I signed it as requested. This letter was never intended as some secret deal but as a security statement to the DOT as to our mutual understanding of their existing rights. I did not think it made sense to give it out to the Boards just as I did not tell the Boards we gained $5 million in future revenue due to no longer repaying road costs. I just did not believe these things affected what we were announcing. In retrospect, I wish I had cleared up this confusion earler to show we gained from 2003. This letter was not related to the Project construction before use in 2010.

"My administration presented all the negotiated accords in 2010 to town Boards and as you know, the BOS approved resolutions in 2010 regarding those accords. When presenting costs of construction, I did tell the Boards there could be some possible financial risk, as meeting minutes show, and I said we would manage any such issue if it came up. I can understand the surprise and frustration that the project ran over budget due to additional polluted materials having to be removed form the shoreline after I left office."

Report on Fairfield Metro project by Richard Vitarelli, independent counsel hired by town, Jan. 4, 2012:

"I asked Mr. Flatto whether he and Attorney Saxl discussed notifying (DOT) Attorney Rodosevich of the errors in the letter. Although he qualified his response by stating he could not swear to it, Mr. Flatto initially recalled asking Attorney Saxl to contact Attorney Rodosevich about the error and offered to contact the acting CONNDOT Commissioner to explain the error. Mr. Flatto confirmed that he never contacted the Acting Commission or anyone at CONNDOT concerning the error. Mr. Flatto called me after my telephone conversation with him and left me a voice message clarifying his recollection that he did not instruct Attorney Rodosevich, but expected that Attorney Saxl would have done so."

On track: Train service rolls at Fairfield Metro depot

Updated 09:36 a.m., Monday, December 5, 2011

More than a decade after it was first proposed, the Fairfield Metro railroad station -- the town's third -- is operational this morning.

The first New York-bound train pulled into the $45 million-plus complex at 4:37 a.m. today, and the 1,400-slot commuter parking lot at the town's third railroad station is filling quickly.

Because applications for parking permits at the station were issued only a few weeks ago, however, parking today is free for those who do not have a permit. Starting tomorrow, however, those without permits will be assessed the $6 daily parking fee.

A reminder: There are no public restrooms at the new station, and the state Department of Transportation at this point has not provided an portable facilities.

But as of 6 a.m., the Fairfield Citizen staff on the scene is reporting no other apparent problems.

Reader with familiar name stated...a person of note...commented
"A Yellow Cab was called to assist with the on board passenger and driver."

Car Crashes Into CTfastrak Bus In New Britain

Hartford Courant
Kristin Stoller
April 18, 2o015

NEW BRITIAN — Two people were taken to the hospital after crashing into a CTfastrak bus Friday night.

At about 10:45 p.m., a car traveling westbound on Stanley Street ran a red light and struck the CTfastrak bus, which was traveling east on the CTfastrak northbound Stanley Street intersection, police said.  The driver of the car, Alexander Hernandez, 24, of New Britain, evaded the scene, but was later located by state police and New Britain police, police said.

Hernandez and the car's passenger were transported to St. Francis and Hartford Hospitals, respectively, for visible lacerations to both arms, foreheads and complaints of right index finger pain, police said.  Police said the driver and passenger of the CTfastrak bus reported no apparent injuries...story and comments in full:  http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-new-britain-ct-fastrak-accident-20150418-story.html

Bus project wins in public transportation tug-of-war

Jacqueline Rabe, CT MIRROR
April 4, 2011

In his first major transportation decision, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today gave the go-ahead to the Hartford-New Britain busway project, putting an end to a years-long tug-of-war between advocates for bus and rail projects.

“The busway project is ready to go,” he announced Monday. He is promising to have the state’s bond commission vote to dedicate $89 million for the busway project between New Britain and Hartford.

But Malloy also offered a consolation prize to critics who had favored a local rail link between Bristol and Waterbury: A $1 million study of that plan.

Malloy, who has repeatedly endorsed increasing the state's investment in mass transit as a way to immediately produce construction jobs and eventually encourage economic development, said his decision does not mean funding for the rail project is off the table.

"Although I think many people have thought of the two options as mutually exclusive, I do not and I reject that belief," he said. "I believe we can continue down these two avenues or tracks."

Lyle D. Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, said the busway decision means 5,000 fewer cars will be on the road during rush hours, which is almost 5 percent of total traffic.

"And that's just the first year," he said. "That number will grow a lot."

And with service every five to 10 minutes starting in 2014, Wray said, the project would be Connecticut's first true rapid-transit system and build ridership in a way that limited rail service to Waterbury would not. The 9.4-mile busway would run mostly along a rail right-of-way from Hartford to New Britain, bypassing a congested stretch of I-84 that slows to a crawl every morning and evening.

“That’s huge,” he said. “We are getting the beginnings of a functional system.”

Malloy said his decision was made to “maximize” bringing in federal dollars, and the bus project would do just that.

“I am unwilling to run the risk of losing additional federal funds,” he said. "If we had chosen to abandon the busway in favor of the rail project... that decision would make it more difficult for us to access additional rail dollars."

The Federal Transit Administration wrote Malloy last month informing him the state is set to be reimbursed for 80 percent of the $572 million costs of the busway project. The state is responsible for paying $113 million.

"The Busway project is considered ready-to-go," said the letter. "A decision to withdraw this project and seek FTA funding for an alternative rail project in the region would require Connecticut to reenter the competitive" grant process.

Michael D. Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and an advocate of the Bristol-Waterbury rail line, was disappointed but philosophical.

“There is a huge challenge to getting funding for both [the busway and the rail line]. That is why we have been against it from day one,” said Nicastro. “You have to give [Malloy] credit, he stopped kicking the can down the road and finally made a decision. It’s just not the decision we were hoping for.”

His chamber was so opposed, they launched an advertising campaign last fall, calling it too expensive at an estimated $60 million a mile for the 9.4-mile busway.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said the startup costs may high, but the economic impact will make up for that.

"This is what companies look for when moving into the city," he said. "This will help facilitate bringing people into the city."


Stamford meeting was a success - cars showing up:  See more stories beIow, but take it from us, it got results!  Click here.

Trying Out Metro-North's New M-8 Train:
It's A Luxurious Ride, Especially Compared With The Mechanical Has-Beens It Will Eventually Replace
The Hartford Courant
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH, leavenworth@courant.com
March 6, 2011


— A gremlin haunted the new M-8 train out of Union Station Thursday morning, and its name was "Dave."

But beyond that glitch and a few other minor complaints, the air-suspended ride from New Haven to Stamford in the clean, bright car was a pleasure, especially compared with the trip back in one of Metro-North's jostling old battle wagons.

The Japanese-made M-8s debuted in an eight-car train on the New Haven to New York City line last week. The Metro-North Commuter Railroad has 26 of the cars, enough to roll out two more trains, one this week and another in April, agency spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. More new cars are to be added steadily.

The track stars appear at the end of a severe winter of discontent among Connecticut commuters, who have endured breakdowns, delays, unheated trains and generally lousy service. Although more people will have the chance to ride in an M-8, there has been no announced schedule for the new trains. So commuters have been pleasantly surprised, or resigned to their fate, depending on which train pulled up to the platform.

I knew the 6:24 a.m. departure Thursday on the through trip to New York City was an M-8, and another guy — who had asked a conductor when and where he could catch the new train — knew, too. But most of the passengers huddled with their coffee cups in the biting cold were oblivious until the gleaming red roller slid up to the New Haven platform.

"How do you like the new train?" I asked the ticket man as he worked his puncher. He grinned and said passengers on the upgraded trains have turned out to be a higher grade of human.

"You people are all better people," he said. "You people are all nice."

As we passed a salt marsh, the young man seated across from me, tapping on his iPad, looked up and said, "You can actually see out the windows. Before, it was all blurry."

The windows are a third larger than those in the older cars, Anders said, and there are no center mullions, so they're like picture windows. A blond, middle-aged lady sitting next to me commented on the overall brightness of the car, compared with the grungy, faux-wood-panel interior and blotchy windows in the old cars.

Faults, however, were found in the new cars.

A lady sitting next to the young man, a huge handbag on her lap, agreed about the brightness and visibility, but said the leg room seemed tighter. She and a man wearing light blue pants with black stripes down the sides talked about the new seating arrangement and grieved for the loss of the aisle seat on the old cars that had no seat opposite, a boon to any weary traveler in need of a good leg stretching.

Actually, Anders said, "knee space" on facing seats is the same as on older models and there's an additional inch of knee room on all other seats because of an indent in the seat backs.

The M-8's body is 2 inches wider than the older cars, but the M-8s have fewer total seats for several reasons, Anders said. New handicapped-accessible toilets take up nine seats' worth of space, compared with the tiny [about two seats' worth] johns in the old cars. Also, electrical components that hang under the older-model cars are housed inside the M-8's body for protection from weather, which prevents breakdowns.

That also takes up space, so to compensate, one more seat was added to one side of the aisle, making six [three-facing-three] instead of five seats on that side and the four [two-facing-two] on the other. The M-8s run in "married pairs," according to a Metro-North press release — one car with 110 seats; the other, the one equipped with a toilet, has 101 seats.

The chatty lady with the big handbag was smiling and talking with other passengers, in no obvious distress, but complaining anyway. She was pointing out the car's malfunctioning LED station-announcement sign — "Broken already," she sighed — when a soothing voice came over the public address system.

"My name is Dave," the voice said, "and my mother tongue is American."

Passengers' responses ranged from confusion to laughter, but my thoughts went immediately to the corrupt computer, Hal, in the film, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

What, I wondered, will it demand? Perhaps, "I'm afraid I can't let you leave the train, Jesse."

But Anders said this was likely a test of the announcement system, although she couldn't explain Dave's specific comments.

"Dave's not working so well," the handbag lady said, and another lady across from her wearing a charcoal fur coat and reading a James Patterson novel laughed.

The blond, middle-aged woman next to me said she dreaded going into work because she knew her in-box was full and she intensely disliked her boss. She likened the new train to "something you'd see in Paris, not in the Connecticut-New York area," and said she wished she could just ride back and forth all day instead of having to face her 10-hour work day.

Getting off in Stamford, I said to the fur coat lady, "It's kind of depressing that I have to ride the crappy train back to New Haven."

But she had heard the news that more M-8s would be rolling out soon, increasing everyone's chances for an improved commute.

"Baby steps," she said. "Baby steps."

Metro-North Commuters On Track To Air Grievances
"LTK is getting $27 million of taxpayer money – who better to explain what's going on?"
The Hartford Courant
By DON STACOM, dstacom@courant.com
2:12 PM EST, February 14, 2011

STAMFORD —Why has service on Metro-North's New Haven line suffered so badly this winter, and what's the plan to prevent a repeat next year?

Those are the questions regular Metro-North commuters plan to demand answers to Wednesday.

Severe winter weather recently has sidelined about half the fleet on the New Haven to New York City route, forcing a spike in delays and canceled trains and a cutback in the daily schedule.

Riders want to know how that could happen on one of the busiest commuter railroad lines in the country, one that carries more than 36 million riders a year.

The Connecticut Commuters Council is asking top officials from Metro-North and the state transportation department to answer questions at what it's billing as the "Winter Crisis Commuter Summit" Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Stamford Government Center.

"We especially want commuters who have suffered through recent weeks of delays, cancellations and unheated cars to attend, share their experiences and get their questions answered," council Vice Chairwoman Terri Cronin said.

But it's not going to be a simple "blow-off-steam" sort of gathering, said Jim Cameron, chairman of the watchdog group.

"The council isn't looking to beat up Metro-North. Quite the opposite, commuters need to hear the heroic efforts Metro-North has made," he said. "But we're still dealing with a 10 percent service reduction, buses only on the Waterbury branch and no sign of the long-promised, much-delayed new M-8 cars."

Cameron wants answers about everything going wrong with the M-8s, the high-tech passenger cars that are supposed to gradually replace Metro-North's battered, worn-out fleet over the next three years. Snow, ice and severe cold have caused the old rail cars to break down faster than mechanics can fix them. Metro-North said the M-8s will stand up better to severe weather.

But even if the new M-8s begin going into service this month and perform flawlessly, the entire fleet changeover wouldn't be completed until sometime in 2014. Cameron wants to know Metro-North's "Plan B' in case another severe winter hits before then.

Also, he wants to hear from the manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Car, and from Louis T. Klauder and Associates, the consultant that has a $27 million contract to inspect the M-8s as they're built. Recently, glitches and malfunctions with the prototypes have set back the fleet replacement schedule by months.

"The DOT has been curt and dismissive at the questions we've asked before about the M-8s," Cameron said. "All last year we were getting shined along about how they'd be running in December. When Metro-North and the DOT learned about serious electromagnetic interference, they tried to manipulate the bad news. Now we want to hear from Kawasaki and LTK directly.

"LTK is getting $27 million of taxpayer money — who better to explain what's going on?," Cameron said. "We're just asking for openness and transparency. I think with the delays in [M-8] testing, there's more going on than we're being told."

State Sen. Bob Duff, co-chairman of the General Assembly's transportation committee, said he talks almost daily with Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker about the M-8s.

"It looks like they're on track to start delivering by the end of February as promised, but everything has to fall into place as it's supposed to," Duff said. "

Metro-North struggling to keep outdated rail cars running; Ice and snow damaged a lot of motors
By Ed Stannard, Register Metro Editor, estannard@nhregister.com
Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011

NEW HAVEN — Who would design a train car that cools down its motors by sucking in air, along with snow and rain?

It doesn’t seem like such a good idea now that 130 of Metro-North’s 1970s-vintage M2 cars are in the shop, most with their traction motors shorted out. With one motor needed to turn each set of wheels, much of the New Haven Line has been hobbled.

The new M8 cars — the first eight are in their final 4,000-mile test runs — won’t have that problem. They’re cooled internally, and their motors don’t run on direct current, which is harder to maintain.

The M2 cars were among the first trains to usher in electric power on the New Haven-to-New York run. The M8s, with state-of-the-art computerized controls, will bring commuters into the high-tech era.

Once they’re tested and in full production, the M8s will be delivered at the rate of 10 a month. With a fleet of 320 cars, Metro-North will be running M2s for some time to come.

Metro-North has managed to keep the M2s running, even though their life expectancy is past. But the continuous snow this winter has given the railroad a body blow.

“Normally, in previous years, we would get a storm and then we would get an opportunity to recover and then maintain our car availability and cars for the trains so we could … have enough seats out there for the passengers,” says John Hogan, assistant chief mechanical officer for Metro-North.

“These back-to-back storms have just crippled us to a point where too many cars had a need to come out and a need to get fixed. I believe we’re past the worst of it. The weather is starting to improve and the change-out of the traction motors is progressing at a steady rate.”

Last week, most of the 130 broken trains had burned-out traction motors. That’s down from 161 at one point.

The design flaw is in how the motors are cooled. Air is sucked in through intakes along the roofline.

“When you get the light, fluffy snow that we’ve seen earlier this year, there’s a tendency of the blowers to ingest the snow,” Hogan says. “I associate it almost like a stagecoach going down the road, where you see the plume of dust and dirt behind it. Well, the snow does the same thing when it’s light and fluffy.

“So, as you see a train go by, the front of the train may be clear and free of any snow, but the turbulence created by the train movement causes the snow to just kick up and then get ingested through the blower system, and then it’s distributed and gets into some of the motors and some of the compartments,” Hogan said.

There have also been problems with frozen brakes and stuck doors, but the majority of problems have been with the motors.

To get a train car back on the rails, workers in the huge building off Brewery Street known as the M2 shop, working from underneath the car, remove the motor and attached wheels and replace it in a six- or seven-hour operation.

The burned-out motor is then sent out to be rebuilt, with each one costing $1,500 to $3,000 to repair.

In their day, the 1970s, the M2s were a major advance, able to run on the different track configurations between New Haven and New York.

“There are other commuter railroads throughout the country,” Hogan says. “There are none as complex as Metro-North New Haven Line because we have to run on both catenary and third rail.”

The overhead wiring, some of it as much as 100 years old, powers the trains between New Haven and Pelham, N.Y., where the power source switches to the direct current of the third rail system.

The fleet now is made up of M2s and two later models, the M4 and M6. The first order for 244 M2s in the early 1970s was beefed up with 54 M4s in 1985 and 48 M6s in 1995, Hogan says. All have the same air-intake system.

The M8s, whose debut date has been pushed back several times, have had problems with software and electromagnetic interference with signals along the tracks. Last week, Metro-North President Howard Permut said the first pilot cars had begun their 4,000-mile test run, which they must complete without an error. If another problem is discovered, the test starts again.

Hogan said there are 24 M8s in Connecticut — the first two arrived Dec. 24, 2009 — with two more on the way up from the port in Baltimore, where they were shipped from Kawasaki Motor Co. in Kobe, Japan. Twelve more will come from Japan. The rest of the 342 cars already ordered will be built at Kawasaki’s Lincoln, Neb., plant.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans to ask the State Bond Commission later this month for authorization to buy 38 more, to bring the new fleet up to 380. Before she left office, Gov. M. Jodi Rell had proposed borrowing for those cars but was turned down.

Malloy met last week with Permut and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay H. Walder to discuss the problems, which forced Metro-North to borrow diesel trains from other lines, reduce its winter schedule and run short trains with passengers forced to stand.

“This new schedule is critical to allow us to get the cars back as quickly as possible,” Permut said, in order to give mechanics “the time and stability we need” and to give commuters a predictable schedule.

Commuters have been complaining on the Clever Commute notification service and elsewhere about late and short trains. “They’re slow and one day I had to wait 26 minutes and got yelled at by my boss,” said a woman who works in New Haven but wouldn’t give her name. She called the trains “crowded, unreliable and undependable.”

“The train has been supercrowded for a while,” said Brad Rosen of New York, who teaches at Yale University. “I wouldn’t mind paying a couple dollars more for the ticket if the trains were nicer.”

The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, which has been critical of state officials for the multiple delays in putting the M8s in service, will hold a special meeting on the New Haven Line problems at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Stamford Government Center, 888 Washington Blvd. Metro-North, state Department of Transportation and Kawasaki officials have been invited.

“We especially want commuters who have suffered through recent weeks of delays, cancellations and unheated cars to attend, share their experiences and get their questions answered,” said council Vice Chairwoman Terri Cronin from Norwalk in a press release.

“The folks from Metro-North need to hear from their customers. But commuters also need to hear Metro-North explain their challenges in running a first-class railroad with third-world equipment.”

Despite the invitation, Marjorie Anders, spokeswoman for Metro-North, said Kawasaki officials will not attend. “They have enough work to do,” she said.

Metro-North launches next generation of rail cars
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Updated 11:54 a.m., Tuesday, March 1, 2011

STAMFORD -- The long-awaited debut of Metro-North's M-8 rail cars took place this morning at 10:30 a.m.

The first of the six-car trains left Stamford at 10:30 and made all local stops on its way to Grand Central Terminal, said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

The train is the only M-8 that will immediately be in service on the New Haven Line, though a second six-car train is expected to arrive next month.

Earlier this week, officials had expressed confidence that the trains would arrive soon.

Tim McCarthy, Metro-North Railroad's senior vice president of capital programs, along with Department of Transportation commissioner Jeffrey Parker and other officials, said Monday that the first train of six M-8 cars would make its inaugural run carrying paying customers within weeks and expect the final testing hurdle -- a series of simulated passenger runs in which the cars must run without substantial error for 4,000 miles -- would be smooth.

McCarthy said the 15-month testing process for the M-8s is about half a year shorter than testing to get the similarly designed M-7 cars in service in 2002.

The M-7, considered a forerunner of the M-8, is used on Metro-North's Harlem and Hudson lines and the Long Island Railroad.

"We're oh-so-close to getting the M-8 cars in service," McCarthy said. "If we get them in service soon, it will actually be a quicker testing process than the M-7."

Parker and McCarthy this week declined requests to discuss the testing status of the first set of M-8 cars.

"We are hopeful the first M-8 cars can go into service very shortly -- perhaps within the next few weeks to a month," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said Thursday.

Kawasaki's M-8 and the M-7, built by Canada's Bombardier Inc., include several similar features, including centralized computer control and on-board diagnostic systems, alternating current propulsion, automated on-board announcements and single-leaf rather than double-leaf side doors.

Other shared features serve to make the cars less vulnerable to snow-related malfunctions with gaskets, circuit boards and other vital electronic components placed inside the compartment of the train, Anders said.

The New Haven Line's fleet of 320 M-2, M-4 and M-6 cars has been crippled by age and outmoded design features this winter as wind-driven snow has fouled components located in plastic coffin boxes fastened beneath the train, Anders said.

On Feb. 4, the railroad introduced a reduced schedule that cut service by 10 percent on the line.

Last month, the MTA approved $12 million to extend the contract of the Louis T. Klauder & Associates engineering firm to oversee another seven months of testing for the M-8s to resolve software glitches and other problems delaying their debut.

In late December, Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut and Parker announced engineers were working to fix software problems causing electromagnetic interference from the M-8 propulsion systems that was throwing off trackside signal equipment .

Other problems -- which Parker and McCarthy said are now resolved -- affected auxiliary power systems, which ensure the proper electrical current to run the cars is available, and automatic train control, which lets engineers know when it is safe to leave a station and how fast they can travel.

Other production delays have contributed to the first M-8s being delivered in December 2009, nearly a year behind schedule, including a problem in 2008, when Kawasaki could not buy steel needed to build the cars.

In spring 2010, former DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie acknowledged a delay in installing diagnostic software aboard the first M-8 cars held up testing of mechanical and computer components controlling speed, braking, restrooms, and doors on the cars.

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron and some New Haven Line commuters said dissatisfaction with the three-month delay in the cars' debut has been compounded by the breakdown of the New Haven fleet this winter and a lack of concrete detail from Metro-North and DOT officials about hurdles to introducing the new cars.

At the same time, the council has given Metro-North credit for maintaining on-time service during a harsh winter of record snowfalls which has at times sidelined between one-third and one-half of the New Haven Line's electric fleet.

Once the first M-8 cars go into service, Kawasaki has told Metro-North it could finish up to 12 new cars a month on a Lincoln, Neb. assembly line.

Last week, the State Bond Commission approved a $81 million request from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to act on the final 38-car option under an $866 million contract with Kawasaki to purchase 380 cars.

Colleen Flanagan, a Malloy spokeswoman, said the governor is anxious to see the new cars enter service, and is relying on Metro-North and DOT reports that the debut is imminent.

"The governor is confident in the reports he receives from the Department of Transportation," Flanagan said. "Beyond that, he is not an engineer. The DOT has told the governor that the new cars will be online before the end of March and he is looking forward to riding them when they are."

Most advanced rail cars in world get test run; to go in service on Metro-North's New Haven Line in December
By Ed Stannard, Register Metro Editor

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NEW HAVEN — The most advanced rail cars in the world took their first run with passengers aboard Monday, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell riding next to the engineer.  Rell reacted with surprise when she walked up to the Track 3 platform at Union Station and saw her name on the side of the lead car. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she said.

But the governor, who is retiring in January, was clearly thrilled that a project in the works since 2005 was about to get moving. She said the new train cars will go into “revenue service” — filled with paying passengers — in December.

“I have been bugging the DOT literally almost every day, saying ‘When, when are we going to get them in service? When are we ready to go?’ And they keep assuring me, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming; don’t worry about it,’” Rell said.

The new cars have been a priority of Rell’s Republican administration and the Democratic General Assembly. “Make no mistake about it, ... we know that the New Haven Line is central to the economic development and to the future of our state,” she said.  Rell said that Metro-North’s ridership is increasing, surpassing that of the Long Island Railroad in September.

“I couldn’t be more proud if I was the mother of this train,” Rell said before boarding the M-8. She also announced the state is about to buy 42 more cars in addition to the 300 already ordered.

Rell had announced in August that she would ask the state Bond Commission for money to buy 80 more cars, the state’s full option, but the commission approved $140 million, enough for 42.  The state is spending about $900 million for the 342 cars, 65 percent of the total, with Metro-North putting up the rest.   Rell, state Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey A. Parker and Hiroji Iwasaki, CEO of Kawasaki Rail Car U.S., were among those riding the four-car train, with Rell sitting for a while on a seat across from the engineer. The two cars in the rear were filled with testing equipment, electrical wires and bags of cement on the seats to mimic weight of passengers.

The testing includes cameras on top and underneath the cars and microphones to pick up sound. Charles Clarke, a project engineer with DOT’s rail operations, said each car would have to run 4,000 miles without a significant problem before they are put into service.

“This is the most advanced, state-of-the-art-technology car, and it has been a big challenge for Kawasaki,” said Iwasaki, who added that the M-8s are more complex than Japan’s high-speed trains. While the first cars were shipped from Kobe, most will be built in Lincoln, Neb.

The new M-8s, which will replace 30-year-old M-2 cars, are brighter, with a cream-and-red color scheme, more leg room and roomier overhead racks. The lavatories are handicapped-accessible, compared with the cramped restrooms in the old cars  The cars can run both on direct and alternating current to accommodate New York state’s third-rail system and the overhead catenary on the rest of the line.

Bob Jelley of Guilford, a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, pointed out a few curious features, such as room for wheelchairs on every car, even though there are only lavatories on every other car.  The placement of the restrooms in the middle of the cars also seemed to lessen the open feel of the car, he said, but on the whole, “these seem perfectly fine.”

“I’m not as hard to please as other people. I feel perfectly comfortable riding from New York to New Haven ... in the old cars,” Jelley said.

The cars also have electronic signs, bigger windows, headrests on every seat and armrests without edges to catch onto passing clothing and purse straps. They also include a number of environmental features.  Conductor Thomas Way said he hoped passengers would “appreciate the train and the hard work that people did to get this up and running — and maintain it.”

Parker said the practicality of bike racks in the cars was still being studied by Metro-North. Parking at Union Station is a longstanding issue, and Parker said a second garage is in the design phase.  He pointed out state officials broke ground last week on a new station in West Haven, which will add 660 parking spaces to the line.

New mystery in Amtrak crash: Was it hit by a flying object?
May 16, 2015 Chicago Tribune

The FBI has been called in to investigate the possibility that the windshield of an Amtrak train was hit with an object shortly before the train derailed this week in a crash that killed eight people and injured about 200 more.

The revelation came at a National Transportation Safety Board briefing on Friday evening, raising new questions about the accident. NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt declined to speculate about the exact significance of a projectile, but the idea raised the possibility that the engineer might have been distracted, panicked or even wounded in the moments before the train left the rails.

The train sped up to twice the speed limit when it was supposed to be slowing down as it entered a sharp bend in the tracks on its way from Washington to New York.

The NTSB said the FBI will focus its investigation on the windshield of the train...story in full:  http://www.courant.com/nation-world/ct-amtrak-crash-investigation-20150515-story.html

Amtrak Train May Have Been Struck Before It Derailed, Officials Say

MAY 15, 2015

Story:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/16/us/amtrak-train-may-have-been-struck-before-it-derailed-officials-say.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

How do you account for this accident?  Story on AMTRAK derailment from early time here







State shifting focus to mass transit

Christine Woodside, CT MIRROR
June 16, 2010

In recent years, commuters crossing the Quinnipiac River on I-95 in New Haven have had more to distract them than veering out of exit-only lanes, avoiding potholes and dodging swarms of fellow drivers.

Cranes and work crews visible from the infamous "Q Bridge" are evidence of a massive, $2.2 billion project to replace the old and overcrowded span-a long-overdue improvement, most area motorists would agree.

But the project stands for more than a smoother ride to work: It is the last highway expansion of its size in Connecticut, at least for the near future, as the state Department of Transportation increasingly turns its attention from roads and bridges to mass transit.

Q-Bridge replacement 6-16-10

Motorists on I-95 pass work on the massive Q Bridge replacement project (Christine Woodside)

"We're comfortable saying at this point that we can't just go around expanding our highway and bridge infrastructure because we simply don't have the financial resources to maintain that," said Tom Harley, DOT's chief engineer. "Expanding is not our priority. Preserving it is."

Public transportation, meanwhile, is in expansion mode.

Recently the DOT held information meetings on its plans to join with Massachusetts and New York to add train tracks into and out of New Haven and to go "back to the future," as DOT public transportation bureau chief James P. Redeker put it. The plan is for high-speed, affordable passenger rail lines between New Haven, Springfield, and Boston. The trains would be able to go as fast as 110 mph but cost much less than Amtrak, officials said.

Getting to the last of the meetings, during rush hour on June 3, highlighted the problem the state now says it wants to remedy. I-84, which most of the 40 or so attendees had to take to get to the meeting at Hartford's Union Station, was jammed. But the parking lot for the Amtrak line at Union Station had many empty spaces.

Redeker showed charts and maps in a meeting room at the station. He outlined "broad goals" in New England-economic growth, livable communities, less congestion and air pollution, and energy efficiency. "Rail service can certainly help," he said.

The entire plan aims to make rail service regular and quick from Washington DC to Bradley International Airport to Boston and Montreal. Connecticut also wants to improve bus travel in and out of Hartford.

The background of the project to replace the current four-lane Q Bridge-officially the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge-with a 10-lane span helps illustrate the change in the state's focus.

In 1999, as the project was being planned, the state Department of Environmental Protection suggested that fewer lanes would remove strain from the merges and place less stress on the river below.

DOT officials replied that the five lanes in either direction were necessary in part to prepare for expansion of I-95 east of New Haven.

Now the I-95 expansion is listed as "unfundable" on DOT's latest five-year capital plan, and the DEP analyst who recommended reducing the size of the Q Bridge replacement 11 years ago says today he notices a shift in transportation priorities not only among officials, but also by the public.

"A few years ago [the DOT] had an environmental study where they looked at a train station in either West Haven or Orange," said David J. Fox. "That was in 2006 and they picked West Haven at that point. Now they're coming back out with an environmental study to do the Orange station as well. I recall the public hearing four years ago. Usually when you go to these public hearings, people are saying, 'Don't build it, don't build it.' At this one, there was unanimity, saying, 'Build it.'"

David Kooris, who directs the Connecticut office of the Regional Plan Association, said that his tri-state planning organization was surprised at how quickly the shift in the state's approach has occurred, but very happy with it.

Kooris said it's significant that for the first time the DOT has produced "a list of projects that are unfundable in the near future." In addition to the I-95 expansion, those include completion of Route 11 in southeastern Connecticut and reconstruction of the interchange of Route 8 and I-84 in Waterbury, all with billion-dollar-plus price tags. "No longer do we have this laundry list of big projects that we assume will be funded," Kooris said.

Harley, the DOT engineer, said the agency hasn't abandoned the big projects. "They're out there," he said. "They're unfunded, but they're on our radar screen." But when they do get funded, many of them may be built on a reduced scale, he said.

In part the shift in emphasis has to do with the availability of federal funds for regional transportation projects, augmented by available stimulus money. DOT officials say the Rell administration also has emphasized the need for better mass transit.

Still, a key question remains: Will Connecticut commuters be able to give up their private cars?

"There are certainly influences that we can't control," Harley said. "On a personal level I can't imagine that unless it is really easy and convenient, that people will step out of their cars, until the price of gas goes up substantially."

But he said that if the price of gas does go up dramatically, and the state DOT isn't ready with public transportation options that serve the majority, people would criticize them.

However to weigh the various influences on transportation policy, it has changed, and fast. Environmentalists who have long yelled for something besides car routes might even be caught unawares. DOT investments used to come down 80 percent for highway projects and 20 percent for public transportation, Redeker, who is new to the DOT, said after the rail plan meeting. Now it's close to 50-50.

"It's reflective of the times," he said.

Christine Woodside of Deep River is a freelance writer "interested in how Americans interact with nature and use natural resources." She has written articles for The New York Times and other publications, and previously worked at The Day in New London.

Coming along - all aboard!
Connecticut's new railroad cars to be running by December
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Published: 10:09 p.m., Thursday, May 20, 2010

WILTON -- New rail cars will soon begin to roll off the lines at factories in Lincoln, Neb., and Japan in greater numbers, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said, as the state meanwhile makes steady progress to get roughly two dozen of the

M-8 cars in passenger service by December.

Pressed at a Wednesday night Connecticut Rail Commuter Council meeting at the Wilton Trackside Teen Center, Marie dismissed concerns the effort to fine-tune on-board diagnostic software controlling propulsion, braking, lights, restrooms, and door systems on test cars is moving along and shouldn't delay their debut.

"We are very much in a position to enter these cars into service beginning this year," Marie said. "My expectation on the testing has been met and so far so good."

Council Chairman Jim Cameron asked Marie about a report delivered to Metro-North Railroad in April by an independent engineer, McKissack & Delcan, indicating the diagnostic software had been installed late.

"How can you be testing without that software installed?" Cameron said.

Marie said the DOT and Metro-North were in the midst of software testing, part of a battery of mechanical and computer tests to be documented in a collection of mandated safety and performance test paperwork that will run thousands of pages for each new rail car.

"There will be a few head-scratchers and probably a few `Oh my goodnesses,' in the next few months but no real show stoppers," Marie said. "We knew this would be a difficult process but it is going well."

On Monday night, the state's eight M-8 test cars underwent their first dynamic test between New Haven and Milford, reaching speeds up to 60 mph to test propulsion and braking systems, Marie said.

Before the cars are approved for passenger service, they must be able to verify for the Federal Railroad Administration that all software functions will not consume more than 50 percent of the cars' processing capacity.

The software is now using roughly 72 percent of processing power, and reductions should be easily attained over several months, Marie said.

"Once we get the software adjusted, after we learn what we need to know from these trains, we'll be able to load it onto the production cars from Japan," he said.

The DOT plans to have the full order of 300 M-8 cars in service by October 2012.

Marie and other DOT officials also discussed plans to shut down off-peak rail service on the Danbury branch line from August to the winter holidays in order to enable work on the $63 million installation of a modern signalization and automatic switching system on the single-track line.

During the project, line patrons traveling between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. will be offered bus service, DOT Rail Construction Engineer Robert P. Pettinicchi said.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a long-time proponent of the project and expanded service on the Danbury line, said the modernized line would divert commuters from the Route 7 corridor.

"There are a lot of people who would like to use this line who are now going to Westport, New Canaan, and elsewhere," Boucher said. "This is going to be huge for our commuters and huge in their minds."

Marie said after the M-8 cars are in service, engineers will continue to review and update software dozens of times to tweak the performance of the cars.

"We'll probably be on our 100th iteration of it by this time next year," Marie said. "Every car delivery project, especially one of this magnitude, has its challenges, but the initial runs have been very good."

Flight Chaos Sends Businesses Scrambling
April 16, 2010

PARIS — Businesses around Europe were scrambling to make contingency plans Friday as a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland kept airports closed, while insurance companies were hoping to avoid having to cover any losses.

The continued grounding of most flights in northern Europe forced suppliers to seek alternative delivery routes for high-value components and perishables like flowers and food that are usually move by air.

“Our courier and express services have been dramatically affected,” Dan Moriarty, operations director at Aerly Bird Trans Global, a freight forwarder located at Dublin Airport Cargo village, said. “It’s an unusual situation. Most of our clients accept this as a force majeur.”

The company, which focuses on just-in-time deliveries from Britain and the Continent to Irish clients, especially in services like software and computer call centers, has shifted to road and ferry delivery as much as possible. Ferry transport has experienced a surge in demand. “The main problem — if this drags on — will be for the clients,” Mr. Moriarty said.

Insurance companies are hoping that they will not have to make major payouts, unless there is direct, physical damage as a result of the eruptions.

Bart Nash, a spokesman for Lloyd’s of London, said the giant insurer was examining its exposure “over a number of lines of business” but that it was “too early to tell” what type of insurance claims might arise.

Swiss Re, another large reinsurer, said it did not expect to face major claims. “At this point we don’t believe the impact on re-insurers will be very significant,” said Josephine Chennell, a spokeswoman for the group in Zurich.

“Business interruption because of the volcano eruption is not covered by insurers,” an Allianz spokesman, Richard Manson, was quoted as saying.

Assessing the real cost to businesses will be impossible until it is clearer how quickly the ash clouds disperse.

Thijs Berkelder, a transport analyst at Petercam Bank in Amsterdam, said the flight cancellations could cost large European flag-carriers like Air-France KLM tens of millions of euros per day in lost revenue.

“The main worry is you really get a big eruption and its lasts weeks or even months,” he said, an event that would multiply carriers’ losses.

The impact could be most damaging for low-cost carriers, which do not have as much scope to divert flights and operate out of different hubs, he said.

Experts warned that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano could continue to erupt in the weeks ahead.

Professor Bill McGuire from the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre noted that the last eruption from the glacier lasted more than 12 months. If this eruption has a similar duration then ash could periodically present a problem in British air space.

The Sydney-based Center for Asia Pacific Aviation estimated Friday that some six million passengers would be affected if the airport closures continue for up to three days. Share prices of European airlines were lower Friday.

Ryanair, the largest low-cost carrier, shed 2.6 percent after falling by 2 percent Thursday. Air France–KLM was down 1.8 percent in Paris and British Airways lost 2.1 percent.

By contrast, the share price of most large insurers and re-insurers was stable.

At TNT, the large Dutch logistics company, contingency plans are already in place to transfer air freight to the road network.

The company, the largest intra-European delivery group, was hiring extra trucks to work out of its road hub in the southern Netherlands. Its air hub at Liège, Belgium, has started processing goods by road instead, said Cyrille Gibot, a spokesman.

The company managed to land one of its crucial flights from China to Europe late Thursday, he added. Those flights, which normally operate three times a week, typically carry high-value electronics and auto components to European manufacturers from China.

Korean Air, the largest cargo carrier among the world’s commercial airlines, said that it cut three cargo flights, as well as four passenger flights to Europe from Asia Friday. It usually operates between four and six cargo-only flights a day to Europe.

At Rungis, the largest wholesale food market in the world, located near Paris, it was almost business as usual.

There, only about 10 percent of the products traded arrive by air, according to Philippe Stisi, a spokesman. And with the arrival of spring in Europe, more fruit and vegetables are being sourced from southern Europe, and arriving by road, rather than coming from Africa or Asia.

A manager at Solanes, a distributor at the market, said that he had not taken delivery of Friday of the aromatic herbs and exotic fruits that usually arrive from Israel and Africa.

Air freight, while more expensive than shipping by sea, has seen something of a resurgence in the last year, according to Victor Fung, chairman of the Hong Kong based Li & Fung group of companies, a giant distribution and retrading group.

Given the financial crisis, more companies and trading firms have switched to air freight from sea, amid slower steaming at sea by container companies and the need for more smaller orders and quick re-supply. Still, other executives said that the higher cost of air freight and environmental considerations continue to limit the expansion of that sector.

Pedestrian hit, killed by train in Norwalk
Feb. 17, 2010


A pedestrian was hit and killed by a Metro-North train this morning at the Commerce Street crossing.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a train hit the pedestrian -- who is yet to be identified -- at approximately 7:20 a.m. The accident is causing delays on the New Haven and Danbury line.

At this point Metro North is using buses to get people back and forth on the Danbury Line.

The Hour's News Hound

MTA Police, Norwalk police and fire are all at the scene.

Further details will be posted as more information becomes available.

Legislative Hearing Today On School Bus Safety
The Hartford Courant
February 17, 2010


The parents of the Rocky Hill teenager who died as a result of a bus crash on I-84 last month are expected to testify at a legislative public hearing today.

The legislature's transportation committee is gathering information about school bus safety and looking for feedback on two proposed bills. One would require lap-and-shoulder, or three-point, seat belts on public school buses. The other would increase fines for bus companies that are repeat offenders of specific safety laws and would require buses to display phone numbers so that motorists could report unsafe driving.

Both bills were proposed after the January crash that killed Vikas Parikh. Parikh was on his way to a kickoff event for a national robotics competition when the bus he was riding in collided with a car, sending the bus down a 20-foot embankment.

Parikh was the only one who died in the crash, but several of his classmates and a teacher at the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science were injured.

Today's hearing will begin at 11 a.m. in Room 2D of the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Ave.

Metro train derails in D.C.: Minor injuries
The Washington Times
Originally published 12:47 p.m., February 12, 2010, updated 07:29 a.m., February 13, 2010

A six-car subway train derailed Friday in downtown Washington, D.C., and injured three passengers, as many commuters returned to work for the first time since back-to-back snowstorms that began last weekend buried the region.

The accident occurred at about 10:15 a.m., at the Farragut North station, in the downtown area.

A preliminary report shows the front wheels of the train's first car slipped off the tracks as it left the below-ground station, according to the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Passengers said the red line train stopped abruptly after departing the station and that they waited for about 90 minutes, at times in the dark, before being allowed to exit.

Emergency crews sent passengers in the first two cars into the four trailing cars. They then unhooked the front cars and returned the passengers to the station in the trailing cars.

Agency spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the train was in a "pocket track," off the main tracks.

More than 340 passengers were on the train. D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin described the injuries are "very minor."

The station closed briefly, then reopened at about noon.

The federal government, which employs roughly 230 workers in the region, reopened two hours late Friday after being closed for four straight days. The late opening resulted in especially crowded trains after the morning rush hour.

The accident is the most recent incident in a long string of problems for Metro that began in June when nine people were killed after a red line train struck the rear of another train.

Since then, at least two Metro employees have been killed while working on train tracks.

The transit system, which has the second largest subway system in the country, also faces a million-dollar shortfall and has just approved a fare increase.

The agency receives money from the federal government and from the District and the Maryland and Virginia municipalities it serves. But the income is not guaranteed.

In January, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. announced his retirement after three years as the agency's top manager. He will leave in April.

New Haven line ridership falls 4 percent
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Published: 11:05 p.m., Thursday, December 31, 2009

Continued job losses in the white-collar finance, insurance and real estate industries contributed to a 4 percent drop in ridership on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line from January to November.

Rail officials said ridership now has declined for 14 months.

"It was just a lousy economy all around," said Marjorie Anders, spokeswoman for the railroad. "The recession had a huge impact on our business."

By contrast, single-ticket sales on nights and weekends, which are less likely to be used by workforce commuters, fell only 2 percent for the period, Anders said.

New Haven Line ridership from January to November fell to 33.1 million trips, down from 34.5 million trips last year, Anders said.

Ridership on CTTransit buses in Stamford running local service and interstate service to White Plains, N.Y., also dipped about 4 percent from last year, said David Lee, the general manager.

Ridership fell to 3.1 million from 3.2 million between December 2008 and last month, Lee said.

In 2008, ridership rose 5.4 percent, Lee said.

The drop appears to reflect the loss of retail and service jobs in the area, Lee said, and returns ridership to 2007 levels, after a 4 percent growth that he attributed to high gas prices in summer 2008.

The drop in New Haven Line ridership follows a record 2008, when 38.2 million riders used the service, a 3.9 percent increase from 2007 that was spurred by high gas prices, railroad officials said. From January 2008 to June 2008, ridership rose 5 percent each month, and 6.2 percent in July, when gas prices reached more than $4.50 a gallon.

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said trains are still crowded, although riders often can find seats. He expects ridership growth to resume soon, making it critical for the state to launch the new fleet of M-8 rail cars and expand parking lots at train stations, Cameron said.

The first two of 300 M-8 cars arrived in the state last week.

"We would hope that when the economy comes back, the ridership will come back," Cameron said. "Now is the time to be adding more seats and hopefully find a way to add more parking."

New railcars finally on track: First M-8 cars make debut in New Haven
Updated: 12/24/2009 07:00:53 PM EST

At long last, Connecticut got trains for Christmas.

On Thursday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell unveiled the first two M-8 railcars for the New Haven Line at Union Station in New Haven to a gaggle of reporters, railroad workers and Kawasaki Rail Car executives.

"Kawasaki, I have nothing but praise for them," Rell said while seated in the front of the first pair of railcars, fielding questions from reporters. She said the firm has been very good with communicating the progress of the cars. The new cars have a more box-like design than the older cars that rolled in and out of Union Station during the conference.

The governor appeared to enjoy the new cars and said that they represent the fruition of one of her earliest proposals as governor.

In 2005, when Rell introduced her first budget as governor, she challenged the state "to confront, once and for all, our transportation problem." She backed a plan to replace the 342-car fleet as part of a $1 billion transportation initiative.

Kawasaki Rail Car, of Japan, originally won a contract in 2006 to build 210 railcars for $522 million with an option to build another 132 additional cars with a price tag of about $2.5 million a car. But efficiencies in the process and a reduction in commodity costs, helped lower the per-car price to about $2 million, so the state is taking 300 cars for almost $700 million.

Fare hikes to help cover the cost of the new cars are scheduled for the next seven years, with the
first one of 1.25 percent occurring next year in the summer followed by 1 percent hikes during the following six years each January.

James Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said this was an important day for commuters, but also for Rell.

"I wanted to say thank you to the governor," Cameron said, while standing on Platform 8, where the new railcars were open for viewing.

DOT and Metro-North will begin testing the new cars next week, so they will not be available for public viewing.

Cameron and the rail commuter council pressed for years to improve the train service on the New Haven Line. While the trains generally come in on time, the conditions on them had been deteriorating as the railcars aged. The majority of the fleet entered service in the 1970s and only a handful of railcars were added in later decades. The situation came to a head in the winter of 2004 when bitterly cold wind and snow fouled the mechanics and electronics of the older trains, putting more than 100 out of commission in a single week. That forced shortened trains and schedule changes.

Metro-North mechanics worked around the clock in below-zero conditions in the New Haven Rail Yard to get the trains back in service, repairing 49 trains in one weekend.

The state is also expanding the rail yard at a cost of more than $700 million, to accommodate the fleet of new trains. Connecticut will not immediately retire the older models, but instead intends to use them to expand service on its Shore Line East Railroad and branch lines.

Cameron credited Rell with the political courage to move the issue forward. "This is her swan song," he said, as Rell walked the platform talking to police and reporters about the new trains. Rell declared she would not seek another term during the next election cycle, which begins in 2010. Her term ends in 2011.

The new trains are expected to begin entering full service in the fall of 2010, meaning Connecticut will have the most advanced fleet of railcars in North America at a time when the nation's economy is expected to start rising out of the recession.

"Having the newest trains in North America says a lot about the state's transportation," Cameron said, who added it's a far cry from where Connecticut has been. He said there have been reports of companies who crossed Connecticut off the map of potential locations for offices simply because of its clogged freeways and overcrowded railcars.

While there was excitement about the new railcars, they will not go into service until the fall of 2010, according to Eugene Colonese, a state Department of Transportation rail administrator.

Colonese said the trains must go through testing and they can only be run with other M-8 cars because of the electronics are more advanced on the new cars.

Colonese is a veteran railroad worker who served as a Metro-North conductor before taking the job at the DOT.

"They're great," he said of the new cars. "All the other cars are based on a 1960 design," he said. "This is such an improvement."

Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. President Akira Hattori agreed with Cameron and Colonese that these were among the most advanced cars in North America and probably the world.

Hattori said the M-8s are complicated cars and require a complex electrical system because the cars run on both overhead alternating current and third-rail direct current systems.

The New Haven Line is the only railroad in the world that operates on this system.

Besides being the latest design, Hattori noted these trains will be faster and will be capable of hitting 100 miles per hour.

The first 38 cars are being made in Japan and then the remaining 262 cars will be manufactured in Kawasaki's Lincoln, Neb., factory, he said.

"It's the best design," he said.

About the M-8 cars:

The Tappan Zee Bridge:  parallel to Whidbey Island here.

Scripps suicide
New York Post
Last Updated: 6:16 AM, September 26, 2009
Posted: 3:02 AM, September 26, 2009

A tormented woman who struggled with the horrific bludgeoning death of her newspaper heiress mother climbed a railing of the Tappan Zee Bridge and then flung herself over the side -- 15 years after her murderous stepfather jumped from the same span.

Police last night were searching the murky Hudson River for tragic Annie Devoy Morell, 38, daughter of Anne Scripps Douglas, whose 1994 death came at the hands of her second husband, Scott Douglas.

Morell plunged from the bridge Thursday, minutes after stopping her car on the Rockland County-bound right lane at around 8 p.m., family members yesterday told The Post.  A note was found in her car, and State Police Investigator Joseph Becerra said the case is being treated as a suicide.

Morell was a carefree 22-year-old when her mom -- great-great-granddaughter of James E. Scripps, who founded the Detroit News and owned several Midwest papers -- died after a vicious 1993 New Year's Eve beating by Douglas.

Anne Scripps had married Douglas, a housepainter with a violent temper, after her divorce from Annie's father, Wall Streeter Anthony Morell.  Annie had returned home from a party to find herself locked out of the family's swank Bronxville home. When nobody responded to her repeated knocks, Annie, fearing the worst of her hot-headed stepdad, called police.

Cops found her mother unconscious, sprawled across the bed in Annie's room. She'd been brutally bludgeoned in the head, and died six days later.  Annie's stepsister, Tory, then 3, was in the home at the time of the attack.  Douglas fled and abandoned his car on the Tappan Zee. Unable to find a body after several days, police believed Douglas had faked his death and launched a worldwide manhunt.

Three months later, Douglas's decomposed body washed ashore in The Bronx.  After his body was found, Annie told the Westchester Journal News, "The nightmare is over."

But her uncle, Kevin Haggerty, said Annie never fully recovered.

"She's just always distraught, she's been having issues back and forth, as anybody would expect," he told The Post yesterday. "Through her whole life, that's a bad memory."

One friend said Morell's grade-school son had recently gone to live with his dad, Paul Petrillo, in Eastchester so the child could attend a school near there.  Petrillo last night declined to comment.

Thoughtful analysis of the Transit-Economics connection here.

M23 busG. Paul Burnett/The New York Times
Crosstown bus routes, like the M23, have traditionally been among the slowest in the city.

Bloomberg Calls for Free Crosstown Buses
By Sewell Chan AND Michael Barbaro
August 3, 2009, 1:02 pm

Updated, 1:34 p.m. | Manhattan’s notoriously slow crosstown buses — like the M34, M42 and M50 — move at such a snail’s pace that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should stop collecting fares on them so that the buses can load riders and take off more quickly, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed on Monday afternoon as part of what his re-election campaign called a bold plan for reforming mass transit.

“Plain and simple: the M.T.A. needs to do more. Much more,” the mayor said at a campaign event at West 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. “Our mass transit system is far behind.”

The mayor’s announcement comes months after the authority, which has faced steep fiscal pressures, raised fares and tolls, pushing the base subway and bus fare to $2.25. There are some signs of weakening support for the mayor — an independent who has promised to yet again pour tens of millions of dollars from his personal fortune into his campaign — although his major Democratic opponent, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., is still unknown to many voters.

In a 33-point proposal spanning subways, buses, roads, ferries and the operations of the authority, the mayor appeared to be trying to assert a greater role for the city in mass transit as he seeks a third term in the November election. He will face hurdles: Unlike the Police Department and the school system, the M.T.A. is subject to very little control by the mayor, who controls only 4 of 17 votes on the authority’s board.

The mayor called for a number of measures that will probably be popular with riders, even though Mr. Bloomberg has no direct power to put them in place: extending the V line from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn, and providing express service on the popular F line; providing “countdown clocks” that indicate when the next subway is arriving, a feature now only available on the L line; and reopening Long Island Rail Road stations in the Queens neighborhoods of Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst, to give residents more options in reaching Manhattan.

(The idea of expanding the use of CityTicket — an M.T.A. program started in 2004 that offers riders discounted fares on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad when traveling within the city limits — had already been put forth by Mr. Thompson, among others.)

Other elements of the Bloomberg transit plan build on existing efforts. For example, the mayor wants to improve the renovation of subway stations, reopen a 5.1-mile abandoned rail line linking the St. George ferry terminal with several neighborhoods in the northern part of Staten Island, and expand the bus rapid transit experiment that the authority has begun along Fordham Road in the Bronx. All are projects that have already been discussed or implemented over a period of several years.

Some points in the plan are more innovative. Crosstown buses have been infuriatingly slow for decades, and the plan argues that most crosstown riders are already using the subway, so that the authority gains little in additional revenue by collecting fares on crosstown routes.

“Any loss in revenue will likely be offset by the gain in travel times, which may reduce operating costs by allowing the authority to run fewer buses,” the Bloomberg campaign states. If letting riders board without paying proved successful, the paper added, “the authority should expand it to other appropriate crosstown routes, along with routes in Jamaica,” where buses also run slowly.

Other elements of the Bloomberg campaign’s plan include:

    * Using smaller, more fuel-efficient buses to provide service on existing bus routes during less popular periods, like nights.
    * Using technology deployed for military vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan to track bus movements, with help from the city’s Department of Transportation.
    * Creating a high-occupancy-vehicle express lane on the westbound Gowanus Expressway, whch would reduce commute times for motorists coming from Staten Island or southern Brooklyn.

      Expanding ferry service and ferry linkages, a proposal long championed by Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005.
    * Giving the Police Department, which already controls policing in the subways, supervision over M.T.A. communications and surveillance — a proposal likely to raise hackles within the authority.
    * Creating a TransitStAT program — similar to the CompStat program deployed since the early 1990s to monitor police responses to crime patterns — to regularly provide online updates to the public about transit performance.
    * Creating an integrated, contactless “smart card” for transit riders — similar to London’s Oyster Card or Hong Kong’s Octopus Card — that could eventually supplant the MetroCard.
    * Turning over the M.T.A.’s customer-service information responsibilities to the city’s 311 call center, one of the Bloomberg administration’s signature accomplishments.


To the south (l.) and north (c.) from the Stamford Railroad station, which has parking garage, Amtrak/Acela stop. Great coffee shop at the top of the escalator.

Cooperation key to transit issues
CT POST Editorial
Updated: 07/14/2009 03:13:44 PM EDT

Mass transit solutions are impossible unless we work together. Gov. M. Jodi Rell appears to understand this.

Rell and the five other New England governors on Monday declared that the central Connecticut route paralleling Interstate 91 is a key link in wider plans to revitalize the region's passenger rail network. This is part of a nationwide push by the Obama administration to once again make passenger rail a viable alternative to automobiles in our most highly trafficked areas.

The specific focus for now is on the link from New Haven to Springfield, Mass., by way of Hartford. The governor last week submitted a proposal to upgrade the 62-mile route and enable the state to begin faster-speed commuter service. More importantly, it would open the way for Amtrak to launch high-speed rail service in the region as part of its larger Boston-to-Washington Acela service.

The cost is enormous -- multiple billions of dollars just to begin. The benefits, though, should such projects be brought to fruition and linked into a single, comprehensive framework, are incalculable -- less time wasted in traffic; less gasoline consumed; a dent in pollution, and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions; and a chance to once again make travel a pleasant experience.

The goal is far in the future. But the work must begin, and the situation will not improve on its own. There is no possibility of achieving the massive infrastructure investment necessary for alternative means of  transportation without significant government backing.

We have an administration in Washington that shares these goals. The time to act is now.

Given the option, the New Haven-to-Springfield route might not be our first choice for a cash infusion. Metro-North's New Haven Line carries thousands of people daily, and is constantly in need of help. The Waterbury Line, as well, could benefit from increased attention and funding.

But this is about more than local concerns. This is about weaving Connecticut into a nationwide solution, and changing our transportation future.

We can't do it alone. Working together, we can make it happen.

Officials Look for Clues and Victims in Train Crash
June 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — A day after the worst Metro subway train accident in the history of the city’s system, emergency officials continued to comb through the wreckage, searching for additional victims and indications as to what could have caused the crash, officials said.

On Tuesday morning, Metro officials confirmed that nine people were killed and around 75 wounded. There may still be other bodies entombed in the wreckage, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a news conference.

“Our first thoughts and efforts are with the families and friends of the victims,” he said.

Investigators were still treating the accident scene as a rescue operation, bringing in a crane and other heavy equipment, emergency officials said. Cadaver dogs and search and rescue dogs were being used in the hunt for any additional survivors or fatalities, both on the track and in the surrounding wooded area. Two minor firefighter injuries were reported.

In the accident, one train on the system’s heavily used Red Line rear-ended a stopped train at considerable speed about 5 p.m. between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations, leaving the rear train atop the forward train in a mangled cluster of metal and glass. The driver of the rear train, Jeanice McMillan, 42, was among those killed, officials said.

Initial signs pointed to a mixture of technical failures and possible driver error.

On Tuesday, a National Transportation Safety Board member, Debbie Hersman, said that the agency had raised concerns about the crash-readiness of the older trains used by the city. The striking train was one of these older trains — Metro’s 1000 series.

The agency had in the past several years recommended that the city’s older trains be retrofitted with greater safety devices or that they be phased out. The officials also recommended that all of the older trains be fitted with “event recorders.” Those recommendations were not addressed, she said.

To prevent trains from colliding, Metro designed a computerized system that controls speed and braking. If trains get too close to each other, the computers are supposed to automatically apply the brakes.

“We need to see if that system actually what was being used at the time and if there were any faults,” Ms. Hersman said. “We’re going to be looking at the tracks, at the signal system and at the train operation to understand what happened.”

The investigation will include a “sight distance test” to judge whether the operator could see the train in front of her, as well an effort to determine how fast the moving train was going. Ms. McMillan had been a train operator since 2007, officials said.

Nine data recorders were being carried by the train that was struck, which was made of newer 3000 and 5000-series train cars. All are expected to be recovered and analyzed. The Safety Board had recommended that all older cars also be fitted with data recorders, and that recommendation was also not addressed, Ms. Hersman said.

The city’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, said that officials were in the process of identifying the dead and that family notifications would begin later Tuesday. Metro officials warned that they were running limited service on the Red Line and advised commuters to find another way to work.

In a statement, President Obama said: “Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in Northeast Washington, D.C., today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy. I want to thank the brave first responders who arrived immediately to save lives.”

The general manager of the Metro system, John B. Catoe Jr., said Monday that the crash occurred when one train headed into the center of the city stopped near a platform and was waiting for permission to proceed. The second train came from behind and hit it, he said.

Between the Takoma and Fort Totten stations where the crash occurred, there is a long stretch of track, meaning trains often reach high speeds.

“It was a huge impact,” said Maya Maroto, 31, of Burtonsville, Md., who was in the third car of the moving train as she headed into the city to see a movie. “Our first inclination was that we hit another train or car.”

An elderly woman sitting near them flew out of her seat and landed sprawled on the floor.

Ms. Maroto said she did not realize the seriousness of the accident until she looked out the door and saw the front of her train wedged on top of the other one. Minutes later she looked again and saw a body on the tracks.

Passengers said about 15 minutes passed before officials showed up or any announcements were made.

“It was kind of scary that no one was there,” said Allison Miner, 49, a nutritionist from Silver Spring, Md., who was in the same car as Ms. Maroto.

Suzanne Motta, who was riding in the fourth car of the moving train, said, “Anybody standing up got knocked down.”

“A gentleman came in carrying a girl with a laceration on her foot,” Ms. Motta added. “He had a laceration on his head. Everybody was pretty shook up.”

Jervis Bryant, 39, who lives about two blocks from the crash site, arrived at the scene soon after he heard a loud boom. He said he saw people inside the bottom train car. “It was a scene I never thought I’d see,” he said.

After the accident, one subway car sat fully on top of a car from the other train. The car on top had part of its floor sheared off, and the wreckage was a jumble of twisted metal. Seats from the smashed cars had spilled onto the tracks.

Several passengers were carried off on stretchers, and rescue crews used ladders and heavy equipment to cut into the wreckage and reach passengers stuck inside. Helicopters buzzed overhead. The police scrambled to coordinate traffic, onlookers and the rescue workers.

Emergency medical personnel set up a triage site at the nearby Jarboe Printing Company. Rescue officials said about 75 passengers were treated for injuries. At least three people were seriously injured and the rest had only minor injuries. Numerous people walked away from the crash site wearing bandages, slings and in at least one case, a neck brace.

Much of the Metrorail system, which opened in 1976, runs below ground. Both trains involved in the accident were above ground.

“This is an aging system and one that needs to be looked at very closely,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The accident was the second involving passenger fatalities in the system. In 1982, three people died after a train derailed between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations.

Slice of Stimulus Package Will Go to Faster Trains
February 20, 2009

It may be the longest train delay in history: more than 40 years after the first bullet trains zipped through Japan, the United States still lacks true high-speed rail. And despite the record $8 billion investment in high-speed rail added at the last minute to the new economic stimulus package, that may not change any time soon.

That money will not be enough to pay for a single bullet train, transportation experts say. And by the time the $8 billion gets divided among the 11 regions across the country that the government has designated as high-speed rail corridors, they say, it is unlikely to do much beyond paying for long-delayed improvements to passenger lines, and making a modest investment in California’s plan for a true bullet train.

In the short term, the money — inserted at the 11th hour by the White House — could put people to work improving tracks, crossings and signal systems.

That could help more trains reach speeds of 90 to 110 miles per hour, which is much faster than they currently go. It is much slower, however, than high-speed trains elsewhere, like the 180 m.p.h. of the newest Japanese bullet train. (The Acela trains on the East Coast are capable of 150 m.p.h., but average around half that.)

To some longtime proponents of high-speed rail who have watched with envy as other countries built ever-faster trains, failing to build a world-class high-speed train now would represent a tremendous missed opportunity to lure drivers off choked roads and fliers away from long delays at airports.

“What are we trying to achieve?” asked Joseph Vranich, a rail expert who wrote “Supertrains” (St. Martin’s Press, 1991). “If we really wanted to have high-speed rail in this country, and have it be a great success, then what we would do is concentrate the funds on the New York-Washington corridor, which is the top corridor in the country.”

Mr. Vranich warned that spreading the money around the country could dilute its power to build a true high-speed system, and he predicted that making incremental improvements to the speeds of trains around the country would not be enough to get large numbers of people to stop flying.  Even with full financing, it could take a decade or more to build a bullet train line. The state now closest to building a true high-speed system is California, where voters approved borrowing $9 billion last fall to begin building a train that can go faster than 220 m.p.h.

“The California high-speed rail project is the only genuine pending project,” said Judge Quentin L. Kopp, the chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Mr. Kopp has outlined plans to spend up to $2 billion of the stimulus money by the deadline of 2012 — one-quarter of the available federal money, but only a small part of the $45 billion the project is expected to cost.

Many other states also have big plans. North Carolina, which is part of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, will seek some of the stimulus money to speed rail service between Charlotte and Washington. Wisconsin wants to use some of it on a line linking Madison and Chicago, hoping to have trains running up to 110 m.p.h. Officials in Alabama want to be on a faster line connecting Atlanta and New Orleans.

Many rail advocates said that it would make sense to move to higher-speed rail before building true high-speed rail, and that getting the nation’s long-neglected rail system into working order could lay the foundation for future high-speed projects.

“You’ve got to walk before you can run, and we’ve just been crawling up to now,” said Ross B. Capon, the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, an advocacy group for riders.

Many passenger trains run on tracks owned by freight companies, and they are slowed on long stretches of single track, where trains must pull onto sidings so others can pass.

Federal transportation officials said that they were still drawing up guidelines for how the money would be spent, and cautioned that it was too early to predict what they would do. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters in Washington this week that he believed high-speed rail would be President Obama’s transportation priority. Mr. LaHood said the department had recently given the White House a memorandum describing plans for high-speed rail in “at least six corridors” across the country.

But people who were excited by that prospect may be surprised to hear that the federal government defines “high speed” as much slower than other countries do. A diesel train in the United States that can go 90 m.p.h. is still considered high-speed under the government’s definition.

So some projects financed by the bill may simply get intercity passenger rail back to where it was earlier in the 20th century, rather than closer to the futuristic vision of the trains of Europe and Asia, like the magnetic levitation, or maglev, train that whisks passengers from Shanghai to its airport 19 miles away in seven minutes, attaining a speed of 259 m.p.h.

The Acela is the United States’ fastest train. But because the tracks it runs on are curvy, and are shared with many other trains, it is only able to reach its top speed of 150 m.p.h. on about 35 miles of track in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Its average speed is 84 m.p.h. between New York and Washington. Still, Amtrak has captured 62 percent of the combined air and rail market between New York and Washington, company officials said.

High-speed rail has a long, tortured history in the United States, going back to 1965, when Congress passed the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act. Since then, it has been proposed by many governors and studied in countless plans, always holding out the promise of catching up with other countries.

Voters in Florida passed a constitutional amendment requiring the state to build a high-speed rail system, only to repeal it a few years later after several prominent businesses, along with Jeb Bush, who was then the governor, complained of its expense.

C. C. Dockery, who sponsored the campaign for the amendment, said in an interview that he and the other members of the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority were planning to meet late this month to discuss how to go about seeking some of the federal money.

“It would be a huge benefit to Florida,” Mr. Dockery said.

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington.

FULL HOUSE: Merritt 7 faring well in down economy
By CHRIS BOSAK, Hour Staff Writer
January 21, 2009

The weakening of the economy may be trickling into the commercial real estate market, but for Merritt 7 Corporate Park, things are as strong as ever.

Merritt 7 continues to fare well even as Fairfield County as a whole experiences increased vacancy rates and slowing activity. The six-building complex with 1.4 million square feet of office space is currently 97 percent leased and the leases expiring in 2009 were renewed in early 2008.

Merritt 7's ownership and management are further buoyed by a new signing and a new expansion.

"(Merritt 7) is not new, but it's maintained well. It's a home run," said JoAnn McGrath, director of leasing at Merritt 7 Corporate Park. "It's always done well and it's been through several (economic) cycles. We're in good position for these times."

The only time the building has been under 90 percent leased was in the down market in early 2002, McGrath said.

The first building (101 Merritt 7) was completed in 1980 and the final phase (601 Merritt 7) was completed in 2002. A $30 million improvement project was also recently completed. The Park has also embraced the movement toward sustainable energy and operates under 100 percent green power. It has been honored for several of its environmental initiatives, including an Energy Star award from the EPA.

The buildings hold 75 companies, including corporate tenants such as General Electric, EMCOR, Marsh, Arch Chemicals, Siemens, FactSet and Webloyalty.

Siemens, in fact, recently expanded its space in Building 101. The global technology company took an extra 5,877 square feet and now occupies 23,155 square feet. The company actually took back space it gave up two years ago when it "contracted and extended," meaning it signed a lease extension and gave up space.

"That was an interesting transaction because they realized there was minimal risk with the landlord," McGrath said.

In fact, according to McGrath, tenant retention is strong at Merritt 7 because of longtime ownership and management. The complex is owned by a joint venture between New York State Teachers' Retirement Systems and Fairfield Investors. Albert D. Phelps, Inc., is the managing and leasing agent. Albert D. Phelps is located on site in Building 401.

"Tenants need to know who the landlord is. There had been a lot of turnaround in this market," McGrath said. "We have on-site management and long-time management. Tenant relation is tenant retention."

While several commercial real estate landlords have had to negotiate with tenants and make concessions in this market, Merritt 7 has "continued to hit our numbers," McGrath said. "We put out our proforma and haven't gone below it."

The average asking rate at Merritt 7 is $35.50 per square foot and that price has not dropped as the economy dips, largely because the asking rates never spiked over the past few years. In Greenwich, for example, rates escalated to as high as $140 per square foot. Rental rates in Greenwich and Stamford are expected to drop.

"This market (in Norwalk) never peaked and skyrocketed as much as Greenwich," McGrath said. "Our rental rates were somewhat steady. We didn't have the 50 percent spikes.

"Merritt 7 is a great story for Norwalk," she added. "It's in the center of Fairfield County. It's a well-located, well-planned corporate park."

Location played a major role in the decision of Cartbridge Capital to sign a 2,422 square foot lease at Merritt 7. The financial firm recently relocated from Stamford to Building 301 in Merritt 7.

"Not a bad start to the year," McGrath said. "Everybody needs to hang in there and stay positive. There are few tenants in the market now, but there's still a pulse. Some companies need to grow their business. But we're not seeing the velocity you see in a better market."

THE NEW LONDON DAY ASKS...Stamford ADVOCATE reporter muses...

Can viable passenger rail service be revived in this country?
Start date: 7/20/2008 End date: 7/22/2008

The issue

In 1920 passenger trains linked cities throughout the United States and carried 1.2 billion people that year, more than 10 times the population of the country at the time. From that point train service began a steady decline that accelerated dramatically after World War II when the federal government puts its support behind highway and airport construction.

Relatively cheap fuel made it affordable for Americans to travel by cars on their own schedules and to fly between cities. Rail service largely withered and died.

The debate

Many argue that the United States, unlike Europe, made a major strategic mistake to largely abandoned passenger train service. Europe has been dealing with high gas prices of decades, but has continued to prosper in large part because of viable rail passenger service throughout the continent.

On the other hand, Americans are not Europeans, they have a love affair with the automobile and the freedom and independence that form of travel provides. Even at $4 per gallon, it is difficult to get Americans out of their cars.

The question

With the cost of jet fuel putting airlines on the brink of bankruptcy, traveling on trains between cities could prove a better alternative. And as highways grow more congested, how much freedom do autos really provide? Yet the cost of rebuilding passenger rail would be enormous, and getting need approvals very difficult. 

A future that could mirror the past
By Elizabeth Kim, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/28/2008 02:34:46 AM EDT

A light rail system is something of a step back into the future for Stamford, where trolley cars rolled along the streets a century ago.

The first lines, drawn by horses, started running in 1887. An electrified version was installed during the 1890s, extending the reach of restless inhabitants, many eager to venture beyond their suburban confines.

At their height, the trolleys branched out from downtown to neighboring towns and overlapped railroad territory as far as New York.

Depending on the line, fares were 25 cents during peak times and 10 cents the rest of the day.

With their colorful style and clanging bells, riding the cars was a hit with residents. When the line to Old Greenwich, then known as Sound Beach, was introduced, spectators lined the streets and cheered as the trolley rolled by. During the early years, trolley riding became a popular pastime, used to commemorate birthdays and other special occasions.

Despite being credited with fostering the growth of the city, the expansion of the lines was met with opposition, referenced in a Stamford Advocate article in 1895:

"On every account it is an institution to be fostered and encouraged by all reasonable and proper treatment - not one to be regarded as a sort of bugaboo by local statesmen and others who fondly imagine they can gain popularity by hampering and opposing the people's means of transit on their business or pleasure."

The trolleys would run for almost four more decades.  Beginning in the 1920s, they gradually were replaced by buses over 12 years.  When the city's last yellow trolley rumbled into the night in 1933, headed for a barn in Norwalk, few would have predicted the city would one day try to resurrect them.

In 1988, Mayor Thom Serrani introduced gas-powered replicas - buses with trolley car frames - to the downtown. The idea was to entice people to take public transportation by harkening to a sweeter era in Stamford.

Former trolley conductor Steven "Tippy" Belasco recalled those days in an Advocate article that ran in the late 1950s:

"People somehow seemed more friendly in those days,' he said. 'They didn't seem in a hurry like people do today. The pace was slower. I think everyone was happier.'

Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises
Published: June 21, 2008

WASHINGTON — Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.  And they are good news, up to a point.  Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.  But the railroad, and its suppliers, have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.

Many of the long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer. Want to take Amtrak’s daily Crescent train from New York to New Orleans? It is sold out on July 5, 6, 7 and 8. Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 5? The train is sold out, but Amtrak will sell you a bus ticket.

“We’re starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints,” said R. Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.

The problem is that rail has shriveled. The number of “passenger miles” traveled on intercity rail has dropped by about two-thirds since 1960, and the companies that build rail cars and locomotives have also shrunk, making it hard to expand.

In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.

Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.

And it needs to buy new rail cars soon. Its Amfleet cars, the ones recognizable to riders as the old Metroliners, are more than 30 years old. And the Acela trains, which have been operating about eight years, have about a million miles on them.

Writing specifications for bids, picking a vendor and waiting for delivery takes years, even if the money is in hand.

Amtrak is an alternative to airlines along the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, and on some routes out of Chicago and a few in California. But most of its other routes are so slow that people take those trains because they have no alternative to reach places like Burlington, N.C., or Burlington, Iowa. Or they go for the train ride itself.

The railroad carried about 25 million passengers last year and may hit 27 million this year. (That is all intercity traffic; commuter rail, connecting suburbs and cities, is also growing, but that is not Amtrak’s market.) By contrast, the airlines carry about 680 million domestic passengers a year. If Amtrak were an airline, in terms of passenger boardings it would rank approximately eighth, behind Continental and US Airways and ahead of AirTran and JetBlue.

H. Glenn Scammel, a former head of staff of the rail subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the railroad should give up on some of its cross-country trains and redeploy the equipment on relatively short intercity trips, where it could provide enough frequency to attract new business. (Providing one train a day in each direction will not draw many new business travelers.)

But the railroad’s labor contracts provide stiff penalties for dropping routes, and dropping states from its itinerary would hurt its political support, especially in the Senate, where thinly populated states are overrepresented relative to their population.

Scarcity is not all bad for the railroad, though. It has raised ticket prices, so that it recorded ticket revenues of $153.4 million in May, up 15.6 percent from $132.7 million in May 2006. That jump is higher than the ridership increase of 12.3 percent, to 2.58 million, from 2.30 million.

Most of the money came from airline-style “yield management,” using a computer to look ahead, see how many seats are filled, and raising or lowering the price on the remainder. Mr. Black said that while the railroad is not set up to make money, “we’re intended to maximize revenues.”

Profits are unlikely. The Government Accountability Office found last November that Amtrak had received more than $30 billion in federal aid since its creation in 1971, but was still in “poor financial condition,” with extensive deferred maintenance.

When Amtrak began operating 37 years ago, the plan was for it to eventually break even. In 1997, Congress passed a law threatening dire consequences if it did not reach self-sufficiency by 2002.

But by 2002 the mood had changed, and the appropriations have continued, financing losses of over $1 billion a year.

The G.A.O. analysis noted the continued operation of cross-country trains with low ridership and high costs. “The current structure does not appear to effectively target federal funds where they may provide the greatest level of public benefits, such as reduced traffic congestion and pollution,” it said.

Oil costs hurt Amtrak, too. Fuel is projected to reach 11 percent of Amtrak’s budget this year, up from 6 percent in 2004. The railroad is not radically more energy-efficient than other means of travel. Amtrak can move a passenger a mile with 17.4 percent less fuel than a passenger car can, and about 32.9 percent less than an airline can, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

It does save oil, however, since much of the fuel Amtrak uses is in the form of electricity, made from coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

Despite its popularity with passengers, the biggest determinant of the railroad’s health is still the federal government, and in Washington, views diverge sharply.

Last year Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, and others won overwhelming Senate approval for a bill that would offer the states 80 cents for every 20 cents they spend on new intercity passenger rail service, the same as the match offered for highway projects.

The House passed a bill with the same provision by a veto-proof margin earlier this month. The bill will soon go to a conference committee, but the White House is threatening to veto it because it wants the passenger rail system to be turned over to private operators.

Some members of Congress think the private sector should play a bigger role, and that that congestion and fuel prices should push the country to trains, but not necessarily to Amtrak.

The House version of the Amtrak reauthorization bill has a provision that invites private companies to build a rail link between New York and Washington that would make the trip in less than two hours.

The Florida Representative John Mica, a senior Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee who wrote the provision, said, “We have no passenger high speed rail service in this country. To really change that, you’re going to have to bring in the private sector to develop, finance and operate the system.” Both versions of the bill authorize bigger subsidies, but Congress is often more generous in authorization bills than in actual appropriations.

Amtrak’s fortunes also hinge on who wins the White House; Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, was a staunch opponent of subsidies to Amtrak when he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Barack Obama, the probable Democratic nominee, was a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill to provide an 80/20 financing match.

Gas prices bringing pain to drivers here, there and everywhere;  Cost is high in the U.S., but much higher in France, Turkey, Spain ... 
By Angela Charlton,  Associated Press   
Published on 5/31/2008 

Paris - Americans are shell-shocked at $4-a-gallon gas. But consider France, where a gallon of petrol runs nearly $10. Or Turkey, where it's more than $11.

Drivers around the world are being pummeled by the effects of record gas prices. And now some are hitting back, staging strikes and protests from Europe to Indonesia to demand that governments do more to ease the pain.  It's a growing problem in a world that's increasingly mobile and more vulnerable than ever to the cost of crude oil, which is racing higher by the day and showing no signs of stopping.

”I don't know why it is, but ... it hurts,” said Marie Penucci, a violinist who was filling up her Volkswagen to the tune of $9.66 a gallon at an Esso station on the bypass that rings Paris.

As she pumped, she looked wistfully at a commuter climbing onto one of the city's cheap rental bicycles, an option not open to her since she travels long distances to perform.  As oil soars, the effect on drivers can vary widely. Taxes and subsidies that differ from nation to nation are the main reasons, along with limits in oil-refining capacity and hard-to-reach places that drive up shipping costs.

In Europe and Japan, for example, high taxes have made drivers accustomed to staggering gas prices. As a result, plenty of European adults never even bother to learn to drive, preferring cheap mass transit to getting behind the wheel.  Those who do drive are still testing new pain thresholds. And it would be worse in Europe if the strong euro weren't cushioning the blow.

On the other hand, in emerging economies such as China and India, government subsidies shield consumers. But that still means governments themselves have to find a way to afford the soaring market prices for oil.  Increasingly, people around the world are reaching the boiling point - and it's not just drivers.

Fishermen in Spain and Portugal began nationwide strikes Friday, keeping their trawlers and commercial boats docked at ports. In Madrid, demonstrators handed out 20 tons of fish in a bid to win support from the public.  In Spain, the European Union's most important producer of fish, the fishing confederation estimates fuel prices have gone up 320 percent in the past five years - so high many fishermen can no longer afford to take their boats out.

French fishermen and farmers, who need fuel for trawlers and tractors, say their livelihoods are threatened by soaring prices and have blocked oil terminals around France and shipping traffic on the English Channel to demand government help.  British and Bulgarian truckers are staging fuel protests, too.

Indonesians are staging their own protests against shrinking gasoline subsidies in a nation where nearly half the population of 235 million lives on less than $2 a day.

The world is driving more than ever: There are 887 million vehicles in the world, up from 553 million just 15 years ago, according to London consultancy Global Insight. It estimates the figure will be 1 billion four years from now.  In Europe, the high tax burden means crude prices make up a smaller part of the retail cost of gas.

”The pain of a rise in prices is much less in Europe, because we may be paying a lot more here, but the rise in a percentage sense is a lot smaller,” said Julius Walker, oil analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

The United States, with its relatively low taxes, is considered to have retail prices closer to what energy data charts call the “real cost” of gasoline - closely linked to the price of oil.  So as oil prices have soared, U.S. gas prices have soared along with them.  Prices for regular unleaded gas have risen from $1.47 a gallon in May 2003 to more than $3.96 now, a jump of nearly 170 percent. In the same period, the most popular grade of gas in France rose by just over 90 percent - a relatively gentle climb.

Americans are driving less - about 11 billion fewer miles in March 2008 than March 2007, a drop of about 4 percent, according to the Schork Report newsletter. It was the first drop in March driving in almost three decades.

In the U.S., presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton have proposed suspending the federal gas tax for the summer to give drivers some help, although it is not clear whether drivers would actually see much relief.  French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged the EU to cut its value-added tax on fuel.

Nations that produce huge amounts of oil aren't necessarily in better shape.  Russia is the world's second leading producer of oil, but gas there comes to about $3.68 a gallon - about the same as in the United States, where workers earn about six times as much money.  Much of the Russian cost comes from taxes, which run between 60 and 70 percent. Limited refining capacity and the costs of transporting gasoline across the country's vast expanse also push up prices.

Turkey faces similar problems. It costs $11.29 a gallon there, meaning filling up the tank of a midsize car can reach nearly $200 - enough to give up on driving and buy a domestic plane ticket.

But it's not that bad everywhere.  In China, government-mandated low retail gas prices have helped farmers and China's urban poor but, in a country struggling with pollution, also have hurt conservation. The Chinese used about 5 percent more gas in the first four months of this year than last.

And in Venezuela, long-held government subsidies and bountiful supplies have made the people think of cheap fuel as a birthright. It's a veritable wonderland for gas guzzlers - 12 cents a gallon. Consumers there are snapping up SUVs.  For solutions to the oil crisis, policymakers in less oil-rich nations are looking to Brazil, where ethanol made from sugar cane is widely available to the nation's 190 million people.

Eight out of every 10 new cars sold there are flex-fuel models that run on pure ethanol, gas or any combination of the two.

Rail facility costs exceed DOT estimates by $300M
Norwalk HOUR latest news on this issue

February 22, 2008

As Gov. M. Jodi Rell unveiled details on brand new rail cars for Metro-North's New Haven line, the state Department of Transportation revealed that a facility to maintain and store them will cost at least $300 million more than expected.  The department broke the news Wednesday night at a meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, an advocacy group for Metro-North riders in the state.

Judd Everhart, a DOT spokesman, said Thursday the department didn't include certain aspects of the facility in the project proposal from 2005, when Rell awarded $300 million to construct the facility. Engineering and construction costs have also increased since then, making the project even more expensive.

"That project has been increased dramatically in scope," Everhart said, "and if we were to build everything today it would be somewhere between $600 and $700 million, but no decisions have been made."

Original plans for the rail yard did not include a warehouse, employee parking, a facility to wash train cars, security fencing, places to fix wheels and swap out parts and the cost of demolishing the old site, Everhart said.  He stressed that the facility, when completed, might not include all of those aspects.

"That's part of the discussion right now — what do we have to have and what would be something that would be good to have?" Everhart said. "But the governor and the general assembly will be making decisions on how much funding will be made available."

The cars themselves, M-8 Kawasaki rail cars from Japan, were budgeted separately at $2.5 million for each of the 300 cars. Improvements from the older models include brighter lights, a more open appearance, better floor lighting, larger windows, higher seat backs with head rests and outlets in each row.

The first prototype rail car is scheduled to arrive in late 2009, with 10 delivered monthly after that.

Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, majority whip, and Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, who both serve the legislature's transportation committee, said they had no idea the rail facility would cost more than the $300 million appropriation from 2005.  Jeff Beckham, a spokesman for the state Office of Policy Management, said the office was made aware of higher costs, but he wasn't able to determine as of press time who found out and when.

"We understand that we're going to have to fund that in the future, and we've been working with DOT to identify those funding needs," he said.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the commuter council, said in an interview that failure to calculate the entire cost of the project in 2005 is a credibility problem for DOT.

"It sounds like creative fiction when they come with proposals when they are so undercut in terms of numbers," Cameron said.

Mass transit finds it not easy to be green

By Mark Ginocchio
Published December 3 2007

Emil Frankel and Julie Belaga are two Connecticut representatives on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's newest green team.

The Westport natives will help the MTA investigate ways to reduce energy waste while developing property near mass transit.  Frankel is a former Connecticut Department of Transportation commissioner and assistant secretary for the federal DOT. Belaga is a former Republican state representative from Westport and current co-chairwoman of the state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters.

Recently, they were selected to join the MTA's Sustainability Commission.  Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line serves more than a 120,000 commuters a day and consumes more power than any other state operation besides Foxwoods Resort Casino, Frankel and Belaga said. It is important for the state to have a voice on the panel, which looks to represent the tri-state area, they said.

"We function as part of the metropolitan region in which Connecticut is a tremendous part," Frankel said. "We have a huge problem of getting people on the train in southwest Connecticut instead of on (Interstate 95), not only going to New York, but intrastate as well."

Belaga, a former Republican candidate for governor and a regional administrator for the New England office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said it will be a challenge to finish the master plan by the MTA's Earth Day deadline in April.

"It's absolutely critical the people of Connecticut know there are voices (representing them) on this commission," Belaga said. "There's been an impression that Metro-North was always the step-child of the MTA."

Including the Hudson and Harlem lines in New York, Metro-North Railroad encompasses 2,700 square miles of MTA's 5,000-square-mile system, so it is a vital part of the agency, Belaga said.  The 18-member commission was formed in September and met last month, when members created a number of advisory groups that will examine MTA facilities, energy waste, carbon and water use, environmentally friendly contract procurements and transit-oriented development.

The commission has been charged with identifying cost-saving initiatives from greener technologies, MTA officials said.  Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County, said the MTA has been slow to step up as a green leader but said the commission is a good start.

"This whole issue is very fertile ground for railroads," McGee said. "It's long overdue. They need to be national leaders in climate change."

State agencies and transportation operators have talked recently about going greener, but a lack of money stands in the way, said Karen Burnaska, coastal Fairfield County's representative on the state Transportation Strategy Board and a member of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

"There's been a lack of funding and a need to fight every year to maintain existing programs," Burnaska said. "The focus has been on funding existing services and existing needs," not new ones.

The MTA and Connecticut have initiated some green measures. The MTA invested in buses that use cleaner fuel, wind power and green facilities such as the Gun Hill Bus Depot in the Bronx, N.Y., and Corona Yard in Queens, N.Y.  Connecticut invested in hybrid and fuel-cell powered buses and cleaner-burning fuel. The legislature recently put aside $10 million for development projects that are near public transportation.

They are good projects, but, as evidence of global warming grows, more must be done, Belaga said.

"The MTA is saying let's go the extra mile," she said. "Now that we got a real crisis worldwide, the time is really now."

What is "T.O.D.?"
Fighting sprawl with urban density
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published October 6 2007

FAIRFIELD - A photograph of post-World War II Berlin flashed, followed by modern photos of Detroit after urban sprawl.  The damage and destruction to both cities is similar, according to New Haven architect Robert Orr.

"More than 60 percent of the buildings are gone, but the pavement has increased," Orr said, flashing more photos from around the country of once-densely populated communities that have been struck down by poor development plans, leading to urban sprawl. "We're trying to put people back in the picture."

Cutting back on pavement and placing focus on developing more densely populated communities centered around mass transit was the theme of yesterday's "Next Stop" symposium on Transit Oriented Development.

The event, organized by the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects, brought more than 100 engineers, architects and business leaders to the Pequot Library in the Southport section of Fairfield.

It was the second Transit Oriented Development-themed conference to be held in lower Fairfield County in the past month. Last month, the South Western Regional Planning Agency organized a similar event in Stamford.

Orr, one of five architects who helped design the Southport Green business and housing development, within walking distance of the train station, was impressed how more developers and towns are embracing Transit Oriented Development.  But huge challenges remain in states like Connecticut that prevent that style of building from becoming the norm, he said.

While comparing the fuel efficiency of a hybrid automobile to a large sport utility vehicle, Orr flashed two additional photos, challenging participants to determine which car was ultimately better for the nation's oil crisis - an SUV in a densely populated village, where everything is in walking distance and driving is not a daily requirement, or a hybrid car that travels from Trumbull to lower Fairfield County every day.

"This picture," Orr said of the Fairfield County map showing the hybrid's route, "is enabling this craziness."

People living within walking distance of transit are usually five times as likely to use it, said keynote speaker Shelley Poticha, president and chief executive officer of Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development in Oakland, Calif.  But there is not enough transit available and the service is not always convenient for busy schedules, she added.

"Commuting is only abut 20 percent of the trips we take," Poticha said. "To deal with congestion, you have to look at all those other trips."

Some solutions are not always expensive ones that require a lot of land, she said.  Many cities are starting to use streetcars with tracks in the streets, Poticha said.
Transit agencies must create more incentives to make existing services more enjoyable.  Amenities such as wireless Internet access and hangers for dry cleaning would greatly improve mass transit and make commuters miss their cars less, Poticha said.

Municipalities also have to stop thinking of "density" as a dirty word.

"The way we've been talking about density for the last 20 years has done a real disservice to the cities," Poticha said. "The minute you start talking about 'dwelling units per acre' you're doomed."

Wire to wire: Train line to Stamford was transformed from steam to electricity a century ago
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 2 2007

Editor's note: This is the first of two parts

A new kind of train arrived in Stamford on Dec. 5, 1907. The slower, less reliable steam-powered train sets had been replaced with groundbreaking electric trains, capable of getting commuters and travelers on the New York, New Haven and Hartford rail line between New York City and Stamford in 50 minutes.

The train left Grand Central Terminal at 9:09 a.m. and arrived at Stamford at 10:29 a.m. That it arrived one minute late appeared to be the only reported problem.

"Everything worked lovely," Hoge Gilliam, a railroad superintendent, told The Advocate at the time.

Interviews with passengers revealed the ride was smoother than a steam locomotive and spared the distractions of soft coal smoke and cinders. They also marveled at how the electric train seemed to accelerate and decelerate so quickly.

By 12:18 p.m., the first train back to New York left the Stamford station with about 100 passengers. The train carried mainly summer vacationers, with a few commuters from Stamford and Greenwich, The Advocate reported.

The electric service, which began along the New Haven Line a few months before the first Stamford train - in New Rochelle, N.Y., that July and at Port Chester, N.Y., in August - marked a landmark development for the region's railroad that helped bring ridership to peak levels. Only a few years later, the rise of the automobile and increasing mismanagement issues caused commuting numbers to plummet.

The New Haven's electrification also introduced a new kind of technology, alternating current, or AC, that made the railroad a pioneer in its era. It enabled the railroad to run long-distance trains at higher speeds. The system, with some modifications, still exists today.

Battle of the currents

The desire for an electrified railroad actually arose from necessity and tragedy. In January 1902, a steam-powered New York Central train from White Plains, N.Y., crashed into the rear of a New Haven train out of Danbury while it was sitting in New York's Park Avenue Tunnel. The collision, which was caused by visibility issues from coal smoke in the tunnel, killed 15, and led to a New York state law that prohibited steam locomotives in the tunnel by 1908.

The New York Central and the New Haven Lines used the tunnel to get to Grand Central, so both were charged with electrifying their fleet if they wanted to reach Grand Central after 1908.

"If they didn't electrify, they would have lost their business," said Michael Vitiello, an employee of Metro-North Railroad, which now operates the New Haven Line.

The new law was a catalyst for electrification, but there was also a need for faster, more efficient trains to take an increasing passenger load into New York. By 1905, the New Haven Line was carrying more than 63 million passengers, up 20 million riders from a decade earlier.

"They had to more efficiently manage the traffic," said Branford resident Jack Swanberg, a railroad historian and author of the out-of-print book "New Haven Power." "There was no alternative (but to electrify). The only alternative was horse and buggy."

New York Central, which ran trains on Metro-North's current Hudson and Harlem lines, adopted a third-rail, direct current, or DC, system pushed by the General Electric Co.

The system was used by other railroads in London and Paris and was recommended by New York Central's Electric Traction Committee.

It was assumed New Haven, which needed to power a 21.5-mile stretch between Stamford and Woodlawn before joining New York Central's route into Grand Central, would do the same. New Haven also had experience handling third-rail DC power since 1895, on its small Nantasket Beach branch in Massachusetts.

But New Haven went in a different direction. Studies of an 11,000-volt, 25 cycles per second AC system, powered by overhead catenary wires, showed it could be more suitable for long-distance, higher-speed travel.

Pushed by George Westinghouse of Westinghouse Electric Co., New York Central shied away from AC because there was not a record of success.

"It has not demonstrated its ability to start under load as efficiently or to accelerate a train as rapidly as the direct current motor," said Bion Arnold, an expert on the traction commission, according to Fairfield University professor Kurt Schlichting's book "Grand Central Terminal."

In a series of public letters, Westinghouse escalated the "battle of the currents," belittling Frank Sprague, an outside electrical consultant for New York Central who preferred DC. Westinghouse also argued that overhead wires, which were 18 to 22 feet above ground, were safer for railway workers in yards compared with the third rail.

"It was a corporate rivalry between Westinghouse and GE," Schlichting said in an interview with The Advocate. "And from what I've read, (Westinghouse) was a very forceful personality."

He was forceful enough to persuade the New Haven Line.

Construction begins

Construction of the catenary wire system began in September 1905, though overhead wires at lower voltages had been used for trolley systems around the state.

For electricity, unlike third rail, which requires a number of substations along the railroad's right of way in order to provide power, the New Haven Line needed just one station to energize its AC catenary. Earlier in 1907, the New Haven opened a coal-fired, steam turbine power plant in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich.

The plant was built on a 13-acre tract at the junction of the Mianus River and the Long Island Sound, where it stood until its demolition in 2001, after closing in 1986.

In its later years, the plant was plagued by an inability to generate enough power for rush-hour trains and the pollution it produced, but at the time of its construction, the Cos Cob plant was a technological marvel. It was the first time a railroad had its own electric-generating plant.

Some ingenuity also was needed to construct the overhead wires. The single, low-voltage trolley wire was deemed unsuitable for trains running at significantly higher speed. To counter the inevitable wire sag associated with catenary, the railroad designed triangular catenary, enjoining the messenger wires with three pieces of 3/8-inch steel gas pipe. The triangles made the wire too rigid, a problem the railroad needed to address within the next year.

Failure, expansion

By the time the Cos Cob plant was operational in 1907, the railroad was already looking to expand its newly electrified system. But within a year, there were so many issues with the overhead wires, the railroad was nearly shut down so repairs could be made.

The copper wire used for the catenary was too flimsy and started to wear out. The New Haven Line had to either completely remove the wire or find another way to rebuild it without interrupting service.

The railroad succeeded again, designing new wire using a combination of cambium and steel. Instead of removing the copper wire, they added the new wire below the old one. Service was uninterrupted.

The steel-pipe triangles also were problematic. In extremely cold temperatures, catenary tends to stiffen, and in extreme heat, wires will sag.

The rigid triangle prevented the wires from bending or stiffening naturally, creating an unsightly "wave effect," that led to wire breaks, said Robert Walker, director of operating capital projects and a former power department chief for Metro-North Railroad.

The triangles would be improved when the railroad expanded its electrification to New Haven and the Harlem River branch - now the Hell Gate route Amtrak uses between New Rochelle and the Bronx.

The railroad used a floating "I-beam" style catenary, featuring wires running parallel atop each other. The triangles remained in the areas where they were installed until Metro-North Railroad began replacing them about 20 years ago.

Despite some of the engineering problems, Westinghouse's AC vision was hailed as a success.

A September 1913 edition of the New Haven Railroad News called the technology "another example of the daring and ingenuity of American business enterprise and a further proof of New England shrewdness."

Within 20 years, nearly the entire region between Stamford and New Haven was electrified.

The New Canaan branch between New Canaan and Stamford was electrified by 1908; the Harlem River Branch by 1912; east to New Haven by 1917; and the Danbury branch between Danbury and Norwalk by 1925.

Growth, then decline

Traffic was increasing on the New Haven Line regardless of electrification. But electric trains enabled the railroad to offer more service at a higher frequency.

By 1924, one out of 10 passengers using standard railroads were using the New Haven Line, according to a Westinghouse Electric publication from the same year. About 150 New Haven trains left Grand Central daily.

Between 1916 and 1923, ridership on the New Haven jumped nearly 50 percent - from 11.4 million passengers in 1916 to 17.6 million in 1923.

To handle the power load, a second power plant was built along the Harlem River branch in the West Farms section of the Bronx in 1915.

In a 1957 edition of Along the Line, a newsletter distributed to New Haven Line employees, the railroad credited the 50th anniversary of its electrification for helping the area around Grand Central in Manhattan become affluent.

In the suburbs, "the exact dollars-and-cents total of the increase value to property which has been created by the electrification . . . probably never could be accurately stated, but it certainly is well up in the hundreds and millions of dollars, and probably even tops a billion dollars," the article said.

The railroad praised the "quietness and cleanliness" of the electric railroad with promoting housing development close to the rail line.

But by the time the railroad was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its high-powered achievement, the New Haven Line was starting to sink.

The construction of Interstate 95 in the 1950s took passengers away from the railroad.

"The thruway runs so close to the railroad line . . . industrial development capable of generating a substantial amount of rail traffic is hampered," a November 1960 Interstate Commerce Commission report read.

Meanwhile, the Cos Cob plant continued to fail, and railroad officials were concerned "Cos Cob might pop," according to the commission's report. In 1961, because of mismanagement, the first part of the New Haven railroad, the Danbury branch, was de-electrified.

And the overhead wires were only getting older and needed to be replaced. It left behind a mess that the New Haven Line's current operator, Metro-North Railroad, needed to deal with.

"We were stuck with what our predecessors left us," Walker said.

Wire to wire: Metro-North stands by century-old system as it replaces its electrical lines
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 3 2007

Editor's note: This is the second of two parts

It takes a lot of juice to power the trains. During the morning commute alone, the Connecticut side of Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line draws about 30 megawatts of power, making the railroad the state's second biggest electricity user behind Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Some of that power is still being drawn from wiring and equipment erected 100 years ago.

Metro-North is working to change that. Since 1993, the railroad and the state Department of Transportation have been incrementally replacing the overhead catenary wires used by New Haven Line trains. These wires were installed as part of its state-of-the-art high-voltage alternating-current power system that went online between Woodlawn, N.Y., and Stamford in the summer and fall of 1907.

The New Haven Line was considered a pioneer for using this kind of electrical power, which promised and delivered higher speeds and more efficiency than its steam-powered predecessors, and the lower-voltage, direct current, third-rail power adopted by New York Central's Hudson and Harlem lines.

But the strain on the New Haven Line's landmark system has never been greater. Ridership is at its highest point since company mismanagement and the rise of the state's highway system nearly sunk the railroad 50 years ago. The New Haven Line's wires and tracks are also shared by the regional rail service Amtrak and its high-speed Acela train, which travels as fast as 120 mph on sections between Greenwich and New York City.

"These decisions made over 100 years ago are still with us today," said Kurt Schlichting, a Fairfield University professor and author of "Grand Central Terminal."

Parts of the New Haven Line's electrification system have changed dramatically since 1907. The coal-powered plant in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark because of its breakthrough in engineering achievements, closed in 1986 because it could no longer produce enough electricity to power the line. It was demolished 15 years later.

The overhead wires on the Danbury branch between Danbury and South Norwalk were removed in the 1960s for political and financial reasons, creating an antiquated commuting experience still experienced today for passengers on the vital branch line.

As the old overhead wires on New Haven Line's main line start disappearing and new ones appear, Metro-North is still looking for ways to refine and improve the vision of Westinghouse Electric Company's George Westinghouse, who 100 years ago fought vociferously for the current electrical system despite loud objections from rival railroads.

Constant tension

About 20 years ago, Robert Walker, director of operating capital projects and a former power department chief for Metro-North Railroad, was investigating ways to improve the overhead catenary wire on the New Haven Line.

The wires, primarily installed from 1907 to 1914, were prone to snapping in extreme temperatures. When the weather was too cold, the wires would become rigid. When the weather was hot, they would sag and could get caught on the rail car's pantograph, the arm that draws power from the catenary.

The answer was a new kind of catenary called "constant tension" being used on British railroads. Constant tension used weights and pulleys attached to the wires and poles to help compensate for sagging and restriction.

"It was state-of-the-art," Walker said. "The tension would remain the same despite the weather with weights and pulleys. That way, the system is stable."

In the early 1990s, Metro-North Railroad started removing the triangular catenary - the original 1907 wires that were enjoined by three-eighths of an inch steel gas pipes, forming a triangle. By December 1993, the new constant tension wiring had been installed between Pelham, N.Y., and the Connecticut state line.

By 2002, Connecticut's DOT started removing its own catenary. The $300 million project started with the removal of triangular catenary between Greenwich and Stamford, which was finished in May 2005. DOT then moved to a section between Stratford and New Haven, which housed catenary from about 1914. That project was completed in February.

The remaining catenary between Stamford and Stratford is under construction and should be completed by 2014.

Besides the replacement of the New Haven Line's 30-year-old rail car fleet, the catenary program is considered to be a key project that could lead to improved and more frequent service.

When asked about improving train service during a meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, George Walker, Metro-North's vice president of operations, said, "I've got the rail, I just need the catenary."

Results show

The results of the catenary replacement project are small but noticeable. On-time performance on the New Haven Line's inner portion, between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal, has sat at 97.7 percent to 97.9 percent since the new wires went up, compared with 96.9 percent to 97.4 percent in the years preceding the new catenary.

On the line's outer portion, between Stamford and New Haven, where there is less new catenary, the on-time performance has remained at 95 percent to 96 percent the past seven years, according to Metro-North.

The results are not reflected by on-time performance alone, Walker said.

In areas where there is new catenary, the railroad uses a three-year inspection cycle, compared with an annual inspection in areas with the old wires, he said.

The new wire also enables the railroad to cut back on its weather-related speed restrictions. With the old wires, whenever the weather was hotter than 90 degrees or below 25 degrees, the trains would run as much as 30 mph slower.

Catastrophic incidents can still result after wires are torn down. Earlier this year, about 80 trains and 59,000 commuters were delayed when a pair of rail cars tore down wires outside the Cos Cob station. The incident took nearly two hours to rectify.

Even that is an improvement, Walker said.

"When we do get an incident that tears the new wire down, we can put it back up at least 50 percent quicker because the new system has less components that are easily fixed or replaced in less time by our crews," he said.

Without electricity

As the DOT and Metro-North continue to upgrade areas that have electrical power, they also have to address parts of the railroad that have been de-electrified.

During the New Haven Line's electrical age, no rail line has regressed as much as the Danbury branch. It was first electrified in 1925, but by the 1950s, railroad President Patrick McGinnis decided to sell the wires for revenue. For service, the railroad used newly purchased FL9 locomotives, which were diesel-powered and equipped to run on the third-rail portion of the railroad between Pelham and Grand Central.

The Danbury branch has never been the same. The diesel engines take longer to accelerate and affect the line's on-time performance. This past year, the 6:52 a.m. train out of Danbury was cited as the most frequently late train on the New Haven Line, arriving on time 88 percent of the time.

The line also has suffered because the electric cab cars used on New Haven mainline and the New Canaan branch are not compatible with the unelectrified area. So if there are equipment problems on the Danbury branch, it can't receive help from the other lines.

Rodney Chabot, a New Canaan resident who grew up riding the Danbury branch when it was electrified, is still outraged by the decision to remove the catenary.

"It was working beautiful," said Chabot, a former chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. "The diesels have been a failure."

Chabot and other rail historians are convinced that in addition to the funds received for selling the wires, the catenary was removed to justify the purchase of the FL9s.

DOT has had plans to improve the Danbury branch for years, but little, outside of studies, has occurred. The first phase of the most recent study, which was completed last year, determined the line could be improved if it was signalized and electrified again. Many of the improvements would cost about $200 million, though ridership would nearly double from its current 1,000 riders a day.

Electrification's legacy

Rail historians and engineers have long praised Westinghouse's vision. But even 100 years later, New Haven Line operators have combated complications because of the decisions of their predecessors.

During the winter of 2004, so many of the New Haven Line's antiquated rail cars were out of commission for repairs that the period was dubbed the "winter of woe." While Metro-North's other lines, Hudson and Harlem, which are owned by New York, were enjoying new rail cars that were running without as many problems, that equipment could never be transferred to the New Haven Line because it doesn't run on an alternating current system using overhead wires.

Service delays involving the third rail are often less severe, Walker said.

"When we have incidents (with the catenary), it often affects adjacent tracks," shutting down more available tracks for service, he said. "With third rail, it's usually on track and it's an independent problem, so it doesn't affect service as much."

These issues have resulted in cries to extend the third rail that exists south of Pelham all the way to New Haven. These requests have generally been rejected because of expense, and because Amtrak, which runs along the entire Northeast corridor, would still need the catenary.

Ordering new rail cars also has been a complicated process because they require compatibility with overhead wires and the third rail into Grand Central.

"The New Haven Lines cars were the first ones to require that (dual power) and have maintained their reputation as being the most complicated commuter cars in the world," Walker said.

But the railroad still stands by Westinghouse's vision.

"The decisions that were made were the right decisions," Walker said.

A Turning Point for Transit
Published: January 6, 2008

YOU don’t need Nostradamus to know that traveling to work, visiting Manhattan to catch a play or heading to the shopping mall is going to get more expensive in 2008.

Weekly and monthly passes on the Long Island Rail Road will rise as much as 4.3 percent in 2008.
Not only are gasoline prices heading toward new highs, but bridge, tunnel and highway tolls, as well as fares on New York’s subways and commuter train and bus lines, are going to climb this year.

This confluence of increases comes as record numbers of passengers in the metropolitan area are taking mass transit. Yet the agencies that operate the transportation systems are having difficulty finding the money to expand service and upgrade facilities, so they are asking drivers and riders to pay more.

The toll and fare increases, though, will close only part of the financing gap, so lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are expected to wrestle with the thornier problem of how to pay for long-term transportation needs.

“This is going to be a pivotal year,” said Martin E. Robins, the director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University’s school of planning. “The questions of cost and finance are intertwined.”

The most critical decisions may be made in New Jersey, where the Transportation Trust Fund, which maintains and upgrades the state’s highways, is on financial life support. To replenish the fund and tackle the state’s ambitious list of transportation projects, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, in his State of the State address on Tuesday, will unveil the details of a plan to refinance New Jersey’s toll roads.

The governor is expected to propose starting a public corporation that would issue bonds backed by future toll increases. The proceeds from the bonds could help reduce debts and finance the widening of the New Jersey Turnpike and other multibillion-dollar initiatives.

What is not known is how high the tolls on the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway — and possibly the state’s gasoline tax — would rise to pay for all of this.

Toll increases also await drivers who use the tunnels and bridges that span the Hudson River and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s crossings in New York City. Riders on Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, and private bus lines in New Jersey and Westchester, will feel the pinch, too, because of their own fare increases.

All this comes as a state commission in New York considers ways to reduce traffic in Manhattan, including a proposal by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to charge $8 to drive south of 86th Street. Even if the commission balks at that element of the plan later this month, it could still endorse introducing tolls on the four East River crossings — the Brooklyn, the Manhattan, the Williamsburg and the Queensboro Bridges.

An equally large question mark faces passengers at the region’s three largest airports. Fares have risen during the past few months as airlines passed along their higher fuel costs. But a federal plan aimed at relieving congestion at Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International Airports could drive prices higher, too.

Wherever prices are headed, though, transportation analysts say passengers and drivers will see only marginal improvements in service next year.

“In a nutshell, you have more people needing to use more facilities,” said Jeffrey M. Zupan, a senior transportation fellow at the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit New York, New Jersey and Connecticut policy group. “You have to provide more service, yet you don’t have enough funds, so you have to raise prices with no guarantee you’ll get an improvement.”

Tunnels and Bridges

Spring is a time of renewal or, in the case of drivers traveling in and out of New York City, a time of recalibration. On Friday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was expected to vote on its proposed toll increases on its Hudson River crossings. The changes, if approved by the Port Authority’s board, will be put in place in March or April.

Under the proposal, drivers paying cash would be charged $8, instead of the current $6, to use the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and the bridges to Staten Island.

But the 80 percent of drivers who use E-ZPass during peak hours would lose their current $1 discount compared to cash and pay the same $8 as cash customers. To relieve congestion, E-ZPass users who drive the crossings outside the peak hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and 12 to 8 p.m. on weekends, would pay $6, a $2 discount.

The Port Authority, which has not raised tolls since 2001, said the increases would help finance its 10-year, $30 billion capital plan, which includes billions of dollars to rebuild the World Trade Center, overhaul the PATH train system and help pay for an additional rail tunnel into Pennsylvania Station from New Jersey.

“With road and rail networks already stressed, we must invest now to provide security, maintain our bridges and tunnels, improve mass transit and reduce congestion,” said Anthony R. Coscia, the Port Authority’s chairman.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not standing pat either. This spring, drivers with an E-ZPass who use the Brooklyn Battery and Midtown Tunnels and the Throgs Neck, Triborough, Verrazano-Narrows and Whitestone Bridges will pay $4.15, up from $4. Those paying cash will soon pay $5, instead of $4.50.

The increases, which will be accompanied by higher fares on the authority’s subways and commuter lines, are about half of what was initially proposed.


The big question for drivers in New Jersey is how much money Governor Corzine hopes to raise in his highway rebonding program. The more money he seeks, the higher and faster tolls are expected to increase.

Corzine has warned that drivers could be hit with substantial increases. His commissioner of transportation, Kris Kolluri, said tolls would need to rise by at least 45 percent just to cover the cost of repairing bridges (estimated at $13.58 billion) and widening the turnpike between Exits 6 and 9 (estimated at $2 billion). Because construction costs are growing, tolls could rise even faster to cover the expenses.

Fearing a backlash from voters, some New Jersey state legislators, including Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, a Democrat of Middlesex County who is chairman of the powerful Transportation and Public Works Committee, have argued that raising the gasoline tax may distribute the burden more fairly.

Riders in eastern New Jersey, he said, rely on toll roads more than residents in the western part of the state, but everyone pays for gasoline. Besides, New Jersey’s gas tax is the third lowest in the country and has not been increased in two decades. Adjusted for inflation, the tax has declined more than 40 percent since 1988, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a commuter advocacy group.

Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, by contrast, were last raised in 2003, when drivers using cash were forced to pay 20 percent more.

Mr. Wisniewski and other lawmakers have proposed that an increase in the gas tax — now 14.5 cents a gallon — replace a large toll increase or be coupled with a smaller one.

As New Jersey waits, New Yorkers are girding for a toll increase on the Gov. Thomas E. Dewey Thruway. Drivers using E-ZPass would receive a smaller discount compared to cash. The New York State Thruway Authority has also proposed 5 percent toll increases in 2009 and 2010, saying the extra cash is needed to pay for its $2.1 billion highway and bridge improvement plan.

Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge would also cost a dollar more, or $5.

Commuter Rail and Bus Lines

Transportation analysts often note that prices for riding mass transit have gone up faster than highway and bridge tolls over the past few decades. But train and bus operators are also paying more for fuel, labor and land.

With some fanfare, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in November that it had found $220 million more than projected in its budget, obviating the need to raise fares as high as initially anticipated.

“The revised proposal responds to what we heard from the public while returning the $220 million to customers using each of our operating agencies,” said Elliot G. Sander, the authority’s executive director and chief executive.

Under the new plan, $2 single-ride tickets — which just 15 percent of riders buy — would not change. But bonuses for multiple-ride MetroCards would fall to 15 percent from 20 percent, while the price of 7- and 30-day passes would rise as much as $5.

Weekly and monthly passes on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, which the authority operates, will rise as much as 4.3 percent. One-way, round-trip and 10-trip tickets will increase as much as 7.7 percent.

New Jersey Transit might seem beneficent because it is holding fares steady in 2008, but it raised fares last year by an average of about 10 percent. The DeCamp bus line in northern New Jersey and the Bee-Line buses in Westchester County also raised fares in 2007.


Perhaps the toughest place to gauge where prices are headed is at the region’s three largest airports — La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark.

Some analysts argue that prices will remain steady, or even decline, because competition among airlines remains fierce on the most popular routes. But others note that rising fuel prices have forced airlines to raise their prices at least eight times since summer.

Complicating matters, the United States Department of Transportation decided in December to reinstitute caps on the number of flights per hour during peak times at Kennedy and to introduce limits at Newark. Only 82 flights will be able to leave or land each hour at Kennedy, as opposed to an unlimited number now — often as many as 110 in peak hours.

At the same time, the airlines, while not losing any current slots, agreed to spread their flights out during the day to reduce aerial gridlock. This could lead airlines to lower some ticket prices to entice passengers to fly during less popular hours.

“This is a net positive for passengers,” said Kate Hanni, who runs the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights.

Ms. Hanni said the new rules would create an additional 40 to 60 flights a day. “The airlines will absorb the underutilized time slots,” she said.

Passengers, she said, are already seeing a difference because JetBlue and Delta have voluntarily redistributed some flights to different times.

But because fewer flights will be leaving during peak hours, prices for those tickets could rise, particularly for business travelers who have little choice when to fly and who often buy tickets at the last minute.

If the record delays at the New York region’s airports do not subside, passengers can take comfort in a new state law that would penalize airlines that fail to provide adequate services to passengers trapped on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines operating in New York can be fined up to $1,000 a passenger if they do not supply water, fresh air, power and working restrooms during such delays.

The New York law, the first of its kind in the country, does not obligate the airlines to take passengers stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours off the planes, because the state does not have jurisdiction over the matter.

Done and gone...for now.  Boarder tolls was all the CGA wanted to hear about in 2009.
Tolls study planned 
Karin Crompton
Published on 7/18/2008 

On a day when the speaker of the House held a press conference to state his opposition to tolls on the highway, the state Transportation Strategy Board announced that the state has contracted with a consultant to study the issue.

Speaker Jim Amann, D-Milford, said in a statement issued Thursday that the Republicans' idea to cap the state's gross receipts tax on petroleum products is a “budget shell game.” Amann said commuters in surrounding states pay an average of $1,300 in tolls on top of gas taxes.

The state Office of Policy and Management has contracted with Cambridge Systematics Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, to study tolls and “congestion pricing,” a toll program that charges different amounts at different times of day.

The report is due by February 2009, according to OPM, in time for the next legislative session.

Rell fast tracks Penn Station plan
ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com
Article Last Updated: 06/15/2007 01:20:47 AM EDT

It's going to take a new tunnel under New York City's borough of Queens and new rail cars to get Metro-North Railroad New Haven Line commuters direct access to Penn Station.

That's according to a 2002 study, recent Metropolitan Transportation Authority press releases and a Metro-North spokeswoman. But the tunnel and the trains are already being built.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday ordered the Connecticut Department of Transportation to study what is standing in the way of bringing state train commuters to New York's Penn Station. She gave the department an Aug. 1 deadline to deliver its findings.

Rell spokesman Chris Cooper said Thursday the governor wants to get access to the station as quickly as possible and make sure Connecticut is doing what it can to speed that process. He said Rell has specifically been told the two major problems involve the station's capacity and equipment issues with trains.

A 2002 study for the MTA said providing Metro-North New Haven Line access to Penn Station has the potential of reducing more than 500,000 automobile trips a year into New York City.  Rell also asked the DOT to study the feasibility of purchasing bilevel rail cars to be run into Penn Station.

Connecticut and Metro-North's parent agency, the MTA, selected Kawasaki Rail Car to build the new fleet for the New Haven Line. But Canadian train maker Bombardier, which lost out to Kawasaki, has been pitching the idea of building double-decker cars specifically for travel to Penn Station.  Kawasaki is expected to begin delivering new cars in 2009.

New Haven Line trains would have to travel the Hell's Gate line to get into Penn Station; the line uses a slightly different propulsion system from the line into Grand Central Terminal.  Marjorie Anders, a Metro-North spokeswoman, said the Kawasaki-built cars will be able to run on the Hell's Gate and the New Haven lines.  She said Metro-North engineers are in Japan testing motors that will be used in the new cars. Kawasaki is about six months away from having a prototype ready for an engineering inspection, she said. The conceptual design is complete, according to Anders, and now the components of the railcars are being studied.

In 2009 — at about the same time the Kawasaki cars are to begin traveling New Haven tracks — Metro-North expects to begin providing service to Yankee Stadium and the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  But access to Penn Station won't be available until 2013, because that's when the MTA expects to finish a new tunnel into Grand Central from Queens to allow trains from the Long Island Rail Road access to the station.

The MTA said in a news release Monday that it lowered its new tunnel-boring machine into the 63rd Street tunnel. This is part of the $6.3 billion East Side Access project that will allow LIRR trains into Grand Central.  Having those trains go to Grand Central will free up space at Penn Station, Anders said.

But whether the New Haven Line will go to Penn is not clear.

The 2002 MTA study found either the Hudson or New Haven Line would provide benefits to the rail system if they were routed to Penn Station. The idea would be to have one of the lines run trains to both stations. For New Haven, some trains would be routed down the Hell's Gate line instead of down the New Haven Line.  The study remains open, according to Anders.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said his group supports the expansion of service and has discussed the idea of getting access to Penn Station for years.  The council is an advocacy group made up of appointees of the governor and the legislative leadership.  Rell appointed Fairfield University professor Chris DeSanctis to the council Wednesday.

Cameron said the council still has two unfilled positions he hopes lawmakers will address soon.

Mass transit pioneer: DOT official hopes to link transportation with development
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published April 9 2007

NEWINGTON - Albert Martin is the state's latest pioneer.

Not only is he the newest member of the state Department of Transportation, but after a national search started last year, Martin also was named Connecticut's first deputy commissioner of mass transportation and transit-oriented development.

As buzz builds around linking the state's expanding mass transportation system with commercial and residential development, Martin will be responsible for a job with no history in Connecticut.

"There are some negative sides to it, but for me it's far more positive," Martin, 64, said during a recent interview at his Newington office.

Though he has 37 years of government and administrative experience, including six years as director of Detroit's transportation department, Martin knows previous jobs will not always help him make decisions in Connecticut.

"Economic development associated with transportation . . . does not have a proven track record," he said. "You have no preconceived models you can follow.

"So there's not going to be a model from Detroit that's going to fit Hartford or Bridgeport. As a matter of fact, there's probably not going to be a model in Hartford that's necessarily going to fit New Haven or Bridgeport or Danbury or Waterbury."

After just a few weeks in the new job, Martin has become a visible face for the agency. He has made it a point to hear what the passengers have to say about the state's railroad and bus systems. He has attended two New York City meetings held to gather rail commuters' input and appeared in Stamford last week to listen in on a public hearing on how to fund new rail cars for Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line.

"I have been very much impressed with what I've heard," Martin said. "The level of knowledge of our customers . . . I'm going to continue to spend time at those meetings and hear what they have to say."

It's also important for him to work with municipalities and the business community to get them involved with the state's transit-oriented development efforts, he said.  The idea of "smart growth" has become a daily topic at the Capitol as lawmakers debate how to bring more development to the state without creating sprawl.  Transit-oriented development is not new, Martin said. As the country was developing, major cities were built along waterways, where goods could be transported.

"So while it may be new jargon, it's just going back to the basics," he said.

Compared with his time in Detroit, the automobile capital of the world, Martin said Connecticut has more potential for transit-oriented development because of the New Haven Line and the Shore Line East commuter rail line.

"This state has far more acceptance of, and dependence on, rail," he said. "Rail inspires far more economic development. If you were a businessperson who wanted to relocate your business to an area, you want to look at the availability of the work force to get to your business. . . . Rail gives you permanence."

As the state continues to develop, it must create a balance between moving new businesses around rail centers while encouraging employees to move closer to their work places, Martin said, explaining part of the philosophy of transit-oriented development.

"Where you can relocate to better utilize existing infrastructure and, if that is seen by the business community as a positive, then we'll work to make that happen," he said.

Martin may represent a change of philosophy from the DOT's long-held reputation as a "highways first" agency. This, transit advocates said, gives him a unique opportunity to make a statement for Connecticut.

"There's no question that it's a big step, but it's a first step," said Jon Orcuff, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. To help make transit-oriented development work, Martin may have to help "repair (the DOT's) relationship with the towns and cities. You can't do what you want to do if the municipalities don't trust you," Orcuff said.

Martin is "an agent of change," but he can't do it alone, said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County.

"There is a recognition that we can't just continue to pour concrete and build highways," McGee said.

DOT Commissioner Ralph Carpenter said his new deputy is right for the job.

"He has an even temper and he asks great questions," Carpenter said. "He is going to be a great asset to the department."

Martin said he hopes he and Carpenter, who was hired last summer, can help change the public's perception of the DOT.

"We're coming at this new," he said. "So for us, it's the Department of Transportation and that's all orientations. Transportation is all the roads, as well as mass transit, rail and bus and the many different modes of those two. So it doesn't faze me at all."

Contract awarded in July 2008 for study completion by immediately next Session.
State seeks funds to study effects of congestion pricing

By PATRICK R. LINSEY, Hour Staff Writer
March 31, 2007

NORWALK — Woody Bliss is the first to say it — congestion pricing is a difficult idea to get your head around.  The premise? A variable-rate tolling system that takes some cars off the road during busiest driving hours can increase traffic flow and actually allow more cars to use the highway.

"It's counter-intuitive and most people don't think outside the box," said Bliss, who is first selectman of Weston and chairman of the region's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "It actually increases the flow of vehicles through a given area in a peak period, which is a rush-hour period."

Last week, the MPO endorsed a proposed state study to examine whether and how congestion pricing should be used in Connecticut. The state is seeking federal money to fund the $4.5 million study.

"We don't have an opinion either way advocating for or against (congestion pricing)," said Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. "We just think it needs to be studied. The decision to implement tolls, congestion pricing, value pricing, whatever you want to call it, would be made by lawmakers."

Connecticut was not included in the federal government's latest round of grant money, which exhausted the Federal Highway Administration's 2006 budget for encouraging congestion pricing. But federal officials said more money is on the way for 2007.

"There are other opportunities for Connecticut to apply under the (federal) program," said Nancy Singer, a FHWA spokeswoman. "The program is funding at approximately $11 million to $12 million per year through fiscal (year) 2009. In addition, the president's proposal budget for fiscal (year) 2008 calls for an additional $100 million for the program."

Congestion pricing, also known as value pricing, has been implemented in other parts of the country and the world with some success, including California, Sweden and London. Modern systems use electronic transponders or snap a picture of vehicles' license plates to bill drivers, rather than stopping traffic for a toll.  By charging higher prices at peak commuting hours, traffic is lessened and traffic flow is improved. Improved flow means more cars can move a given distance over a certain amount of time.

Congestion pricing equates to "charging for the privilege of using a highway when it's crowded and there's a high demand," Bliss said. "We have the concept on the rails. You pay peak and off-peak. We have it on airlines. You want to travel the day before Thanksgiving, you pay a heck of a lot more than if you want to fly Thanksgiving Day."

In case federal money cannot be found for the study, lawmakers have included funding in a bill in the state legislature. State Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, a member of the Transportation Committee, said she is "leaning against" the imposition of tolls but would like to see congestion pricing studied.

"I think we should know what it would entail, what it would cost, what are the benefits and how long it would take the recoup what sort of investment would be made," Boucher said. "It's a very substantial cost to put those new systems in."

Boucher said she is also concerned about privacy issues and whether congestion pricing could become another tax for Connecticut residents.  From Maine to Maryland, Connecticut is the only state on the Eastern seaboard without tolls on its highways.

Said Boucher: "I often see cars from other states going on our roads, so it raises the question should people get off scot-free going through Connecticut."

Feds won't fund study of electronic toll system
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published March 28 2007

State taxpayers may have to pick up the tab on a study of an electronic toll system that charges drivers varying rates depending on the time of day they're on the road.

The Federal Highway Administration yesterday rejected Connecticut's request for $4.5 million to fund the study of a toll system used elsewhere in the country to reduce congestion and increase state revenue. The state could reapply by the end of next month.

The study was recommended by the state Transportation Strategy Board and backed by the state Department of Transporation and the General Assembly's Transportation Committee.  Now, it appears traffic advocates will turn to the state to pay to see if such a system would be effective in Connecticut.

"We would be more optimistic if the state would fund and we can work directly, sooner, with a few less hoops," said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, an organization that supports a study of congestion pricing tolls. "We could then be the masters of our own fate."

Lapp and others said the state should turn its focus to a bill recently passed out of the legislature's Transportation Committee for review by the House and Senate to fund the study.

"I do think we should be prepared to use state money . . . and to not continually put this off," said state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee.

DeFronzo said he was confident the study money would be approved because "even folks who have had great skepticism have at least conceded that there should be some kind of objective analysis."

As the session wraps up in two months, the debate could center on how much money the state allocates for the study, added said.  Federal highway officials are encouraging states to implement congestion-pricing tolls, which collect fares electronically with transponder tags like EZ-Pass or by taking photographs of license plates and then billing the motorist.  The agency yesterday awarded 12 congestion-pricing projects - $8 million in grants in cities such as San Diego, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.

During a recent presentation in lower Fairfield County, federal highway officials said they were more interested in funding states ready to implement congestion pricing rather than study it.  A highway administration spokeswoman said yesterday that a new application from the state for the study would be considered.

"We will evaluate them all on their own merits," said Nancy Singer, a highway administration spokeswoman.

DOT officials have not been formally notified by the highway administration about the decision, department spokesman Judd Everhart said.

"If we are not selected, we will reapply for funding from 2007 funds," he said.

NYC Rolls Out Red Tape And Reels In The Wrong Driver
Hartford Courant
George Gombossy: Consumer Watchdog | WATCH DOG
July 20, 2007
Dr. Ahmed M. Khan, a New Britain neurosurgeon, has seen many things in his life, but the letter he received from New York City's finance department threw him for a loop.
The three-page letter notified him that he drove through a red light on West Street at 1:52 p.m. on May 16 and directed him to pay a $50 fine.  The front page of the letter had a photo of a Connecticut license plate with Dr. Khan's license number: 2436.

There were a couple of problems with this. Dr. Khan, who happens to be an old friend of mine, was not in New York City on May 16, nor was his car; in fact his car has never been to New York City in the six years he has owned it.

There were also two photos enclosed of the vehicle going through the red light: a large 45-passenger bus with a huge logo of Double A Charters. Dr. Khan's vehicle is sort of a bus, but it's a lot smaller - a Honda Odyssey.

Dr. Khan was perplexed when I talked to him Sunday. He figured the letter was either a fraud to get him to send $50 or the bus was sporting a fake license plate.

Of course, trying to talk to a human being at the New York City Department of Finance Red Light Camera Monitoring Program is as difficult as talking to someone at a large company.

So after trying that for 10 minutes I took a more direct route and called one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press secretaries, the president of the bus company and the spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles.

I wasn't stunned when the Big Apple's press man, Owen Stone, proved less than helpful. After giving him four days to figure out what went wrong, I called him back Thursday. He said he had no clue, but did say that Dr. Khan was going to have to take time out of his life to contest the ticket.

"If he can prove it wasn't his vehicle [the citation] will be dismissed," Stone said.

I asked him if he thought it was fair to put someone through all this when it was the city's fault. Stone said it was no big deal for someone to gather all the documents and mail them to the city and await the outcome.

Great public relations job, Stone.

The president of Double A Charters, Tom Bascetta, was a stand-up guy. Yes, he said, his Rocky Hill company does have a bus with the license plate 2436 and it was probably in New York City on May 16.

"The picture is pretty incriminating," he joked when I described the photos. He asked me what he could do to make things right. I suggested he talk with his attorney.

Bascetta said he was unaware that New York City had a photo system capable of catching drivers running red lights. I am sure he will be passing that information along to his drivers who make frequent trips to the city.

William Seymour, a spokesman for Connecticut's Department of Motor Vehicles, spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out what happened. There is no question, he said, that in Connecticut it is possible for a bus and a car to have the same license plate number.

He also discovered that there have been about 10 other cases in the past year in which the wrong person was ticketed as the result of the New York camera system, perhaps because of similar situations.

By the end of the day Thursday, Seymour was sounding frustrated. He said New York officials, including Stone, had given him conflicting stories about how the tickets are processed, how city officials obtain Connecticut vehicle records and whether those officials simply rely on license plate numbers when they mail out citations, or whether the type of vehicle assigned the plate is verified.

Seymour promised that he would get to the bottom of the problem, that his department would make sure the citation against Dr. Khan is dismissed and that pressure would be applied by DMV Commissioner Robert Ward to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Latest (from across the pond...) on remote ticketing:

Is congestion pricing realy the culprit? 

Call for car number plate revamp 

Thousands of vehicle number plates were stolen last year

The number plate system needs to be completely overhauled to beat a rise in "car cloning", police have said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says a record number of vehicles are being cloned to escape motoring fines and commit crimes.

More than 40,000 sets of number plates were stolen in 2006, a rise of almost 25%, according to police estimates.

Police blame rules on registering plate buyers and suppliers, making fake plates more difficult to get hold of.

No confidence

Acpo's Coventry-based Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service says it now has no confidence in the ability of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) licensing system to prevent cloning.

The service's Supt John Wake told BBC News: "The registration plate is the first form of identification of the vehicle to the general public.

"I don't have confidence that beyond that you can identify that that vehicle is the legitimate vehicle for that plate."

Acpo wants a central issuing body for the registration numbers, and all cars to have tamper-proof plates fitted.

The DVLA is considering forcing all the UK's 1.3 million motorcycles to be fitted with plates featuring electronic tags, which are currently being trialled.

The AA's Paul Watters said the amount of cloned number plates was "growing fast".

"It seems to be on a roll and we need to start taking some action to look at the innocent motorist who may fall victim to some of the issues which follow up the theft of a number plate," he said.

Drivers' tales of plate problems 

"There are different levels of cloning. There is the simple cloning, just stealing a plate to drive into say the Congestion Charge zone or evade a speed camera.

"It ranges up to a higher level which is the car criminal who wants to sell on a stolen car."

Tony Bullock's car was cloned even though his plates were not physically stolen, and he was threatened with prosecution after "his" car was repeatedly caught speeding in Leicester.

He said: "It was horrendous. You are guilty until you can prove you're not. It's the first time that I've thought that English law is on its head."

Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Glen Smyth said the problem has grown because of the amount of camera-based enforcement of traffic offences, which relies on computer records on who owns which car.

Municipal leaders push for study of highway tolls
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published March 27 2007

The leaders of eight towns in lower Fairfield County yesterday endorsed the state's plan to seek federal money to study a toll system that would charge based on peak traffic times.  The South Western Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization - made up of elected officials from Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Weston and Wilton - hopes its approval will improve the state's chances of getting a $4.5 million federal grant.

"We have been driving this thing," said Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, chairman of the MPO. "This is a very big step . . . but I think it's what we need to do as a state."

The state Department of Transportation recently asked all of Connecticut's regional planning organizations to endorse its application, which must be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration by the end of next month.  Lower Fairfield County's MPO was the first to respond.

"I think this group of elected leaders is willing to look at the facts and support the study, and then based on what the study concludes, carry the burden of explaining it to the people of this area," said Greenwich First Selectman Jim Lash, vice chairman of the MPO. "We're leading a little bit here because we probably have the worst traffic problems. We're stuck in a corner."

For more than a year, the DOT has been seeking money to study congestion pricing - a toll system that charges motorists different rates based on peak and off-peak hours.  Congestion pricing is used in parts of California, New Jersey, Minnesota and other U.S. cities, as well as London, Singapore and Stockholm, Sweden.  Federal highway officials are urging states to install congestion pricing as a way to mitigate traffic while generating revenue.

All congestion pricing systems use electronic tolls and don't require drivers to slow down at collection points. Fares are collected using transponder tags such as EZ-Pass or cameras that photograph license plates and then motorists are billed.  Connecticut's DOT applied for funds last year, but the Federal Highway Administration has not made a decision. As a precaution, the DOT is applying again, though a federal highway official last week said the administration is more interested in funding cities ready to install congestion pricing rather than study it.

In case Connecticut doesn't get the federal money, the legislature's Transportation Committee also approved funds for a study. The money is in a bill that the House and Senate must pass.  DOT officials were pleased with the MPO's endorsement yesterday, saying it will strengthen their application.

"We want to try and show the Federal Highway Administration that this is a statewide issue and we're not just going about this study on our own," said Carmine Trotta, assistant director of intermodal planning for DOT. "Hopefully we'll get more regions on board."

Trotta confirmed that the southwestern MPO was the first of the 15 planning organizations in Connecticut to endorse the plan. He expects to hear from more MPOs before the end of next month.  Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, chairman of Greater Danbury's Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, said his group plans to address the study at its April meeting.

A year ago, the group said it would support the study but only if the state analyzed how congestion pricing would affect local roads, Marconi said.  Other advocates of a study said the MPO's endorsement is important.

"It has to be a statewide study for it to get done," said Karen Burnaska, who represents coastal Fairfield County for the state Transportation Strategy Board. "By getting the support of the MPOs, it shows that this will be a statewide study."

Toll Road Offers New Jersey a Fiscal Test Drive      
Published: April 13, 2008

HAMMOND, Ind. — The 157-mile-long toll road that slices through northern Indiana and connects Ohio to Illinois is as unremarkable as they come. On the western end, commuters speed past idled steel mills to get to and from Chicago, while in the east a stream of tractor-trailers plows past an equally undistinguished rural landscape.

But when a private Australian-Spanish consortium took control of the Indiana East-West Toll Road in 2006 after leasing the adjoining Chicago Skyway the previous year, the move touched off a fierce debate in Indianapolis that is reverberating in Trenton, Harrisburg and other statehouses across the country, where the struggle to finance soaring transportation costs goes on.

“I go to these governors’ meetings and 49 of them are wringing their hands,” Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said in an interview. “It’s not very complicated. Most of them can see it and are astonished at how great a deal Indiana got.”

Gov. Jon S. Corzine has been pushing to privatize New Jersey’s toll roads, much as Governor Daniels did in Indiana when he leased the road for 75 years and received a $3.8 billion lump sum, which he earmarked for transportation projects. But events and public opinion have conspired against Mr. Corzine.

Not long after the Indiana deal, he began raising the possibility of selling or leasing the state’s toll roads, but opposition had already started building, not only among voters, who were surprisingly sentimental about dealing away the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, but among state legislators as well.

Not long afterward, Mr. Corzine was involved in an automobile crash that almost cost him his life and took much of the steam out of many initiatives he had been pursuing.

By the time Mr. Corzine unveiled his plan in January, which also included cutting spending and limiting the amount of new bonds, opponents in New Jersey eagerly pointed to Chicago and Indiana to show what could go wrong with privatizing public assets. Wary of private operators, they contended that Indiana sold too low, and that tolls there would eventually rise too high. They also questioned whether Mr. Corzine would use the windfall wisely.

Mr. Corzine tried to allay those fears by proposing that the turnpike and the parkway be leased to a public corporation under state oversight. But his opponents focused less on who would operate the road and more on the toll increases — of as much as 800 percent by 2022 — that were critical to his plan. The plan has gathered little support from state lawmakers despite Mr. Corzine’s original goal of winning passage by the end of March.

Others critics were alarmed that some of the $38 billion in bonds Mr. Corzine hoped to issue would be used for projects unrelated to transportation.

“Early on, there was excitement about the big checks that came in,” Jonathan R. Peters, a finance professor at the City University of New York and an expert on toll roads, said of the arrangements in Indiana and Chicago. “But now academics and departments of transportation are starting to see that you can give away too much.”

In the aftermath of the agreements in Chicago and Indiana, lawmakers in California, Texas and other states have struggled to muster support for their own lease deals. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s plan to lease the state’s turnpike has been delayed by a counterproposal to collect tolls on Interstate 80. As these other states try to devise a plan acceptable to their residents, drivers who use the Chicago Skyway and Indiana East-West Toll Road seem to be adjusting to the new operators from Macquarie-Cintra, the Australian-Spanish consortium.

But Mr. Peters and other specialists who study toll road deals cautioned that the lease in Indiana was structured so that tolls would remain relatively stable for the first decade, then could rise quickly for the remainder of the lease — after many of the politicians who signed the original lease have left office. That may explain why drivers on the Skyway and Toll Road, while still suspicious of privatization, are largely pleased with conditions on the roads.

They say they like the additional tollbooths and the introduction of electronic tolls. And while truckers and those using cash saw tolls rise this month in Indiana, drivers of passenger cars with E-ZPass or the local alternatives, known as iPass and iZoom, are still paying tolls that have not been raised in more than two decades.

“The positive thing is they put in iZoom and the roads are well maintained,” said Roy Platz, 60, of Naperville, Ill., who for years has used the Skyway and Toll Road to get to his job at a steel company in East Chicago, Ind.

“I don’t care who they sell it to,” Mr. Platz said between bites of a double cheeseburger at a McDonald’s near the Skyway. “If the Spanish want to give us $4 billion, fine. But government being government, the money could be frittered away.”

On the contrary, Governor Daniels, a former budget director under President Bush, said Indiana had been prudent with its money — which has all been dedicated to infrastructure improvements.

In addition, Indiana earned $287 million in interest from the $3.8 billion the state received last year. Mr. Daniels has also distributed $150 million in highway funds to his state’s 92 counties since the lease began.

On top of that, he said that, to the best of his knowledge, Indiana is the only state with a fully financed 10-year transportation plan.

“This isn’t dogma,” he said, “this is solving a problem.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Daniels, who is running for a second term this year, has taken a lot of heat from opponents in Indiana, who have insisted that he back away from proposals to privatize other highways. Critics like Roger Skurski, a retired professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, contend that if “reasonable changes” had been made in the way tolls were collected, the state could have made more money by not leasing the toll road.

“It didn’t appear they were making the case that an outside company could do a better job,” Mr. Skurski said. “They were assuming it.”

“The selling point for the governor,” he added, “was that he could get the money up front.”

But Mr. Daniels said the changes Mr. Skurski was referring to would never have been made because local politicians always balked at raising tolls.

The new operators have been quick to make changes to boost efficiency. They bought coin and bill counting machines so that toll collectors no longer had to spend 45 minutes a day stuffing hundreds of dollars in nickels, dimes and quarters into rolls. Freed from rigid government contracts, the consortium has negotiated lower prices for new snowplows and roadway de-icing liquid. In addition, there is a new incentive program in place that rewards employees with an extra month’s pay for good customer relations, attendance and initiative. And televisions have been removed from the tollbooths to force collectors to focus on their jobs.

“People were upset about the TVs, but patrons need your full attention,” said Linda Wilson, the supervisor of the WestPoint toll plaza here.

For those who regularly use the Skyway and Toll Road, the improvements have helped soften their stance on privatization — as long as tolls do not rise too fast.

“I thought it was crazy to sell the road to someone outside the U.S.,” said Chad Deanecelli, 28, a cook at a rest stop in Portage, Ind., who drives 40 miles to Chicago twice a week to visit his grandmother. “It’s pretty expensive, about $12 a round trip. But if the money is used for transportation, it’s good.”

Feds endorse highway toll system
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published March 21 2007

WESTPORT - Federal Highway Administration officials yesterday urged state lawmakers to install highway tolls that charge motorists different rates based on peak and off-peak hours.

The tolling method, called congestion or value pricing, helps reduce traffic during rush hour while providing the state with cash for transportation improvements, said Patrick DeCorla-Souza, program manager for the administration's congestion pricing initiative.  Other cities worldwide use the method successfully, and other transportation systems, such as airlines and railroads, already charge varying rates based on peak hours, DeCorla-Souza said at a meeting at Westport Police Department headquarters organized by the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

"People understand that at certain times during the year, certain goods and services are more valuable," DeCorla-Souza said at the event, attended by about 30 municipal leaders and legislators from Fairfield County. "The idea now is to help them understand it in the transportation arena."

Congestion pricing is different from tolls because it doesn't charge a flat fare to motorists regardless of the time, DeCorla-Souza said.  With advances in technology, cash lanes are not needed with congestion pricing, he said. Tolls can be collected at high speeds using transponder tags such as EZ-Pass, or by taking photos of license plates.

The Federal Highway Administration would not support a method to reduce traffic if it led to toll plazas that slow cars down, DeCorla-Souza said.

"That would defeat the whole purpose," he said.

Fares would be highest during rush hour, DeCorla-Souza said. There may be no tolls late at night and early in the evening, he said.  The state Department of Transportation is seeking federal money to study congestion pricing. But DeCorla-Souza said the federal government is more interested in awarding money for congestion pricing rather than a study of it.

The DOT first wants to look into how tolls would affect highway traffic and how they could affect local roads and mass transit ridership before it launches a demonstration, said Carmine Trotta, assistant director of intermodal planning for the agency.

If the state fails to get federal money for a study, the legislature's Transportation Committee approved $4.5 million for that purpose. That bill must be approved by the House and Senate.

Congestion pricing is used in San Diego County and Orange County, Calif., DeCorla-Souza said. On Interstate 15 in San Diego, the high-occupancy vehicle lane has been converted to a toll lane.  The congestion in that lane is monitored every six minutes, and the fare often is raised throughout the day to manage traffic, he said.

On state Route 91 in Orange County, tolls for a designated express lane range from $1.15 to $9.25, depending on the time of day.

Congestion pricing has been most successful abroad, DeCorla-Souza said.  Highways in London, Stockholm and Singapore use it in all lanes.  When Stockholm installed congestion pricing as a trial last year, people were against it, DeCorla-Souza said. But after the trial ended in July, a referendum to keep the tolls passed 2-1 because traffic improved, he said.

"Public opinion can change," DeCorla-Souza said. "This is going to require a little pain before it works."

Some lawmakers are skeptical. They questioned whether congestion pricing would hurt low-income people the most, because their schedules might not be flexible enough to choose when to go to work.  The state could assist low-income commuters, DeCorla-Souza said. It must work with employers to persuade them to offer flexible work schedules that include more telecommuting, and it should work with bus and rail operators and van pool organizers, DeCorla-Souza said.

Westport Police Chief Alfred Fiore said there is little data on how congestion pricing affects local roads.  If the result is anything like the Post Road after an accident on I-95, it could create headaches for municipalities, he said.

The federal government could help Connecticut improve traffic before implementing congestion pricing, said state Rep. Thomas Drew, D-Fairfield.

"I don't see any federal focus on any mass transit initiatives in terms of funding, or any focus in getting trucks off the highway by using rail freight," Drew said.

Plan to ease I-95 congestion looks to charge rush-hour drivers  
March 20, 2007
DARIEN - A representative from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was in Westport Tuesday explaining to local officials how "congestion pricing" could ease traffic on I-95.

The U.S. DOT is offering a grant for any metropolitan area interested in trying the experimental method of managing congestion. The plan calls for state officials to charge people to use I-95 during the most congested times in certain areas.

A DOT representative says between 5 to 10 percent of the cars need to be removed from the road during congested times to keep the highway free-flowing. Revenue would then be used to invest in transit and other methods to reduce the number of cars.

Concerns include the impact the plan would have on local roads, like Route 1, and the impact to people with lower incomes.

State, Local Officials Briefed on Highway Toll Plan
By Jennifer Connic

State and federal officials are considering a plan that would charge highway drivers a toll during peak traffic hours, but some local officials are not sold on the proposal.

The Southwest Regional Planning Agency sponsored a session on congestion pricing at Westport Police Headquarters today, and the session was attended by a large number of state legislators, mayors, first selectmen and other elected officials from throughout lower Fairfield County.

Patrick DeCorla-Souza, U.S. Department of Transportation program manager for congestion pricing, said the proposal is not a flat toll like what exists on many roads in the United States, but rather a charge to shift when people would use the highways.

Federal officials are also offering $130 million in grants to states who are willing to implement a congestion pricing plan as a demonstration because federal officials believe people will only accept the model once they have used it.

"It’s a simple concept that people understand,” he said. “They’ll have to look for alternative modes of of transportation and alternative times of day to travel.”

With congestion pricing, a toll price is only charged during peak travel times when there is significant traffic, he said.

The method has been used in other areas of the country, including on several New York bridge crossings, DeCorla-Souza said, where there is a discount on the toll if a motorist crosses at a less congested time.

Additionally, some areas of the country, including San Diego, have a system where there is a charge to use a special lane, he said, but he recommends there be a charge on all lanes of traffic.  Other places in the world have implemented the system, he said, including Stockholm, Sweden, which was initially done as a trial.

Once the trial ended, he said, the system was removed from the road, and voters were given the choice to bring it back or not. The referendum was in favor of the congestion pricing, he said.  He supports a similar model in the United States where the system is used as a trial and then put to a referendum vote, he said.

State Department of Transportation officials present at the session said state officials are planning a study on what system would work best in Connecticut, but did not believe they would receive federal funding now for it because there are no plans yet to implement such a system.

Local officials also expressed concerns with the system and how it would affect local traffic, including Westport Police Chief Al Fiore.  Fiore asked if there were any indications that traffic would not be pushed on to local roads and impact the police and local residents.

He asked if there was any studies done in places that have implemented congestion pricing on the impact on the local roads.

“I fear that the guy you are taking of the highway is going to be on my local roads,” he said. “I want to see evidence that there is no impact so I don’t have to worry about residents calling me complaining they can’t get out of their driveways on Green’s Farms Road.”

DeCorla-Souza said he understands most people do not have the flexibility to shift when they travel during the high-traffic times.  But if 5-10 percent of the motorists chose to travel at a different time, he said, it would help with the congestion on the highways.

Additionally, he said, there needs to be other modes of mass transportation and information easily accessible about it available to people.

Posted 03/20 at 10:11 AM

"SWRPA/MPO Congestion Pricing 101" Tuesday, March 20, 2007
7:30 a.m. at the Westport Police Department Classroom.  Public invited.

More Metro-North Riders Using Trains Within The State

Published on 12/8/2006 
Stamford (AP)— Metro-North's statistics for its New Haven line show many more riders have been using the trains to travel to points within the state in recent months.
Figures show a significant growth in daily trips at points between New Haven and Greenwich.

The figures also show more riders are getting off the train in Stamford, compared with those boarding in Stamford and riding the train into Grand Central Terminal.

More than three million intrastate trips have been made from January to October this year — an increase of 6.5 percent from the year before.

Metro-North says overall ridership on the New Haven Line, which includes trips into Grand Central Terminal and reverse commuting out of New York City into Connecticut, has increased by 3 percent during the same period.

At Stamford, the New Haven Line's busiest station after Grand Central, 4,300 people this year got off the train every day — 2,500 coming from other points in Connecticut and 1,800 from New York — during the morning peak.

The rise in intrastate ridership is due to rising gas prices, increases in the frequency of service and the increase of development in cities such as Stamford, Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for the state Department of Transportation's rail bureau said Wednesday.

Colonese said that in recent years, the state has held down the monthly fares for intrastate tickets, which has made train travel more competitive with driving.

Union Station Owners Consider Seeking Tax Break;  Amtrak portion might have exemption under state law
By Elaine Stoll
Published on 12/20/2006

New London — The owners of Union Station may seek tax-exempt status for the portion of the privately held Water Street property used by Amtrak.
Todd O'Donnell, who owns Union Station with Barbara Timken, said Tuesday state and federal statutes exempt Amtrak and its renters and landlords from property taxes. Amtrak leases an undisclosed amount of space at Union Station.

O'Donnell pointed to a section of the Connecticut General Statutes, stating that the gross earnings tax that corporations operating railroads for profit in the state are required to pay annually “shall be in lieu of all other taxes in this state for the year.” The same section states that property owned or operated by such a corporation “when not used exclusively for railroad purposes, shall be assessed and taxed where it is located.”

Amtrak, which was created as a for-profit corporation, pays gross earnings tax to the state, O'Donnell said Tuesday. O'Donnell said that only the portion of the station property not used by Amtrak — and therefore “not used exclusively for railroad purposes” — is taxable.

He also cited federal law in support of the claim that the portion of Union Station leased by Amtrak is tax-exempt. A Dec. 23, 2005, opinion written by a principal analyst at the Connecticut General Assembly's Office of Legislative Research and cited by O'Donnell interprets the federal law to mean that the only way a town could tax property owned by Amtrak, a renter, landlord or subsidiary is “if it did not benefit rail passenger transportation, even indirectly.”

City Law Director Thomas J. Londregan and Assessor Barbara Perry said they will continue to review the matter but maintain that the Union Station property used by Amtrak is taxable.

“My gut reaction is that they are a private entity renting space and collecting money. I have not told the tax assessor to treat the property as nontaxable,” Londregan told the City Council on Monday night.

To date the Union Station owners have not submitted a formal request to the city seeking tax-exempt status, Londregan said. “We're not doing anything at this point in time other than reviewing information.”

Assessor Barbara Perry said Tuesday that she has spoken with O'Donnell about the tax status of Union Station. “If he's entitled to something, I want to grant that,” she said.

“So far, I haven't seen anything that would make me believe it would pertain to him, that he would be eligible,” Perry said.

If O'Donnell wants to appeal the city's assessment of the Union Station property, he would have to wait until the grand list is finalized, when he could appeal to the Board of Assessment Appeals, Perry said. If O'Donnell successfully sought a tax exemption on the portion of the Union Station property used by Amtrak, the change would only affect future tax bills, Perry said. There apparently is no avenue for him to recover taxes paid in previous years.

Perry said she did not know how many square feet of the Union Station property Amtrak uses, the only portion of the property O'Donnell claims is tax-exempt. “It's a good portion of the first floor,” she said.

O'Donnell declined to disclose the terms of his lease with Amtrak, including the specific amount of space he says is tax-exempt. “They are a substantial user of the land and the building,” he said.


Getting There From Here:
Without a single agenda, it will be as hard to make a better working New London transportation center as it is to get to the ferries and trains from the Water Street Parking Garage.
DAY editorial
Published on 12/17/2006
Any future planning for a regional transportation center in New London begins with the advantage that there's already one there. Nearly 2 million travelers every year use transportation services clustered about Union Station. Most of these people are patrons of the three ferry services, which comprise the region's most robust transportation business. But a good 250,000 of them travel on trains and buses that stop at the station.

The master plan isn't going to have to make pie from scratch. The ingredients are already there, a unique neighborhood of water, bus and rail transportation services, a place that is bustling despite multiple handicaps.

Nor has there been no planning to make what's there work better. The trouble is much of the planning has been in pursuit of rival agendas.

The trick to success will be not only to connect the pieces of the transportation center, but bring the players into harmony.

A master plan for a transportation center must connect the existing businesses, but to do so, it will have to unite the conflicting interests around a single agenda.

An advisory group needs to be established that represents parties with a significant interest in the outcome: The owners of the train station, the ferry operators, the city, New London's downtown organizations, the Council of Governments and state Department of Transportation, tourism industry and casinos and rail representatives. And that group must initiate a public discussion. A group like the one that met at The Day Dec. 5 and decided to develop a master plan for a regional transportation center.

The group needs to work with planners in reconciling the differences that have stood in the way of progress and created in its place a growing stock of hard feelings.

Foremost among these are the issues of whether to build a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks and where to put the “center” of the transportation center; should it be in Union Station or a new building?

The Council of Governments is the logical agency to assume this task. It is representative of the region and has the planning credentials and legal authority to receive state funds for a study. This is a regional as well as a local issue. But it must engage the public and stakeholders in the process, or maybe vice versa.

Just as important as the $500,000 to $750,000 it is estimated the study will cost is the planning process and how open and inclusive it is. Planners must be informed by public opinion and by the people with a stake in the results. The product must be something the public and all the interests can accept, or it won't work. Experience to date is evidence of the futility of operating without consensus or public support.

Public involvement essential

The plan must engage the public because the issues are public, although the major players are private businesses.

New London has an immediate stake in the matter. The center could be a catalyst for growth in its downtown business district by making the city even more vital as a transportation hub.

Southeastern Connecticut would benefit because more creative uses of public transportation centered on the New London waterfront would help solve the highway gridlock problem. The state also would benefit from this advantage.

New London owns the two major parking facilities, a lot that's leased by one of the ferry companies and the Water Street Parking Garage. It also has jurisdiction over Water Street, the troublesome artery travelers must cross to get from the garage to the ferries and trains, and the Parade, the bunker-like plaza the city is considering revamping.

And substantial public investments will be required and must be made in the public interest.

The public, with this clear stake, must be kept in the loop of planning for this transportation center. Its capacity for creativity and good sense must be respected.

But so, too, do the several significant businesses have a stake in the plan. Cross Sound Ferry, while it enjoys a robust business, is hemmed in and handicapped by the cockeyed arrangements for parking and getting to the boats.

Barbara Timken, principal owner of Union Station, has invested heavily in the landmark building and with her business partner, Todd O'Donnell, has shouldered the costs of maintaining a building that is also a public facility. They get little compensation for the public use of the building. That isn't fair, or practical.

A master plan must accommodate both these interests. Union Station needs to be an integral and sustainable part of the transportation center, but the plan must also respond to the pressing needs of the ferry operations for more convenient accommodations for its passengers. Better public accommodations will be a key to making the transportation center work.

'Gateway' to southeastern Connecticut

Current efforts are focused on maintaining Amtrak service at the station. That's important. Planning should also revisit the idea of maintaining a visitor center for the Thames River Heritage Park in the station, as Adam Wronowski, vice president of Cross Sound Ferry, suggests in an article in this section. The center could become a “gateway” to New London and the region that surrounds it and tht may one day revolve around the city as it did in earlier times as a transportation hub for boats and trains and center of commerce.

A planning group doesn't have to wait for the legislature to act. It should get started right away. It also doesn't have to wait until it has a blueprint before it engages the public. A public that is left out of the loop isn't likely to get excited over a plan it had no role in designing. Those kinds of plans are the ones that gather dust and slip into oblivion.

Even before professional planners get their hands on the task, people must decide what kind of transportation center they're talking about? How will it differ from what's there? How will it work? What purposes will it serve that aren't served now?

The planners need a visionary sketch to work from, such as the one architect Barun Basu, president of Main Street, has drawn in an article in this special section. Mr. Basu envisions what the future might be like in several decades with a vigorous transportation center in its midst.

The planning process needs guidance and support that only can come from the bottom up, from a representative group that is willing to listen respectfully to one another and consult with the public. The failure to appreciate that fact before this helps explain why it's been almost as hard to come up with a plan as it is to get to the ferries from the Water Street Parking Garage.

The Benefits Of Talking
Published on 12/8/2006

On Tuesday, many of the parties with a stake in the possibilities of a regional transportation center in New London met and agreed on the need for a master plan to guide decisions and move the idea forward.

That was not the first meeting of this sort, but it was the first occasion that the various interests, public and private, reached a consensus on anything. This development occurred at a roundtable discussion sponsored by The Day, the results of which will be published in a special Perspective section Dec. 17. Meantime, the matter is inching forward with a request to the state to sponsor the preparation of a master plan for the area along the downtown New London waterfront being eyed for the center. This includes several busy ferry operations, Union Station, the Parade, Water Street parking garage, Greyhound bus terminal and adjoining lands. Some of the real estate is private, some of it is public.

As a result of the meeting, the Governor's Commission on Economic Diversification revised the plan it is submitting to Gov. M. Jodi Rell to include the regional transportation center as another priority. This is a sensible and promising turn of events in an issue that has been marked in the past by dissension, but more than that, by a lack of communication. There was none of that at this meeting. Most of the players were there: The state of Connecticut, New London, Cross Sound Ferry, New London Main Street, the owners of Union Station, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, the National Rail Corridors Initiative (also representing Amtrak), Southeast Area Transit, New London Landmarks, the committee that is designing a plan to revamp the Parade area in front of Union Station and the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region.

The group still disagrees, or at least has different perspectives, on fundamental issues connected with the transportation center, including the role Union Station will play and the solutions to the problem of getting ferry passengers across the street and railroad tracks.

But reaching a consensus on those issues requires professional guidance and collegiality, not isolated agendas. The guidance in this case will come from the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, conferring with the various stakeholders and eventually the public at large.

That is a good start to a development that can be a key to future growth and prosperity not only in New London, but in southeastern Connecticut.


Estimate for train car shop comes up $328M short
Stamford ADVOCATE 
By Mark Ginocchio
Published September 10 2007

A shortfall of more than $300 million for a new rail car maintenance shop has prompted high-level meetings between Metro-North Railroad and the state Department of Transportation.

Metro-North President Peter Cannito and DOT Commissioner Ralph Carpenter met Friday to discuss the $628 million rail shop in New Haven, which is being built to help maintain 380 New Haven Line rail cars that will begin to be delivered in 2009.

The DOT's original estimate for the project - which was approved two years ago by the legislature as part of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's $1.2 billion transportation initiative - was $300 million. But further analysis by the DOT and Metro-North found the cost will be more than double that.

The original estimate was "based on 2002 dollars," DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said Friday. "The new number is based on today's dollars and additional components of the facility that were not contemplated in the original concept."

Inflationary costs "are by far the most significant portion of the added expense," Everhart said. "Construction costs and materials can easily increase by 10 percent or more per year."

The project would be built in six parts and would create a state-of-the-art shop for the next generation of rail cars. The first part - a yard that will be used to test the new rail cars before they are put in service - will be open to bidders this fall. Construction should begin early next year, Everhart said.  The facility will include storage for an additional 100 rail cars at the West End Yard in New Haven; a heavy-duty repair shop to fix 13 rail cars and office space for DOT and Metro-North employees; a wheel truing shop to fix flattened rail car wheels; two inspection bays that will hold 10 rail cars each; and a car washing shop.

Once it is funded, the entire project should be complete in 2013, Metro-North officials said.  In a letter to Carpenter last month, Cannito urged the DOT to get the funding.

"I believe this is a matter of highest priority for the New Haven Line service," Cannito said.

Transportation advocates who have supported the project were shocked to hear the cost has doubled.

"They didn't just miss the mark, they missed the entire firing range," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who is on the legislature's Transportation, Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, and Transportation Bonding Committee.

McDonald said he didn't know there was a funding shortfall. DOT officials did not tell him about it while the legislature was negotiating a transportation bonding package, McDonald said.  The legislature is expected to approve the bonding package, without additional money for the shop, in special session this month, officials have said.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said the new price tag was a huge surprise.

"I hope the legislature examines this very closely and gets to the bottom of how this was so grossly underestimated," Cameron said. "This maintenance facility is a crucial part" of the state's plan to buy more rail cars.

The Commuter Council planned to discuss the new rail cars with DOT and Metro-North at its monthly meeting next week, so the maintenance shop will be added to the agenda, Cameron said.

DOT and Metro-North will meet a second time to discuss the project, Everhart said.

The meeting "will be scheduled for a detailed review of the project and its cost, with an eye toward any economies that can be achieved," he said.

Rail chief looks to future
Greenwich TIME
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published March 22 2007

NEW YORK -- Metro-North Railroad President Peter Cannito yesterday told New Haven Line rail advocates that his agency is looking at all possible ways to prolong the life of the current fleet until new cars are delivered in two years.

Ridership is increasing at a record rate, which is good news for Metro-North, but bad news for New Haven Line commuters who are already struggling to find available seats, Cannito said during the monthly meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council at Metro-North's headquarters in Grand Central Terminal.  Once the next generation of rail cars arrives, things should get significantly better for the New Haven Line, Cannito added.

"I can't wait for the M8s," he said. "Our trains have to be on time and people need to have a seat. We recognize that we can control the on time, but what we can't control is having sufficient seats" with the current fleet level.  The state has ordered 342 new rail cars and the first batch should be delivered by the end of 2009. From there, as many as 10 cars a month could start arriving on the rails.

Once the new cars arrive, the state will phase out 240 of its oldest cars, the M2s, which are about 35 years old, five years past their life expectancy, Cannito said.  That still leaves about another 100 cars that are between 10 and 20 years old that will still be a part of the New Haven Line fleet, Cannito said.  In the meantime, the railroad is deciding whether it should keep rehabilitating the M2s under the railroad's "Critical Systems Replacement" program.  It may be cost-efficient for Metro-North to turn its resources toward repairing the newer M4s and M6s since they won't be phased out when the M8s arrive, he added.

"We feel we need to continue the (Critical Systems Replacement) program," Cannito said. "But we need to focus on cars that give us the biggest bang for our buck."

The opening of a new repair facility at the New Haven yard will help Metro-North get broken cars back on the tracks faster, Cannito said.  Because of heavy snow and cold weather, February was a brutal month for commuters and with limited repair shop capacity, Metro-North was often operating with a short fleet, he said.

When asked how Metro-North wants to pay for the new cars, Cannito would not comment on Connecticut's proposed $1-per-ride surcharge, which is under review by the state legislature.  The surcharge, which would raise about $20 million annually and charge an extra $1 on all daily tickets and an extra $40 on monthly tickets, is a Connecticut policy, though Metro-North would have to approve it since the New Haven Line runs though Westchester County.

"We'll see what Connecticut proposes before we make a decision," Cannito said. "New York should not interfere in how Connecticut runs its legislature."

In the same vein, Cannito said a Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposal to ban liquor sales on all MTA properties including Grand Central Terminal, would have to be approved by Connecticut.

"Whatever New York decides to do, Connecticut has a vote," Cannito said.  The New Haven Line is one of the last commuter lines in the country to have bar cars, providing beer, wine, mixed drinks and soft drinks for passengers.  State Department of Transportation officials said they have no plans to scrap the bar cars, regardless of what the MTA decides to do about its liquor policy.

DOT Proposes Shore Line East Rail Upgrade
By GARY LIBOW, Courant Staff Writer
January 31, 2007

The state Department of Transportation has proposed spending millions of dollars to expand the Shore Line East rail service to combat growing congestion on I-95.

In a three-phase expansion plan, DOT would add Shore Line East trips between New Haven and New London, at an estimated cost of $6.4 million in capital funds and $2.5 million in operating expenses. The initial phase of the plan would add eight round trips Saturdays and Sundays between New Haven and Old Saybrook, plus one midday round trip and one late evening outbound train from New Haven to Old Saybrook.

But the DOT report outlines a possible obstacle to the first phase - winning Amtrak's approval.

Amtrak owns that Northeast rail corridor, according to the DOT, and a 2003 agreement with Amtrak requires the state to fund and build platforms in Branford, Madison, Clinton and Westbrook should Shore Line East service be expanded outside the current rush hour schedule.

"It is now in the hands of the governor and General Assembly for their evaluation and any possible action," DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said Tuesday...full story here.

Riders hoping for a happy rail future
Article Launched: 12/22/2006 07:37:14 AM EST

NEW HAVEN — Gov. M. Jodi Rell cut the ribbon Thursday on a $33 million building that marks the beginning of a five-year, $800 million expansion of the New Haven Rail Yard.

"We did it," Rell said, standing in front of the new running repair shop, which she said was born out of the misery of the winter of 2003-04.

That winter, snow and cold damaged rail cars, forcing Metro-North Railroad to operate shorter trains and reduce frequency of service as maintenance workers tried to keep up with the damage. In February 2004, workers in New Haven repaired 100 trains in less than two weeks, but much of that work had to be done outdoors.

Because there was only room to work on 12 rail cars at a time under a roof in the New Haven Yard, workers have had to push heaters outside, thaw out the cars and begin working on them there. Rell, joined by Metro-North President Peter Cannito, said that winter marked a turning point for the railroad and state, as it became clear action was needed.

"Help is on the way and it has started to arrive," Rell said.

After that winter, she said, the state pledged to build the repair facility and then went on to approve the purchase of 300 new rail cars and the creation of a new maintenance complex to take care of the expanded fleet.

Rell said the concrete and steel building is proof things are changing for the better in Connecticut.

"We are blessed with a modern, 21st-century economy; now we need a 21st-century train system."
The repair shop took less than two years to design and build.

According to Cannito, the DOT will transfer some employees from the older maintenance building and will hire 23 new workers for the shop. Equipment will be transferred from other Metro-North locations to the facility, which Cannito said would be in full use by February.

The new facility will reduce the time rail cars are out of service for maintenance, he said, which will lead to fewer delays in service. What it won't address is the crowding on rush-hour trains, according to Cannito: only when the new ones Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. is building begin to arrive will commuters see some relief.

James Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, called Thursday's dedication an early Christmas present for commuters.  Rodney Chabot, a former rail council chairman, also attended the ceremony. Chabot and Cameron have long been advocates for the expansion of the railroad.

During the dedication and tour of the facility, several construction workers took the opportunity to see their handiwork and get their pictures taken with the governor.  Jim Manafort, president of Manafort Brothers Construction Inc., said about 100 workers built the repair shop.

Two tracks, with work trenches deep enough for repairmen to stand underneath the trains, run through the shop, making the facility look somewhat like a railroad version of a Jiffy Lube. Manafort said it was an exciting and sophisticated job because of the complexity of the rail cars that will be repaired here.

Metro-North rail cars use both alternating and direct current motors to move the trains; most cars operate on only one system.

During his brief remarks at the event, Deputy DOT Commissioner James Boice said within five years Connecticut would complete $800 million in building projects at the New Haven Rail Yard. He said it would include new inspection facilities, heavy damage and paint shops, a car wash and new tracks.

Rail car repairs should continue until M8s arrive
Norwalk HOUR editorial
November 30, 2006

The Department of Transportation and the Metro-North Railroad are rethinking the program under way to rehabilitate the line's fleet of M2 cars.
The M2s originally came into service in the early '70s and had an expected life span of 30 years. Obviously, they have reached that point and then some.

The railroad has been rehabilitating the old M2s, and they have performed well, even in the eyes of some of the commuters who daily ride them in and out of Manhattan and to other destinations. But now DOT and Metro-North are considering ending that program and turning the money toward the acquisition of more new cars. The M8s, the newest version, are to be built by Kawasaki Rail Car Co. and won't be rolling onto the New Haven branch tracks before 2009.

Since the performance of the rehabilitated cars generally has been good — even when faced with winter ice and snow — it would seem only prudent to keep the program going until the new cars start rolling off the line. The important thing is not to necessarily rehab all of the old M2s — just keep them going until the new cars arrive.

Veteran commuters may recall the troubles the M2s had when they first went into service. They were plagued with brake problems, cracked wheels and even electrical fires. The railroad even leased the old South Norwalk freight yard in order to perform corrective repairs.

Anything that new is bound to have "bugs" not foreseen back on the drawing table.
The newest cars on Metro-North's Harlem-Hudson Division have encountered some unanticipated problems. It's most bizarre. Apparently a sudden large and fast dropping of wet leaves on the tracks caused the brakes to activate, causing the wheels to lock up, sliding along the tracks. Now Metro-North is busy replacing a large number of wheels with flat spots.

To end the Critical Systems Replacement program at this juncture is to ignore the possibility of delays in construction of the new cars. Over the years we've seen that predictions of delivery times such as this are on the optimistic side.

Metro-North has upgraded about 100 of the old M2s, turning out about three a month. Let's keep that pace going until we can see the successful delivery of the new units.

Study says feds should own Northeast Corridor line
Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- In an effort to improve Amtrak service between major cities along the East Coast, a group of business leaders Tuesday proposed transferring ownership of the Northeast Corridor rail line to the federal government.

A study released Tuesday by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University also calls for the creation of a partnership between the state and federal government, which would have policy control over the line.

Martin Robins, the center's director, said the public corporation could be created by Congress and have the power to introduce new services. It would contract with Amtrak to manage the line and would provide accountability to the much-criticized rail service.

The study, sponsored by the Newark Regional Business Partnership, also suggests that the states and federal government join together to fund future capital improvements on the line, which goes through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Amtrak operates a nationwide passenger rail network, with 21,000 miles of routes in 46 states. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is the busiest railroad in North America, with more than 1,700 trains operating over some portion of the Washington-Boston route each day.

Amtrak has never made money in its 34-year history and an operating loss of more than $550 million was expected for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The railroad has relied on government subsidies to cover its operating losses and has a debt of more than $3.5 billion.

Cliff Black, a spokesman for Amtrak, said a change in ownership won't change the underlying funding needs or the process to obtain that funding.

"In the long-term, Amtrak recognizes that we need to work together with the states and federal government to build capacity and ensure a state of good repair," he said.

Black said Amtrak has been working with the states individually and collectively to make sure that funding needs are met.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., said new options should be explored to enhance viability for the train line.

"With our aviation system facing congestion and delays, and our roadways becoming more and more clogged every day, it is more important than ever that the federal government closely engage itself in expanding safe, secure, efficient passenger rail lines," he said.

Train repair pondered: Metro-North overhaul may not be necessary, officials say
ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com
Article Launched:11/28/2006 04:46:47 AM EST

Metro-North Railroad and the state Department of Transportation said Monday they are discussing whether, because 300 new cars will be on the rails by 2012, all 242 of the New Haven Line's oldest railcars need to be overhauled.
For more than four years, the DOT and Metro-North have been refurbishing the oldest railcars — the M2s — which were built in the 1970s. After more than two decades of heavy use, the M2s were frequently breaking down, especially in the winter. Major problems included failing heating and air-conditioning systems and frozen motors; the undercarriages were prone to catching fire.

DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said the department reviewed the program and found it would take until 2012 to finish overhauling all the M2s, and by then the New Haven Line's fleet of new cars would be operating. But Cooper said this doesn't mean the DOT is looking to kill the $150 million overhaul program immediately. Instead, the DOT and Metro-North are discussing how many trains should be overhauled.

The overhaul program should add more than 10 years of useful life to the M2s, Cooper said, which means the old cars could be used to expand service on the branch lines, such as Waterbury.

Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said her organization began discussing the overhaul program with the DOT after Connecticut and New York awarded the $522 million contract to buy new railcars for the New Haven Line a few months ago.

Connecticut and New York, which jointly own the New Haven Line, are buying 210 new railcars — called M8s — but the first cars will not be delivered until 2009 at the earliest. The state has an option on 170 more cars and officials say they intend to buy at least 300. Until then, the New Haven Line will depend on the M2 railcars, which have become more reliable after going through the overhaul program, according to Anders.
"We would not retire any cars before we had the first 100 M8s," Anders said.

So far, 28 M2s have been completely overhauled, she said, and more than 100 have been partially overhauled. The overhaul involved replacing vital engine parts, upgrading air-conditioning and heating systems and replacing windows.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuters Council, said reports about plans to scrap the program arose three weeks ago when it was apparently discussed informally during a Metro-North Railroad meeting.

Like Anders, he said stopping the overhaul program would be a bad idea.

"It doesn't make sense," because the M2s will be needed at least until the M8s come online, he said. Overhauled M2s, Cameron said, will give the state and railroad a fallback plan in case there are delays in getting the new cars from Kawasaki Rail Car Co.

New Haven Line trains have to operate on alternating and direct current systems, which makes their design unique, and could cause delays as bugs get worked out of prototypes, Cameron said. Albert Song, a retired DOT Office of Rail engineer and the architect of the M2 overhaul program, said if it makes fiscal sense to scrap the program, he would favor it. But, he said, he does not think any of the money could be put toward the purchase of new cars, because the U.S. Federal Transit Authority covers 80 percent of the overhaul program's costs.

When the DOT created the overhaul program, Song said, "We were only trying to keep the cars running each winter."

At the time, he said, the office of rail was facing a hostile Gov. John G. Rowland, who did not support public transit funding even though the railcars were breaking down more often. The DOT came up with this plan as a stop-gap measure to get some extra years out of the cars in the hopes the attitude in Hartford would change. Gov. M. Jodi Rell reversed the Rowland administration's stance on transit, he said, so it makes sense to review the program.

Not a peak round trip to Grand Central?
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published October 18 2006

Monthly commuters from the suburbs into Grand Central Terminal no longer rule the rails.

For the first time, Metro-North Railroad officials are reporting traditional commuters -- those who travel from the suburbs in the peak morning hours and arrive at Grand Central -- are outnumbered by reverse and intermediate riders and day-trippers.

Systemwide, 49.4 percent of Metro-North's riders commuted into Manhattan in 2005, compared with 65.3 percent in 1984, the year Metro-North was created.

Traditional commuting has grown by about 17 percent since 1984, while ridership has grown by 126 percent during all other times, Metro-North officials said.

State rail advocates called the report a positive sign for the region because it means more people are commuting from New York City into cities such as Stamford, Greenwich and Norwalk or commuting from one New Haven Line station to another.

"I think this is some very exciting stuff," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County. "I'm not surprised by this. That's why we have to expand the rail system and link to different stations."

The state must improve service at intermediate stations like Fordham in the Bronx, where ridership is up more than 700 percent since 1985, McGee said.

About 2,100 people a day board at Fordham, according to the railroad's report.  State Department of Transportation and Metro-North officials said they have been monitoring service to address these ridership trends.

"We're ecstatic about this news because the intermediate and reverse commuters is keeping folks employed in Connecticut," said Eugene Colonese, administrator for DOT's rail bureau.

"We helped create this trend by actively finding ways of putting paying customers in empty seats to boost ridership and revenue and make the train the region's transportation mode of choice," Metro-North President Peter Cannito said in a statement.

Since it started in 1984, Metro-North added 14 peak trains that head back to Grand Central in the evening for a total of 44, officials said.  Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron called the railroad's report "slightly misleading," because the traditional commuters still make up the single largest segment of ridership.

Despite the increases, reverse commuters make up about 4 percent of total annual revenue and intermediate commuters make up about 6 percent. Weekend riders make up 15.2 percent of total revenue and weekday day-trippers represent 29.9 percent.

However, because of the trends, Cameron said he supports having a reverse-commuter representative on the commuter council, although the group's general statutes permit only state residents on the board.

With new rail cars and new stations planned for the New Haven Line, those reverse and intermediate numbers should grow more, said Karen Burnaska, co-chairwoman of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory group to the Transportation Strategy Board.

"If these increases happened without any real improvement to the trains and schedules, think what will happen once we do," she said.

Off-peak riders now a majority on Metro-North
By PATRICK R. LINSEY, Hour Staff Writer
October 21, 2006

REGION — For the first time, 9-to-5 business commuters make up less than half of Metro-North's passengers, the railroad announced last week, as ridership has soared — especially among non-traditional travelers.

Commuters to Manhattan made up 49.4 percent of Metro-North customers in 2005, according to the railroad's figures, down from 65.3 percent in 1984. Since that year, the number of New York City-bound commuters has grown 17 percent, and all other ridership has more than doubled.

The growth has occurred despite aging railcars on Metro-North's New Haven Line.

"We helped create this trend by actively finding ways of putting paying customers in empty seats to boost ridership and revenue and make the train this region's transportation mode of choice," said Peter Cannito, president of Metro-North Railroad. "We dropped the word 'commuter' from our name in 1994 to reflect that vision."

Peak trains are those that arrive at Grand Central Terminal between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. or depart Grand Central between 5:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., carrying suburban commuters to jobs in New York City. But Metro-North is also going after reverse commuters who travel from the city to employment centers in Westchester and Connecticut.

"In the past, these outbound trains would make the trip empty as they went back out to pick up more city-bound passengers," Cannito said. "So we already had a crew and we were already paying the propulsion costs. It didn't cost very much to make stops and accept customers."

Reverse commutation more than tripled between 1984 and 2005, going from 1.1 million to 4.6 million rides.

Metro-North has also targeted leisure riders on nights and weekends.

Filling empty seats on reverse commutes and weekend trains benefits rush-hour riders, said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

"One of the ways we keep the rush hour fares down is by all of the discretionary riders, the people who go in on the weekend," Cameron said. "The ridership on the weekend subsidizes the rush-hour fares."

The railroad has also benefited from new equipment. Trains on Metro-North's Hudson and Harlem lines have been replaced in recent years, and new equipment is due on the New Haven Line come 2009.

When that happens, Cameron said he would like to see service expand — potentially easing gridlock on I-95.

"The trains should run almost like a subway, so you don't need to worry about a timetable. A lot of people who are on the highway use the lack of service as an excuse," he said Friday afternoon. "I'm in a car right now coming back from Greenwich. I'm crawling. I might have been able to take a train where I was going, but I didn't, because I couldn't rely on the train schedule coming back."

Panel OKs $459M for new train cars
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published August 19 2006

The State Bond Commission approved $459 million for a contract to buy up to 300 rail cars for Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line yesterday, marking the last step needed to make the deal official.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell called it an "unprecedented" day for Connecticut -- and it's the largest contract awarded in Metro-North's history.

"I want this major step forward to send a message to every single Connecticut commuter: Your voices are being heard in Hartford," Rell said in a statement yesterday.

Metro-North President Peter Cannito said the day was a long time coming, but a positive step forward for New Haven Line commuters.

"I wish these cars could have been ordered five years ago and we'd be receiving them now," Cannito said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But, this is a very exciting day for us."

Since the contract was awarded last month to Kawasaki Rail Cars Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y., the railroad has been working on the deal's details to ensure the state gets its rail cars as soon as possible.  The contract will be signed Monday, state officials said.

Most of the manufacturing will be completed at Kawasaki's Lincoln, Neb., plant, and the first cars should arrive by the end of 2009, Cannito said.

The new rail cars will expand the New Haven Line fleet, and they also will replace some of the most antiquated cars, which are more than 30 years old -- 10 years past their life expectancy.  State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, a member of the bond commission, said the deal marks "new priorities" that have been established by Rell and the legislature.

"This is a huge win for Fairfield County and the entire state," he said.

Connecticut Commuter Rail Council Chairman Jim Cameron was pleased with the commission's approval, but said the state still needs to focus on helping commuters in the short term.

"We all know the new cars are coming, but there are problems with overcrowding today," Cameron said. The state "needs to figure out what to do for the next three years, because I see no signs of ridership decreasing."

In addition to the rail car purchase, the bond commission also approved $9 million for open space land purchases under the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program.

The purchase will help achieve Rell's goal of preserving 21 percent of the state's land for open space.

Metro-North approves $552M contract for new cars

By Mark Ginocchio, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published July 25 2006

NEW YORK -- Metro-North Railroad gave the green light to the largest contract in its history yesterday when the executive board approved the builder of the next generation of cars for the New Haven Line.

The $552 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y., is competitive and within the budget, railroad President Peter Cannito said.

The new cars, dubbed M-8s, will provide relief for New Haven Line customers who have been riding on antiquated equipment, Cannito said. Metro-North's New York state rail lines received new equipment years ago.

"We've seen how the new rail cars have performed on the Hudson and Harlem lines" in Westchester County, Cannito said yesterday during the board's monthly meeting at Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters in midtown Manhattan. "These cars will be the answer to resolving many of the issues on the New Haven Line."

The base order for 210 cars includes an option for 180 more cars, increasing the value of the contract to $881 million, railroad officials said.  The deal is Kawasaki's first with Metro-North, officials said.  Kawasaki's bid was more than $180 million lower than Bombardier of Quebec, which was awarded the Hudson and Harlem line contract in 1999.

Kawasaki was awarded its first rail contract with Connecticut earlier this year -- a $3.2 million deal to refurbish 33 used cars the state bought from Virginia Railway Express.  The company has built cars for the New York City subway, New Jersey's Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Kawasaki officials said they will hold off commenting on the deal until the MTA board approves it tomorrow.  Connecticut's bond commission must approve the funding at its Aug. 11 meeting before manufacturing can begin.  After the commission meets, it should take about three years for the first cars to be delivered to the New Haven Line, officials said.

Besides new amenities, the cars will be able to travel on Shore Line East Commuter Railroad tracks between New Haven and New London.  They will be compatible with Amtrak's Hell Gate route into Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and are expected to be used on the state's proposed New Haven to Hartford rail line.

Once the full order is complete, the M-8s will increase the New Haven Line's 340-car fleet by more than 100 cars, railroad officials said.

State selects contractor to build new rail fleet

Jul 22, 10:24 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The state has selected Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc., for a $522 million contract to build 210 new rail cars, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Saturday.

Kawasaki will design, build, test and deliver the new fleet with an option to build 170 more for the state. The contract also includes options to buy spare parts, special tools and test equipment to run and maintain the cars.

Rell called the selection of a contractor important progress for commuters.

"We will work to ensure that the manufacturing of these rail cars is completed in a timely manner and in the shortest time frame possible," Rell said in a statement.

The selection was made by a special procurement committee that includes members from the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North Railroad. The selection needs final approval from both Connecticut and New York. The governor said she will put the matter on the agenda for the Aug. 11 Bond Commission meeting.

The project will be funded by the state of Connecticut and MTA/Metro-North Railroad with 65 percent of the funds provided by Connecticut and 35 percent provided by New York, based on ridership and track miles.

The state has done business with the New York-based Kawasaki in the past. In March, the state awarded a $12 million contract to the company to refurbish 33 passenger rail cars purchased from Virginia in 2004.

Metro-North union will honor strike
By PATRICK R. LINSEY, Hour Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

REGION — If New York City transit workers strike today, some Metro-North Railroad employees will honor their picket lines, said Chris Silvera, secretary-treasurer of the Teamster's Local 808.  The Teamsters represent Metro-North workers who lay and repair track. Calls to leadership from other
Metro-North workers' unions were not returned Monday.

"If there are no picket lines, then they will go to work," Silvera said. "If there are picket lines, they will not cross those picket lines."

All Metro-North employees are expected to report for work today, according to a Marjorie Anders, a railroad spokesman.

"Any strike by Metro-North workers would be illegal at this time," Anders said. "And we don't expect Metro-North employees to do anything illegal."  Anders declined to discuss contingency plans if some workers fail to show up today, and said Metro-North will address any problems as they arise.

"We have a lot of track workers," Anders said. "If one doesn't show up, maybe it doesn't make any other difference."

Metro-North is one of the country's largest commuter railroads, with more than 240,000 weekday riders; many traveling to New York City from Connecticut and New York state suburbs.  The Railway Labor Act bans railroad employees from striking without first entering arbitration or mediation. Anders said the act applies to sympathy strikes.

"They are legally bound to cross the picket line," she said.

But Silvera said his workers would not cross a picket line under any circumstances. "If there is a picket line, we will honor the picket lines as good union people," Silvera promised. "A scab is a scab and my members ain't going to be scabs."

Negotiations for a new contract continued between the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Transportation Workers Union Monday. Leadership of TWU Local 100 threatened to strike if the two sides did not reach a compromise by midnight.

Rail advocate Jim Cameron predicted Metro-North workers in Connecticut will show up for work today whether MTA employees strike. Metro-North is diverting trains from New York state's Hudson and Harlem lines to provide additional service in the Bronx.

"If there is any kind of sympathy picket lines, I think they may be in Westchester," Cameron said. "I think they may be targeting the shuttles that are planned in the inner-city stops that would be used by people affected by the loss of subway service."

Such a strike would not affect most Metro-North employees, he said.

"Most of the Metro-North workers don't report to work in Grand Central; they report to New Haven, Stamford, where the yards are and the cars are kept," Cameron explained. "Even if there are picket lines (in New York City), that's not going to stop a Metro-North worker from driving their train into Grand Central and pulling it back out again to New Haven."

Safety, growth key for MTA

Greenwich TIME

By Mark Ginocchio

Published October 19 2005

NEW YORK -- Rail transit operators and experts met yesterday to discuss two of the most daunting challenges facing mass transit in the metropolitan region -- service expansion and security.

With ridership at the highest it has been in more than 50 years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority urgently needs funds to protect and expand services on all its subway and commuter rail systems, said MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday's Tri-State Transit Symposium at New York University.

"At 8 million customers a day, our trains are as crowded as they've ever been," Kalikow said, referring to New York City subways, Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Railroad. "We need to solve this problem because we carry the population of the world in 24 months. We have become a victim of our own success."

The biggest financial victory for the MTA could come in the form of a $2.9 billion bond act New York state residents will vote on next month, Kalikow said to more than 100 transit operators, planners and advocates at the symposium. It was organized by Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at NYU's Wagner Graduate School.

If passed, the MTA would receive $450 million for a new subway line along Second Avenue and $450 million to provide Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central Terminal and Metro-North access to Penn Station.

Freeing up track space at Penn Station would also enable the MTA to operate a $100 million rail link to JFK International Airport.

Kalikow said the projects included are among the most important ones the MTA will ever pursue.

The LIRR East Side Access project has been on the table since 1968 but has never received the backing it needs to go forward, Kalikow said. Because the LIRR has to share Penn Station with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, it can't run enough trains to meet its demand. Grand Central, which is solely operated by Metro-North, is an "underutilized resource" that could help connect the two commuter rails, he added.

"If you could take the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central, it balances where people want to go," Kalikow said. "And by allowing Metro-North to go to Penn Station, this is a case where one plus one equals five. It's not just a deal for Long Island."

Because the tunnels are already constructed, "the most expensive part of the project is finished," Kalikow said.

Even if the bond passes, concerns linger about adequately securing the railroad and its customers from terrorist attacks.

"I think privacy is one of the greatest gifts we have," Kalikow said of rail security. "We need to have a balance and not go too far. The people who want us to go far, I call the 'Ready, fire, aim' people."

In a panel discussing transit security, speakers agreed the federal government hasn't done enough to protect mass transit.

David Gaier, a security consultant and former special agent with the U.S. Department of State, said security screeners should not target obvious non-terrorists such as children.

"There needs to be more of a risk-based approach, because one size does not fit all," Gaier said.

Eva Lam, president of Palisades Consulting Group, a transportation research firm in New Jersey, said more needs to be done in schools, offices and transit centers to educate passengers on evacuation procedures.

"We should have bystanders, ordinary citizens, participate in these exercises and provide input," Lam said. "There should be a plethora of exercise and drills so our children know what to do."

When an MTA official challenged Lam's comments, noting that the MTA posts evacuation instructions in its rail cars and on its Web site, Gaier said more could be done to educate people.

"Putting messages in a subway car or on a Web site won't work alone, because people aren't going to be checking the Web site unless they want schedules," Gaier said. "This is something that has to be taken to the level of society."

Metro-North posts stronger winter grades
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
April 10, 2005

A combination of better preparation and a little luck helped the New Haven Line rebound from last year's "winter of woe."

Despite more snow this year, the New Haven Line's on-time performance improved and its rail cars traveled farther before breaking down compared with last winter, Metro-North Railroad and state Department of Transportation officials said.

Between December and February of this year, 11.3 inches of snow accumulated in New York City compared with 10.3 inches last year, according to Metro-North. During those months, the New Haven Line's on-time performance was 95.7 percent, 92.3 percent and 97.8 percent, respectively, compared with 95.8 percent, 88.1 percent and 95.6 percent in the year-ago period.

An on-time train must arrive at Grand Central Terminal within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled time.

The New Haven Line's mean distance between failure -- the amount of miles a rail car travels before it's taken out of service for repairs -- also improved this year.

Between December and February this year, trains traveled 53,742 miles, 28,012 miles and 47,357 miles, respectively, compared with 36,540, 21,931 and 38,991 in the year-ago period.

No one said the improvements mean the end of the New Haven Line's problems. But officials said the preventive measures taken this year -- which included replacing antiquated rail car components and reducing service during harsh winter storms -- may help keep the fleet running until new rail cars potentially arrive in three years.

"It was the first time we tried these plans and the equipment was far more responsive because of it," Metro-North spokesman Daniel Brucker said. "We learned that this is the right way to go and we have a plan that we can draw upon in the future."

Last year was one of the worst winters in recent memory for New Haven Line commuters. Powdery snow and sub-zero temperatures wreaked havoc on rail cars, many of which are 30 years old, 10 years past their life expectancy.

The railroad was unable to run a regular schedule during that period because nearly one-third of the fleet was being repaired for frazzled electrical components caused by the snow.

This year's improvements begin with the 66 rail cars that have been rehabilitated by the state's $150 million Critical Systems Replacement plan. The program started 18 months ago and aims to upgrade all 241 M2 rail cars, DOT officials said.

"The rail cars that have gone through an overhaul gave a much better performance," said James Boice, interim bureau chief for DOT's Bureau of Public Transportation. "The program more than doubled their miles."

But the New Haven Line fleet also benefited from Metro-North's caution, Brucker said. During a weekend winter storm in January, the railroad took advantage of the blizzard's timing. Metro-North operated on a reduced schedule, running trains every two hours and only exposed the newest cars in the fleet, and the rehabbed M2s, to the weather. The other rail cars were kept inside the Park Avenue tunnel in New York City.

"We were very selective about what equipment went out," Brucker said.

"In the past we have been more generous with service to a fault. I think by taking rail cars out of service this year, we saved them and were able to run more reliable service when the work week started."

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council applauded the state and Metro-North for their performance this winter, but also suggested their success was due to "a lot of luck and also some planning."

Because the worst snow came on the weekends, the older fleet went untested, Cameron said. Last year's snow was more persistent during the week and was powdery and granular, which is more likely to damaged the rail car's components, he added.

"We had a lucky winter," Cameron said. "But (DOT and Metro-North) were able to keep service running. They did learn lessons last winter about the vulnerability of the technology. I can only wonder why they didn't do it in years past."

Boice and Brucker acknowledged they were fortunate most of the snow fell on weekends, but they still believed the improvements they made were significant.

"We had high expectations going into this year," Boice said. "And hopefully next year will be as good." 

Article Last Updated: Sunday, November 28, 2004 - 6:31:44 AM EST
Cost overruns, delays throwing N.H. rail line projects off track as fares rise
By ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com

Cost overruns and change orders plague state Department of Transportation railroad projects, even as Metro-North commuters complain of deteriorating cars and fast-rising fares.

One case in point is a 2001 project to remodel the Milford train station, upgrade the catenary system that powers trains and repair two bridges. Initially, DOT said the construction would cost $38.5 million. But by the time the work is finished in 2006, the price tag will be much closer to $70 million.

The total cost includes 34 change orders accounting for almost $10 million, $5.2 million worth of environmental remediation work of an unspecified nature, $5 million for a construction manager, and $16 million to be paid to Metro-North Railroad staff for safety oversight and other work on the project. The payments to Metro-North are a part of a larger contract to provide railroad services to the state, according to DOT and U.S. Federal Transit Authority officials.

Paul Griffo, a FTA spokesman, seemed unfazed by the cost increase for the Milford project.

"It's not too unusual," he said. "It seems to be well within what's reasonable."

His agency is footing about 80 percent of the bill. Connecticut pays the remaining balance through a combination of bonds and cash. Eventually, it comes from the taxpayers.

For a little perspective, the state cut a deal in the 1970s to purchase the 106 track miles of the New Haven Line, its three branches and all of the stations in Connecticut for $16.5 million. In today's money, adjusting for inflation, $16.5 million would equal about $70 million, or the price of just the Milford project.

The project is typical of more than 78 projects the DOT has undertaken since 1999 in which original construction costs ballooned, in large part because of change orders and Metro-North payments for its union members to act as flaggers. These projects have already cost the state more than $739 million.

While there is a construction manager for the project, DMJM + Harris, that company does not authorize change orders. DOT staff authorizes all change orders. Harris' job on the project is to make sure work is done properly and track expenditures. Harris did not design the project.

One of the change orders on the Milford project includes adding the $1.7 million Devon Bridge repair to it after the construction project already had been awarded to O&G Industries of Torrington, a long-time contributor to former Gov. John G. Rowland's campaign. O&G also provided stone for a patio for Rowland's infamous Bantam Lake vacation home.

Officials of DOT and Metro-North, which runs the railroad for the state, said that it made sense to do the bridge work during the upgrade of the catenary wires.

More than $100,000 was added to the project to remove lead paint from the structures holding up the catenary wires. The DOT apparently did not know that the 100-year-old structures were covered with lead-based paint until construction workers tested for it.

However, records show the department previously paid for a study to detect asbestos and lead before the project started in 2001.

Another $100,000 was added when DOT officials rented office space in downtown Milford after they discovered that the trailer previously authorized as a field office for workers and engineers couldn't be used because there was nowhere to put it downtown.

One change order in Milford increased costs by more than $500,000. It was to adjust the distance wires were moved and the specifications for a retaining wall. The order also included $29,897 because the original plans did not account for obstructions on the catenary towers that prevented the installation of a vital part.

But before bidding for the contract, an anonymous bidder apparently noted the problem. At the time, the DOT officials said they did not anticipate additional costs for the installation.

Carl Bard, the deputy commissioner of operations for the DOT and a 30-year veteran of the engineering department, said many of the changes on the Milford project were necessary. He admitted, however, that the original designs should have included much of the work.

The department is revamping its engineering division to try to draw up more accurate plans before sending projects out to bid, Bard said.

While Bard and the department work to reduce the number of change orders, there may not be much the department can do about another large cost driver its agreement with Metro-North.

On the Milford project, the DOT originally planned to pay $12.5 million to Metro-North as part of a "force account" agreement. The price for this has gone up by almost $4 million in three years.

Simply put, a force account covers wages for Metro-North workers who are involved with the project. The majority of the work is flagging, which is done by conductors of the railroad.

"They have to baby-sit us and that's quite expensive," Bard said.

However, he said, Metro-North workers also are needed to turn on and off the power running through the catenary wires and do some maintenance work.

Margie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North, said it's more than just baby sitting because construction crews are working around live tracks and must be kept out of the way of passing trains.

Anders said that her agency has a number of standing force account agreements with the DOT for not just construction, but also for maintenance work including the repair of railcars.

Metro-North expects to collect about $40 million from force accounts in 2004, according to Anders. The fees are paid to the railroad, which then pays Metro-North workers.

Bard said the DOT is reviewing its contract with Metro-North but he does not know if any of these costs can be reduced in the future.

These expenses leave the state in a financial quandary as it tries to buy new rail cars, according to Marc Ryan, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.

Ryan said the state is looking at several funding options for the car purchase, but he admitted that the DOT has racked up a lot of debt over the years that will make it difficult to buy them. The majority of the state-owned fleet of railcars is 30 years old and falling apart.

In the winter, the 40,000 commuters who ride the New Haven line deal with unheated cars and breakdowns and in the summer there's no air conditioning in many of the cars. But the DOT and Metro-North's parent organization, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, keep asking for more money from passengers.

During two recent hearings on fare increases, commuters bitterly complained that the MTA and DOT could not prove that they actually need the money. One Monroe resident, Gabriella DiBlasi, asked point blank where the two agencies were spending the money. The agencies failed to present financial statements at the hearing.

Many Connecticut commuters are upset that fares went up 15 percent in 2003 and are going up another 5.5 percent in January.

The DOT is considering a $1 billion, 350-car purchase to rectify the situation.

Ryan said the state could easily bond for the purchase, but the state would have trouble paying the debt service on those bonds. The state essentially sells bonds to pay for improvements with the promise of paying investors back with interest over a period of years. But the state must have a source of revenue to make the yearly payments and that's where the problem lies, according to Ryan.

Since 1988, the state has issued more than $5.8 billion in transportation bonds. Ryan said the state bonds about $200 million worth of work for both highway and rail projects per year.

But it's not all bad news. Griffo said that the FTA would cover roughly 80 percent of the cost for new cars.

However, FTA funds are apportioned by population, not project, he said, so Connecticut's share each year is a fixed amount.

Ray Godcher, a financial officer with the DOT, said the department delays certain FTA-eligible projects when it needs to pay for cost overruns on other projects.

Judy Gott, a planner and executive director of the South Central Regional Council of Governments, put it more succinctly.

She said FTA money has been programmed as far out as 20 years for projects all over the state, including highway and rail.

Ultimately, the state must rectify the way it has spent money over the last 20 years for commuters to see new rail cars anytime in the future.

Anxiety At New Heights On Old Trains

September 22, 2003

STAMFORD -- Most of the trains were bought when President Nixon was engulfed in the Watergate scandal. They run hundreds of miles per day at speeds of up to nearly 100 mph.

The trains break down a lot. Occasionally they catch fire. The bathrooms are notoriously smelly, and sometimes the air conditioning fails.

The New Haven line of Metro-North Railroad is the nation's busiest, bringing 110,000 commuters to their jobs in New York and Connecticut every day. The rail service, which is experiencing steady increases in ridership, is considered a vital alternative to gridlocked highways.

But the 380-car New Haven line fleet includes 241 cars purchased between 1972 and 1975. Officials are trying to squeeze another decade of life from the trains by replacing critical parts. The $149 million program began earlier this year and is expected to take several years.

"We have a fleet that is old, breaking down, and it is under substantial pressure from increased demands," said Harry Harris, chief of public transportation for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The state is conducting a study - to be completed in the spring - with the aim of eventually buying a new fleet and maintenance facility with a combined cost of more than $1 billion.

Officials are trying to figure out what type of cars to buy; one option under study involves double-decker trains. They don't know yet how the new fleet will be funded.

Commuter advocates and train officials are increasingly anxious about the existing cars.

"It's time to put them out to pasture," said Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, a watchdog group. "The cars are so old and in such a state of disrepair that on any given day 15 percent of the fleet is in the shop for repairs."

That means trains often show up short of cars, causing more crowding as a growing number of commuters must stand, Cameron said. The repair program is moving too slowly to keep up with new problems, he said.

"We're sending contradictory messages," Cameron said, noting that officials have been encouraging mass transit but not investing enough money.

Shelley Houser said she frequently stands during her commute from Fairfield to her job in Stamford. She said she doesn't mind the age of the trains as long as they are on time - "and no one opens the bathroom door."

Just then a fellow passenger opened the dreaded door.

"Darn it," she said.

Bill Sayles, who takes the train from Milford to his job in Westport, also brought up the bathrooms. He said it's time for new trains. "You can fix it so many times. Then eventually it becomes obsolete," Sayles said.

The state Transportation Strategy Board, which was formed in response to the congestion crisis, has recommended to lawmakers that new rail cars be purchased as quickly as possible. Rail cars are among several projects the board must prioritize to determine how to spend transportation funds set aside by the legislature.

Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker agreed the New Haven fleet needs to be replaced. "We are running out of time," Brucker said. "The average age of the New Haven fleet is the oldest on our system. More and more customers are using older equipment, which is requiring more and more time out for major repairs."

Cameron said Connecticut officials won't pay attention until someone gets injured in one of the electrical fires. He predicted some commuters will eventually get fed up and move out of state if the fleet is not replaced.

"No one in Hartford has taken this issue seriously," Cameron said. "I know we had budget problems. But we're also losing the people as taxpayers if they're forced to stand and pay $300 per month for the privilege."

Harris pointed to the program to replace critical parts and said officials are spending about $300 million to replace overhead wires on the tracks.

Attacks proved need for train service
Published on 10/25/2001

 The following editorial appeared in the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle on Oct. 22:

 The complete shutdown of air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks underscored the importance of passenger rail service as part of a diversified U.S. transportation system. But in its 30 years of heavily subsidized existence, Amtrak never has quite picked up steam. It's still losing money, especially on the long-distance overnight lines so beloved by train romantics.

 As both Amtrak and Congress realize, it's time for some new ideas.

 Amtrak's new business plan focuses on developing relatively short, high-speed intercity routes that provide a real alternative to airlines and crowded highways. An example is Amtrak's high-speed Acela line between Boston and Washington, which is capable of speeds of 150 mph but doesn't come close to that because of outmoded tunnels and tracks.

How to provide the funds to make such improvements? The Senate is considering the High-Speed Rail Investment Act of 2001, which would provide $12 billion over the next 10 years in capital funding for new rail lines such as the Acela in every region of the country. This would be a good investment in the next generation of rail network.

For the long term, Congress should consider creation of a national Rail Trust Fund, much like those for airports and highways, that would provide capital for improvements and upkeep in rail service and infrastructure. Such a trust, generated in part by user fees, would provide grants, loans and bonding authority to competitively selected regional rail projects, injecting a dose of free-market competitiveness into the system

Another need is for more short-distance metropolitan commuter lines linking suburban and business areas. Putting more emphasis on developing these new regional and commuter lines would provide economic stimulus and be a practical, cost-effective response to real transportation needs.

The federal government still has an interest in long-distance passenger rail lines, even if they are not commercially viable. But Amtrak must become more creative in generating revenues to subsidize these money losers. Amtrak has been doing better lately: Last year, revenue from passenger trains grew by 10 percent, and revenue from other ventures such as merchandise and real estate grew by 15 percent.

But the balance sheet is still in the red.

The federal government will need to continue funding Amtrak, even if it fails to make the congressionally mandated 2003 date for becoming self-sufficient. It's simply in our national interest to preserve and enhance rail service

No mention of Hudson, N.Y., whose architectural and historic features are awesome;  classic river town! 

Hitchhiking the Hudson
August 30, 2009

I NEVER thought much about the Hudson River. It was merely that watery western terminus of Manhattan streets; a place where bodies sometimes floated up and jetliners crashed safely; that thing you had to cross to get to New Jersey.

But one recent Saturday, something happened to make me rethink the river: I tasted it.

A rogue ferry wake slapped off the side of my kayak, sending salty splash in my face. There was no gagging nor immediate sign of hepatitis, so I kept paddling, marveling at the swimmers and Jet Skiers frolicking on the clean, choppy water.

The incoming tide rushed me north. That and my briny mouthful reminded me that I was not on some afterthought of a river, but a majestic arm of the Atlantic Ocean, an epic salt-water estuary whose discovery by Henry Hudson in 1609 opened up the entire region — what we now call the metropolitan area — to settlement and commerce.

To mark this year’s 400th anniversary of Hudson’s historic exploration, the fall calendar is filled with a flotilla of festivals and food fairs, exhibitions and expositions, panel discussions and plays, tours, readings and concerts. I probably won’t make it to any of them.

Instead, I decided to retrace his route, starting in a borrowed kayak and then hitching rides along the way, endeavoring a modern-day exploration of the characters who live, work and play along the river where Hudson encountered only wind, fog, rain and the occasional Indian trader bearing tobacco. He sailed 340 miles round trip aboard the 100-foot Half Moon over 24 days in September and October; mine was a serendipitous 60-hour journey — from Times Square to the Federal Dam in Troy — in a taxi, the kayak, a 50-foot yacht named the Jackpot, a fishing boat, a jet boat, a rescue craft, a Half Moon replica and a 19-year-old Lincoln Town Car.

After a quick cab ride from the office, 15-foot plastic kayak lashed to the roof, I launched near West 26th Street, with notebook, camera, cellphone and wallet in a waterproof bag. I had no set plans, just few phone numbers of friendly and knowledgeable boaters along the route.

With current whisking me uptown, I barely had to paddle. I stopped to chat with novice kayakers in classes nestled between the piers, then breezed past the Javits Center and the Police Department’s auto pound. I had to negotiate the rolling wakes from the tour boats and ferries near 42nd Street — including the one that splashed some sense into me.

As I approached the aircraft carrier Intrepid near 46th Street, my perspective began to shift. The city receded into a supporting role, a backdrop, even the seagulls perched on the pilings seeming to take precedence over the human hubbub.

Instead of the varied plant and animal species that Hudson saw in the wilds the Indians called Mannahatta, the river banks were dotted with that peculiar species called the New Yorker.

Near the 79th Street Boat Basin, I encountered some natives: the Heath family of the Upper West Side spends summer weekends frolicking in their neighborhood swimming hole, jumping off a boat into the wakes from larger passing vessels.

Paddling along beside the rocky sea wall, I kept pace with the joggers on the bike path until I spied a hot dog vendor. “One, with everything,” I yelled, then fumbled for money stowed deep in the kayak hatch. The vendor, Alex Calota, tossed the familiar foil package and refused payment.

It reminded me of the journal kept by one of Hudson’s officers, Robert Jouet, which amid the detailed reports of each day’s weather and navigation chronicles various “savages” bringing food and gifts aboard. (on Oct. 1, two were killed after a pillow and other goods were stolen). I told Mr. Calota of my unlikely voyage to Albany.

“Go straight,” he advised. “Keep going.”

It was nearing 4 p.m., my aching arm pulled my ringing cellphone from the waterproof bag. It was William Reynolds, captain of a 1989 replica of Hudson’s Half Moon, which functions as a floating museum. He had told me we could meet up as he returned the boat to its home in Athens, N.Y., from a monthlong journey up the Connecticut River. “Look downriver,” he said. “Do you see me?”

It was a spooky sight seemingly ripped from my childhood history books and PhotoShopped into today’s newspaper: an 85-foot-tall three-masted ship, surreally set in the hazy distance among the barges and other modern-day river traffic. I tried to imagine what 17th-century Native Americans must have felt seeing this huge canoe suddenly appear in their river.

I paddled alongside the ship, roughly 100 feet long, and scrambled up her steep wooden sides. The crew lashed my puny kayak to the main deck, then scurried back to adjusting the intricate rigging and trimming sails. Captain Reynolds, who is known as Chip, barked orders about setting the rudder and trimming the topsails and mizzen.

High overhead, topmen scrambled to furl and unfurl sails and tend to yards and booms and spars and various clews. Below, the crew was busily hoisting, loosening, cleating and coiling lines. It was a little more complex than the stints I had done as a child on a neighbor’s catamaran.

The Half Moon has sleeping quarters and strutting space for the captain on the lofty quarterdeck, near the stern. Then there is the expansive main deck, or weather deck, where the ship is operated by its six-member crew — including Mr. Reynolds’s two teenage children. Below that is the orlop deck, where the crew sleeps on bedrolls. The hold, or bottom deck, houses the galley and engine rooms.

The ship is fitted with a diesel engine, generator, toilet, modern galley and modern navigational equipment but generally travels Henry Hudson’s way, under sail alone and guided by the heavens.

It is a three-masted time machine: Even as we sailed under the George Washington Bridge, its long spans humming with traffic high above the top of the rigging, it was easy to imagine the pristine habitat that Hudson beheld.

The ship slipped smoothly and silently past the northern tip of Manhattan, where Hudson anchored on Sept. 12, 1609 (and, Jouet wrote in the journal, where they encountered a flotilla of 28 canoes filled with men, women and children, but “saw the intent of their treachery and would not allow any of them to come aboard”).

Captain Reynolds invited me up to the quarterdeck, reserved for him and the officers; traditionally, officers have delivered orders from the elevated position of a ship’s quarterdeck. That let them maintain a level of authority, he explained, adding with a chuckle that it still does.

The captain, who is 57 and has spent years piloting historic sailing ships and tugboats, gave me a quickie primer: Hudson was an Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company with a crew of 20, seeking a shortcut to spice ports of Asia. After first trying the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, they turned north, to the huge river whose mouth Giovanni da Verrazano described in 1524. The Indians called the river Muhheakunnuk, or “great waters constantly in motion,” and Hudson would later call it the River of the Mountains.

Moving upriver, Hudson and his crew grew excited because the tide remained strong and the river deep, and there were high bluffs and cliffs.

“The sheer volume of water, this is what was telling them it connected to a major waterway,” Captain Reynolds explained. “Imagine the excitement as they saw these mountains and experienced this current.”

As he spoke, the captain kept a weather eye on the helm and looked out over the undulating hills of Yonkers, where Hudson’s crew traded for oysters with Indians. Next came Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry, and when the sinking sun was setting the sails aglow, he suddenly stopped the vessel, ordered the crew below decks and out of sight, and sent a motorized raft out with cameras.

“He’s been searching and searching for the perfect publicity shot,” snapped a crew member, characterizing it as an Ahab-like obsession. There were lighthearted mentions of the fact that Hudson’s crew eventually mutinied on a later voyage and left him to die.

Photo session over, we sailed under the Tappan Zee Bridge, where the river widens abruptly, which thrilled Hudson as he arrived there on Sept. 14, 1609. Near Hook Mountain, a tall stone outcropping on the west bank a mile north of Nyack, the bosun dropped a line with a lead sinker to the bottom, to determine the depth just as Hudson’s crew did (two fathoms, or about 12 feet, akin to what Jouet recorded). Captain Reynolds announced that we would stop there for the night, and that the crew would not have to wake at 5 a.m. but could “sleep in” till 7:30.

From a light sleeping bag on the foredeck, I stared up at the stars through the rigging. To the south, the Tappan Zee Bridge was a black shadow in the distance; upriver to the east were the bright lights of Sing Sing prison.

I awoke with the sun on Sunday morning, and the weather was, as a typical Jouet journal entry would put it, “faire and very hot.” The cook brought up scrambled eggs, fruit salad and cereal, and the captain ordered the decks swabbed. With the wind light and the current headed south, the Half Moon would remain anchored for a while. But I had to press on.

I called John Vargo, who edits and publishes a monthly magazine called Boating on the Hudson & Beyond . He sent his 43-year-old son, Chris, to fetch me — and my kayak — in his 20-foot fishing boat.

Chris Vargo, a carpenter and construction worker, grew up swimming, hunting and fishing in and around the Hudson. “The blue crabs come in August — they’re big,” he said as we passed two men in a weathered dory pulling up traps. “Supposedly they get shipped down to Maryland — Hudson River crabs!”

Jouet’s journal notes that in this area, “the river is full of fish.” Chris Vargo said that it still is, but that many species have been depleted, including the huge sturgeon that old-timers used to catch to sell their eggs as caviar.

We met his father in Verplanck, about 10 miles — a half-hour in the boat — from where I had left the Half Moon. John H. Vargo, 73, took one look at the kayak and ordered me to leave it in his yard (where it stayed until days after my trip, until I drove up from New York to retrieve it). Then we headed north along Route 218 in his powder-blue 1990 Lincoln Town Car — “It used to belong to Senator Rockefeller,” he announced — and stopped at an overlook near Storm King Mountain, where we shared the panoramic view with a motorcycle group decked out in leather.

The elder Mr. Vargo, a former salesman, also grew up hunting and fishing on the Hudson, or waterskiing behind seaplanes. Since he bought the magazine in 2000, he spends most of his days hopping around Hudson marinas, courting businesses and catching up on river stories.

“It’s the name of the game, whether you’re selling ads or writing news,” he said. “You have to schmooze them.”

Mr. Vargo consulted the spiral notebook filled with his scrawl of names and numbers, and finally reached his friend Lex Filipowski, a motivational speaker who spends summers knocking around in a sporty white jet-boat. We met him in Newburgh , and soon we were, improbably, headed south, the electronically fuel-injected, supercharged, intercooled 500-horsepower engine roaring away.

Mr. Filipowski wore a bright yellow dress shirt and wraparound sunglasses, his head shaved clean. He advises clients to “fulfill your dreams,” and his nameless boat is a testimony to this philosophy.

“When I was a kid I had a dinghy and I always wanted a real boat,” he said, bounding over the waves with a broad smile. “You have to believe it can happen.”

The river in this section is broad, rough and deep like a big lake, sheltered by green mountains and filled by tugboats, tankers, Jet Skiers and recreational boaters towing large inner tubes. It bears no resemblance to the Hudson I knew down around New York City.

Up ahead, on an island off Beacon, stood a crumbling castle bearing the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal,” a five-story brick shell that served as a munitions warehouse from 1908 until a fire gutted it in the 1960s. The island steward, Dave Lawrence, explained that Francis Bannerman, an eccentric arms dealer, designed it with his own quirky drawings. The warehouse has real cannons positioned up high, for ornamentation.

“If you have a bunch of Civil War cannons, would you leave them in your basement?” Mr. Lawrence said.

The next stop was Little Stony Point Beach, on the east bank, where dozens lounged on the sandy shoreline, shading themselves under low-hanging trees. Three men were parked on a log, a bunch of empty beer cans next to them. It was about 2 p.m.

“You couldn’t go in the water 20 years ago; there was raw sewage all over the place,” said one of the men.

“That’s probably 40 years ago,” corrected the second.

“Eh, give or take,” agreed the first.

The third man laughed: “Time marches on.”

We marched on, too, for a Coors Light with the commodore of the Cold Spring Boat Club, and then, back in Newburgh, to a wine-tasting at a waterside restaurant, where my scruffiness from more than 24 hours on the river did not keep me from sampling the cabernet and shiraz.

Next, a spin on the local Sea Tow boat, which monitors radio rescue channels and helps disabled boaters for a fee. These can be life-threatening emergencies or cases of poor planning. Soon, we were toting a tank of gas to a craft stranded off the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Near Lover’s Rock, where West Point cadets take their dates, we found the stranded boat, operated by two retired New York City correction officers who had miscalculated their fuel. The Sea Tow captain poured in the gas, negotiated the price and soon the men were on their way.

Back at the dock, it was nightfall. Mr. Vargo saw me clutching my bag and staring north. He grabbed my shoulder and insisted I backtrack, in his car, and sleep on his couch.

“Believe me,” he said, “you need a shower.”

Monday started at 7 a.m. with a 35-mile drive beside the river north to Poughkeepsie, where we met Dave Rocco, a retired carpenter for the New York City Housing Authority who has devoted the past few years to the renovation of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, a rusted 6,700-foot span that opened in 1889 and closed in 1974 and connected his hometown to Highland. Mr. Rocco’s aging van bears large signs saying “Walkway Over the Hudson,” and a vanity license plate reading “Walkway.”

After years of fund-raising and letter-writing by the likes of Mr. Rocco, the bridge is expected to reopen in early October as a pedestrian walkway, and eventually to be designated state parkland.

I was eager to get back on the water, but there were things to see on shore. The tugboat museum in Kingston was locked up, so we trudged on, still in the Town Car, to Riverview Marine Services in Catskill, a repair shop that does a brisk business lowering or dismantling masts of sailboats so they can clear the low bridges.

Riverview’s owner, Mike Aguiar, offered us a personal watercraft to go upriver, but Mr. Vargo eyed it warily. I knew he was visualizing me jumping ferry waves and other inadvisable things. As an alternative, he called up Dolores Bouse, who runs Catskill Marina nearby and said she had a boat with a willing captain.

Mrs. Bouse did not elaborate. Neither did she disappoint. We arrived to find we had hit the jackpot — a 50-foot yacht named the Jackpot, owned and operated by Steve Martin, a retired corporate executive who was happy to blow the cobwebs out of his two 550-horsepower diesels that together burn 48 gallons of fuel an hour at full speed.

Mr. Martin, 59, stood at a control panel with dozens of switches and dials, and a navigational screen next to an open laptop giving maps and coordinates. Growing up in Dobbs Ferry, he worked on his family’s fishing boats off City Island; after 20 years in information technologies at JPMorgan Chase, he got his captain’s license.

Now he manages his own investments, spending winters at his home on Worth Island, Fla., and summers on the Jackpot. The boat has a lavish living room with plush carpeting and sofas around a glass-topped coffee table. It also has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a dining room, a carpeted circular staircase and a galley with full refrigerator, range and microwave. Standing on the top deck felt like being on the roof of a moving building.

The expansive view revealed a narrowing, less-developed Hudson, with lots of pristine shoreline and grassy wetlands. We passed the occasional short, sandy beach with canoes or kayaks pulled up and people swimming.

At the Shady Harbor Marina in New Baltimore, we met Paul Bleckman and Lisa McKern, who run Rascal’s Riverdogs, a floating hot dog stand named for their dog. On weekends, they feed hungry boaters at the mouth of Catskill Creek, and on Thursday evenings, they set up at concerts on the banks of the river in Albany.

“There’s not too much competition out in the middle of the river,” Mr. Bleckman said. “Boaters can pull right up and finish lunch in 5 or 10 minutes.”

I asked the hot dog guy about a young man I had seen as we approached the marina, who I knew was building a bizarre-looking raft that he planned to take down to New York City. “That guy’s certifiable,” Mr. Bleckman insisted. “That thing’s going to go in the drink.”

But I was intrigued. Turns out the young man, Dallas Trombley, works as a legislative analyst for the State Assembly. He described his raft — named Assiduity — as “a 24-foot, biodiesel, solar-, wind- and electric-powered watercraft.” Assisted by a navigator and a cook (his friends), Mr. Trombley, 25, plans to go from Albany to Brooklyn next month, “have a beer and turn around and sail back.”

Mr. Trombley, who grew up in New Baltimore but never had much experience on the river, said the idea to build a “green” motor craft to sail to New York began as a lark while drinking with friends in college. Each of the past four summers, he has tried and failed — once by sinking, twice by weather and once by vandals who stole and burned the raft.

The quest, he said, has cost him friends, girlfriends, some sanity, thousands of dollars, and all his free time. It had become an obsession, what he described as an intellectual and philosophical “crusade against quitting.”

The vessel looked crafted on the fly by an amateur carpenter with an assortment of light hardware, but Mr. Trombley said building it provides relief from weekdays spent poring over tedious legislation that reads like “a mixture of Milton and V.C.R. instructions.”

As for the similarities between state law and boat building, he laughed: “They both never turn out the way you think.”

Indeed, we could not get the Assiduity started, so Mr. Trombley offered a ride in his ratty 1999 Plymouth Neon, which did not look much more reliable.

As we sped up Route 144, I stared at the scenery whizzing by and thought of all the places I’ve never been and never will explore. I liked Mr. Trombley and told him I could identify with the disappointment he felt from being headstrong and stubborn and occasionally optimistic — in short, his inner Henry Hudson.

We drove into Port of Albany, through a neighborhood with shuttered storefronts and boarded-up apartment buildings, to Scarano Boat Building, where Rick Scarano showed us around. His 90,000-square-foot hangar-like shop was filled with grand, custom, classic sailboats and ferries manufactured with sophisticated bonding and bending procedures. Mr. Trombley remained proud of his nails-and-plywood contraption.

I could not quit until I saw the Federal Dam at Troy, the end of the Hudson River estuary some 150 miles from where I had started. Mr. Trombley insisted on joining me. At a dead end littered with scrap and debris from a nearby junkyard, I dashed out of the car and scrambled down a woodsy embankment to the river’s edge to stare at the broad dam in the near darkness.

This was where Henry Hudson stopped, after crew members he sent to test the depth “found it to bee at an end for shipping to goe in,” according to Jouet’s journal.

On the embankment facing the dam, there was a crude shack. My heart swelled — a great interview possibility — but alas, it was empty. It was silly, but I felt Hudson’s disappointment keenly.

I got back in the car with Mr. Trombley and recalled that Hudson was then brought a platter of venison by local Indians, and ate with them: a failure feast.

Mr. Trombley and I retired to a bar on a river barge several miles back for a couple of beers. Then he drove me to a Greyhound station nearby and I caught the 10:30 p.m. bus back home to that town at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Greenwich man saved before NY bridge leap

Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:13 p.m., Thursday, October 27, 2011

A distraught 22-year-old Greenwich man was pulled from the edge of the Tappan Zee Bridge in a dramatic rescue Wednesday evening that involved police stunning him with a Taser, authorities said.

The man, who stabbed himself before he was subdued, was taken to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., for treatment of what police called superficial knife wounds. Police did not name the individual.

Sgt. Michael Schell, of New York State Police Troop T, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., said no charges will be filed in the incident.

The situation began unfolding about 5:45 p.m., when an off-duty Yonkers police officer noticed a 2010 BMW pulled over to the side of the bridge and a man climbing over the bridge's railing, according to the Gannett news website lohud.com.

The officer talked to the 22-year-old man, trying to convince him not to jump, before returning to his vehicle to radio Yonkers police headquarters, requesting notification of state police. He then went back to the railing, where the man was sitting with his feet dangling over the edge, according to the online report. The officer and another motorist continued to talk with the man as state troopers approached.

A little after 6 p.m., the man began to cut his wrists and neck with a pocket knife, according to lohud.com. It was at that moment that the state troopers stunned him with a Taser, reports said.

Two New York State Thruway employees, Joe Curley and Chris Meketa, who were on the bridge to conduct regular maintenance, used the moment after police hit the man with a Taser to grab him and pull him to safety, Thruway spokesman R.W. Groneman said.

Schell said the BMW was not registered to the man, and did not know who owns the car.

The Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson River, connecting Nyack in Rockland County with Tarrytown in Westchester County.

State to Replace, Not Rebuild, Tappan Zee Bridge
Published: September 26, 2008

State officials announced an ambitious plan on Friday to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge with a new bridge with room for commuter trains and high-speed bus lanes. The price tag for a new bridge and expanded rail and bus lines: $16 billion.

Officials did not say how they would pay for the project; they said they would work with a financial adviser to come up with financing options. The state transportation commissioner, Astrid C. Glynn, said that the state would seek federal financing for part of the project and that a partnership involving some form of private financing would also be considered.

“This is obviously a very significant investment for the state,” Ms. Glynn said in a telephone interview after a formal announcement in Tarrytown. “At this point, all options have to be on the table.”

Officials said the bridge itself would cost $6.4 billion. A high-speed bus corridor running from Suffern to Port Chester would cost $2.9 billion. And it would cost an additional $6.7 billion to build a new rail line that would go from the Metro-North station in Suffern and across the bridge, connecting with Metro-North’s Hudson Line south of Tarrytown.

Gov. David A. Paterson did not attend the Tarrytown announcement, but a news release from the State Department of Transportation quoted him as saying that he was pleased that a decision had been made on how to proceed with the project.

The plan will now go through a two-year environmental review process as officials consider alternative designs for the bridge and the bus and rail projects.

Ms. Glynn said that if the state could stick to what she described as an aggressive schedule, construction could begin as early as 2012 and the bridge could open four or five years after that. She said plans call for the bus corridor to be opened at the same time. The rail component could take much longer, but the bridge would be built with room for trains to cross.

The new bridge would be built adjacent to the old one, which would remain open until the new one was completed.

Officials also looked at the possibility of rehabilitating the current bridge, which was built 52 years ago, but Ms. Glynn said that was a costly and complex project.

“The old bridge, although it is safe, is substandard,” Ms. Glynn said. She said that it did not meet today’s engineering standards, was in need of repairs and was costly to maintain. She also said that the population in the surrounding counties had grown substantially since it was built and that the transit component was necessary to accommodate future growth.

Discussion of the costly project came against the background of economic turmoil on Wall Street and looming state budget deficits.

“While it is difficult in today’s climate to look at that project, it’s an important part of how we are going to make sure we are well equipped to deal with the next century,” Ms. Glynn said.

The project has gone through a lengthy planning process involving state transportation officials, the State Thruway Authority and the Metro-North Railroad.

Our Towns:  A Bridge’s Grim Allure for Damaged Souls
Published: April 6, 2008


The first one, Alan J. Mergel, was a 55-year-old personal injury lawyer with a home in Montvale, N.J., and an office in the Empire State Building.

He pulled his 2007 BMW into the right lane, which was closed for maintenance, on the southbound Tappan Zee Bridge on Thursday afternoon, stopped briefly and then drove away after workers came by to offer help. He drove across the bridge into Westchester, paid his toll, turned back to Rockland and then circled back toward Westchester. Then he stopped the car again and on a chilly April afternoon did what about 30 other people have done over the past decade. He got out of the car, left his keys in the ignition and jumped to his death in the Hudson below.

The second one has not been identified pending notification of his family. The police say he was an Indian immigrant from Ossining who was driving a rented 2008 Hyundai with Virginia plates. He stopped, too, heading north. About 2:30 p.m., or a little more than 10 minutes after Mr. Mergel’s body was pulled from the river, he jumped, too. The police have not yet located any relatives and believe that he might have been homeless. His body was recovered by the same firefighters from Piermont whose boat had recovered Mr. Mergel.

No one can remember two suicides in such proximity on the Tappan Zee, and the police believe they were unrelated — two discordant planets aligned for no known reason. But then, who can quite explain the grim appeal of the Tappan Zee for those looking for a swift, irrevocable way to end it all?

The span, now officially known as the Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, opened in December 1955. Its first suicide took place a year and a half later — a 31-year-old mother from Ardsley who had told her husband she was going shopping. The most recent before Thursday’s is thought to be Jonathan Draughn, 23, of Newburgh, who apparently abandoned his 1997 Honda Civic on the Rockland-bound side at 5 a.m. on Saturday, March 22. His body has not been found.

They all have a story. Mr. Mergel, who had a particular fondness for the pro-plaintiff juries of the Bronx, might have a more complicated one than most. He found his way into the tabloids in 2003 when he was said to be having an affair with a Russian émigré, Svetlana Aronov, who vanished while taking her father’s cocker spaniel for a walk. Her body was later found in the East River, but how she died remains unclear. Mr. Mergel was not viewed as a suspect by the police.

Some leave messages, like the woman from White Plains in 1959 who left instructions on the disposal of her body, her wedding ring and her crucifix. Most, like Fidel Zapata, 50, of White Plains, just leave behind riddles to be agonized over privately or in the courts. Mr. Zapata’s widow, Frances Cabanillas, sued his doctors and several pharmaceutical companies, saying the antidepressants he was taking caused him to jump in February 2005.

Suicide has become so much a part of the Tappan Zee that one supervisor, Ernie Feeney, has encountered three would-be suicides. Two he was able to keep from jumping. One he couldn’t.

The Tappan Zee’s grim allure is not hard to understand. Built on the cheap, its three-mile span is the least imposing of the region’s major bridges, its low guardrails notoriously accessible to anyone with an inclination to climb over them.

And maybe there’s a bond between the decaying bridge and the damaged souls who leap from it. The Tappan Zee remains in a state of endless patching and filling while politicians dither over how and when to replace it. Just a week ago, morning traffic was backed up for miles as workers repaired one of its infamous “punch-throughs,” holes in the bridge so egregious you can see the water below.

Chances are, like the bridge, those who jump have their own gaping tears — punch-throughs involving love, money, careers — psychic holes too big to fix.

So far nothing has helped make it less alluring to would-be suicides. Four suicide hot line telephones were installed last year, on both ends of the bridge. None have been used. Still, a $147 million redecking project to be completed by 2009 will increase the height of the side barriers and make it much harder to jump from the bridge.

Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe, who retired two years ago after 35 years as Rockland County medical examiner, said he did examinations of at least 30 suicides from the bridge. There is nothing remotely romantic about that final leap, he said. “When you hit the surface of the water from that height, it’s like hitting rock,” he said.

But whether higher barriers will deter suicides or just send troubled people elsewhere, whether there’s a patch for souls as reliable as the one for roadbeds, that’s another question entirely.

East side, west side, all around the town...
The M.T.A. and Its Debt, and How They Got That Way
Published: July 26, 2008

When Richard Ravitch was named chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1979, he inherited a subway system in decay. Trains derailed or collided on average every 15 days. Stations were filthy and crime was rampant. Ridership sank to lows not seen since World War I.

To revive the system, Mr. Ravitch, a former construction executive, persuaded lawmakers to allow the authority to do what countless cities and states had long done to build and maintain their infrastructure: Issue bonds.

“The system was falling apart, and the only way I could get the money to rebuild it was to borrow it,” Mr. Ravitch said in a recent interview.

Nearly 30 years later, the system is by all accounts better. But the authority’s debt has ballooned, and like stressed homeowners across the country, the system is groaning under the pressure to repay it. Indeed, debt payments are the system’s largest single cost after payroll, and by 2012 they will account for one of every five dollars the authority spends.

Until recently, the authority was flush with tax revenue from the booming real estate market and had no trouble paying for its borrowing. But the market is down now, fuel costs are way up, and the debt is crushing. More than any other reason, that is why the authority, after raising fares in March, wants to do it again twice more in the coming three years.

The problems facing the agency now are no surprise. Independent analysts and the agency’s own financial planners have warned of rising debt costs for years — most loudly and urgently after a huge debt restructuring in 2000.

Called at the time the largest deal in the history of American municipal finance, the refinancing — taking advantage of lower interest rates — led to lower debt payments. The agency, facing political resistance to fare increases and new taxes, decided to sell new bonds to finance the system’s first major expansion since the 1930s. In a few short years, the debt burden it had amassed over nearly 20 years had doubled.

“The principal goal was to reduce the short-run debt service and push it off until later,” said Charles M. Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission and a professor of public policy at the Wagner School at New York University. “That’s what’s coming home to roost now.”

As the state once again looks for solutions for the struggling authority, it has come full circle, once again turning to Mr. Ravitch.

In April, Gov. David A. Paterson appointed Mr. Ravitch to lead a commission of finance and transportation experts to find answers to the authority’s monetary straits. Its report is due by December.

In 1979, it was Gov. Hugh L. Carey who came calling. At the time, the subway was suffering under decades of neglect. The city was just beginning to emerge from a fiscal crisis that had brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.

Money for capital improvements hovered around $50 million — not the billions Mr. Ravitch and his analysts knew it would take. So he went to Albany.

“The Legislature squawked,” recalled Mr. Ravitch, 75. “They said that will result in a fare increase, and I said ‘That’s absolutely correct.’ But I said it will also result in an improvement in the system and attract more riders and avoid the dysfunctionality in the system, and they were persuaded.”

The law passed in 1981, and the next year the authority issued its first bonds, totaling $350 million.

The authority issued hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt over the next 20 years, nearly all of it going toward new stainless steel cars and buses, and track repairs, signal replacements and other system improvements. By 2000, the agency’s outstanding debt had reached $12 billion.

At the same time, though, the city and state were contributing less toward the authority’s capital budget. According to data provided by the authority, 26 percent of capital plans from 1989 to 1991, totaling $15.4 billion, came from the city and the state. In addition, 32 percent came from the federal government, and the rest from bonds and other transportation authority sources.

From 1992 to 1999, as its capital budgets grew, the agency’s reliance on debt increased. The federal share of those capital budgets remained at about a third, but the city and state shares fell to 9 percent.

late 1999, the agency began laying the groundwork for a major restructuring of its outstanding debt. The plan, which called for refinancing all $12 billion of the debt, was recommended and structured by the former Wall Street investment giant Bear Stearns, which eventually got a large share of the underwriting duties worth tens of millions of dollars.
Critics said the plan was unsound, and unduly influenced by Bear Stearns.

Current and former authority officials who were involved in the deal, including Marc V. Shaw, the agency’s executive director at the time, say they had little choice. Voters rejected the Transportation Bond Act of 2000, which would have sent $1.6 billion to the authority. And fares had not risen since George E. Pataki became governor in 1995.

“Politicians make choices, and at the time they made a determination that it would be wrong to raise taxes and raise the fares,” Mr. Shaw said.

David M. Catalfamo, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki, acknowledged that the governor favored keeping fares low. “But the M.T.A.,” he said, “is an independent authority responsible for its financial soundness, and they were always encouraged to take actions that were consistent with their needs.”

The deal, finally completed in 2002 (though it’s commonly known as the 2000 restructuring), was hailed as the municipal deal of the year by several financial publications. In the short term, it led to savings and allowed the authority to take on more debt. The long-term effect, though, was to extend its existing debt, some of which would have been retired by 2015, until 2032 at a cost of a $1 billion a year.

“I do remember lots of people, including me and including Marc, were anxious about what effect it would have, because it does delay the day of reckoning,” said Gary J. Dellaverson, the authority’s chief financial officer who was deputy executive director at the time.

Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a riders’ advocacy group, said the authority did have alternatives.

“It could have borrowed smaller and more responsible amounts,” he said. “It could have told the governor, the mayor and the Legislature that it needed more money to keep its rebuilding program going.”

Doug Turetsky, chief of staff of the Independent Budget Office, said the restructuring bought them a little time. The booming economy helped extend that time, even as the authority acquired more debt; its current outstanding debt is about $24 billion, double what it was before the restructuring, including money for the 2005-9 capital plan.

“Without that extraordinary revenue, they could no longer cover the strain from the rising toll of debt,” Mr. Turetsky said.

In the end, the percent of state and local subsidies for the 2000-4 capital plan totaled a staggeringly low 2 percent. By comparison, state and local subsidies pay for 19 percent of the current plan, including money from a voter-approved bond act in 2005.

Mr. Shaw, who defends the restructuring, said that with the decline of the 1970s and before still seared in the memory of New Yorkers, the choice was clear: “We needed to protect the infrastructure and not have that happen again.”

Route 11 Greenway Gains Momentum; House committee also backs millions in funds for tourist transit plan 
By Jenna Cho
Published on 3/18/2007
Two more items of regional interest gained the state House Transportation Committee's approval this week — funding for the acquisition of land for the Route 11 greenway and grant money for a pilot Southeastern Connecticut Tourist Transit System.  State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, said Friday that the committee approved a bill to allocate $1 million in state funding to match available federal funds for the Route 11 greenway project.

The state and federal funds would be used to acquire open space land that would create a natural buffer zone on either side of the planned Route 11 extension, Jutila said.
The route currently ends in Salem. The extension would run through Salem, Montville, Waterford and East Lyme to an interchange with interstates 95 and 395.

Former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons helped the Greenway Authority Commission secure $1 million in federal funds to begin purchasing open space for the greenway. Additional federal money to cover up to 80 percent of the greenway costs can be allocated only after the state makes its financial commitment.

The Transportation Committee has also approved a bill that would allocate, over the next two years, up to $6 million in state grant money for a pilot program testing the viability of a shuttle-bus service for tourists.

The grant money for the Southeastern Connecticut Tourist Transit System would be contingent upon Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments' ability to match the amount with other contributions, Jutila said. He said COG has been exploring a tourist transit system for several years .

“The rationale, at least in my way of looking at it, is two-fold,” Jutila said. “One is to make southeastern Connecticut more attractive as a tourist destination. So if people know that they can take a train, or a bus, or a ferry into New London, they know that they can get on a safe, comfortable, reliable means of transportation to get around the area.”

Jutila said the shuttle buses would also “try to get people out of their cars and off our clogged highways.”

After Boston Crash, Cellphone Ban May Loom


Filed at 1:53 p.m. ET

May 9, 2009

BOSTON (AP) -- The head of the Boston-area transit authority said Saturday he'll ban all train and bus operators from even carrying cell phones on board after a conductor told police he was texting his girlfriend before a trolley collision Friday.

About 50 people were hurt in the underground crash in downtown Boston, though none of the injuries was life-threatening.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority already bans operators from using cell phones and recently ran an internal ad campaign featuring a poster of an open cell phone that warned employees not to drive ''under the influence.''

But general manager Daniel Grabauskas said Saturday the temptation obviously was too great for some.

''I want to remove any temptation by one or two people stupid enough to think a moment of convenience is worth the lives of the people they're transporting,'' he said. ''I'm not going to wait for someone to die to institute a policy whose time I think has come.''

Grabauskas said the new ban would apply to anyone working on board a train or bus. He said he hopes to have the policy in place within a week.  The proposal won quick support from Steve MacDougall, president and business agent of the Boston Carmen's Union, Local 589, which represents most of the MBTA's roughly 6,000 employees

MacDougall said it was clear that Friday's accident could have been ''far, far worse than it was.''

He said he expects some resistance to the policy from union members who believe they're being punished for the irresponsibility of a single employee. But he said he believes most workers eventually will embrace the change.

''When it comes to public safety and operating public transportation vehicles, a line has to be drawn,'' he said.

State Transportation Secretary James Aloisi Jr., chairman of the MBTA Board of Directors, said accidents like Friday's have become too common, citing a train accident last year in California in which 25 people were killed. A conductor involved in that crash was found to have sent and received 43 text messages and made four cell phone calls.  Aloisi said he doesn't know of any policy nationwide as tough as what the MBTA is planning.

Friday's accident happened about 7:20 p.m. in a tunnel between the Green Line's Park Street and Government Center stations. A two-car trolley was stopped at a red signal, waiting to enter Park Station, when it was hit by another two-car trolley.

About 100 people were evacuated, including some who had to be extracted from the trains, and 49 were taken to area hospitals. The worst injury was a broken wrist suffered by the 24-year-old operator whom officials say admitted to police that he was sending a text message at the time of the crash. The MBTA did not release the man's name, but Grabauskas said he would be fired, assuming the preliminary findings of the investigation are borne out.

Criminal charges against the conductor are being considered by the transit police and the local district attorney's office, Grabauskas said.  The Green Line remained closed Saturday as a National Transportation Safety Board team investigated the scene. Grabauskas said he hoped the line would be running by day's end.  MBTA policy includes penalties for workers caught using cell phones on board, from a three-day suspension to termination. Workers have been allowed to use cell phones off the trains and buses while between trips.

Buses are equipped with global positioning systems in case the radios fail, and most trolley riders have cell phones, which could be a backup if a radio malfunctions on a train, Grabauskas said. The MBTA also has a system that allows family members to inform employees of problems at home and send new drivers, without using cell phones.

Grabauskas said Friday's accident leaves no doubt the change is needed.

''There's no rationale, no excuse for this,'' he said.

Some of us remember this Kingston Trio version of an old Boston song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VMSGrY-IlU
Trolleys Collide in Boston; 49 People Hurt

Filed at 10:58 a.m. ET
May 9, 2009

BOSTON (AP) -- A trolley rear-ended another trolley that was stopped between two underground stations in downtown Boston on Friday night, injuring about 50 people, and one of the conductors told police he was texting at the time of the crash, officials said.

About 100 people were evacuated, and 49 were taken to area hospitals, but officials said their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

The 24-year-old operator of the moving trolley, who was the most seriously injured, admitted to police that he was sending text messages from his cell phone when the accident occurred, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority general manager Dan Grabauskas said.  The MBTA has stepped up enforcement of the rule against cell phone use by operators following a trolley crash in Newton last May that killed the driver of a trolley that collided with another. Although there were reports the driver was using a cell phone just before the crash, an investigation ultimately determined there was no evidence she was using her phone.

Grabauskas said the operator of the trolley that struck the parked trolley admitted to investigators who interviewed him in a hospital he saw the red light ahead of him as he was texting, but it was too late to stop.

''I can tell you it's difficult to contain my outrage at hearing this,'' Grabauskas said.

Officials would not release the conductor's name, but MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said he had been on the job for less than two years.  Most of the victims suffered cuts or skeletal injuries, said John Gill, deputy superintendent of Boston EMS. Two people had chest pains.  Some passengers had to be extracted from the trains, deputy fire chief Richard DiBenedetto said. Others were taken from the station on stretchers or backboards.

The collision occurred at 7:18 p.m. between Park and Government Center stations. A westbound two-car trolley was stopped at a red signal, waiting to enter Park Station, when it was hit by another two-car trolley. 
The damage was limited to the front of the moving train and the rear of the train that was struck, Grabauskas said.  An investigation will try to determine why the moving trolley did not stop. Grabauskas had no estimates on how fast it was traveling.

Green Line service between the stations was shut down after the crash.

We have been following this story...
Trolley system would help Stamford thrive, study says.  Estimates route would draw businesses

By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/13/2009 09:52:32 PM EDT
Updated: 10/14/2009 07:32:52 AM EDT

STAMFORD -- Building a trolley line that would run alongside traffic from the South End to Bulls Head would cost $121 million but would enable the city to grow by boosting business, according to a city-commissioned study.

Stamford officials received a summary of the results of the yearlong Stamford Street Car Study by URS Corp., which estimates a trolley route from Washington Boulevard in the South End would draw business to the city and create a $13 million bump in property tax revenue.  The system would cost $12 million to design, while constructing tracks, an overhead powering system and station would cost $70 million, according to the study. Acquiring three trolleys would cost $9 million.

City Rep. Robert "Gabe"  DeLuca, R-14, chairman of the Board of Representatives' transportation committee, said while he tends to view the novelty and convenience of a street car system as a possible spur to attract new companies, the $121 million price is daunting without federal funding.  A preliminary estimate for launching a trolley system provided by URS last spring said the city could start a trolley line for as little as $5 million to 10 million.

"We'll have to see what the final study says, but it seems like a lot of money," DeLuca said.

After running for a decade, the trolley line could boost development along the route 10 percent to 15 percent over current project growth, the study said.  The full study should be received by late October, Stamford Transportation Planner Joshua LeCar said.

URS will present the study to Deluca and transportation committee members at a 7 p.m. Thursday meeting in the Republican Caucus Room of the Stamford Government Center, 888 Washington Blvd.  The study considers a trolley route that would head north on Atlantic Street from Washington Boulevard to Bank Street downtown, then continue north on Atlantic Street onto Broad Street, ending near Lord & Taylor and the Ridgeway Shopping Center.  The trolley would then turn left onto 6th Street before turning left onto Summer Street.

From there the study offers two options for the service to return to the South End -- via Atlantic Street or Washington Boulevard.  A trolley system would not be a first for the city, which ran an electrified light rail system between 1890 and 1938.

City officials and supporters of the trolley concept point to other cities including Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wash., where trolley systems have been credited for raising property values and spurred prosperity.  Establishing the route would show companies that Stamford has a long-term commitment to expansion and bringing additional business development to extend the city's commercial core, which now runs from the railroad station north to Elm Street, said Michael Freimuth, Stamford's economic development director.

The line's viability, however, depends on whether URS' estimate of the project cost and additional tax revenues are accurate, and if the trolley line is consistent with the city's other transit goals.

"The center of commercial gravity in the city has shifted to the train station, yet that has a limited or finite capacity," Freimuth said. " It would have an almost immediate positive impact on real estate just outside walking distance of the train station. If we are going to be able to accommodate the growth, which is critical to our overall tax base, we'll need to find a way to stretch the tax base."

City Rep. Terry Adams, D-3, vice chairman of the transportation committee, said bus lines are less costly and more mobile than the trolley, and she wonders whether the trolley would bring the expected business windfall.

"The infrastructure is going to be very expensive based on the fact that Stamford is pretty much established," Adams said. "If this can be totally paid for using government grants it is one thing, but if it is going to be paid for in taxes, it needs to be something that every resident should have a say on."

Lecar said the city is hoping to garner Federal Transit Administration funds for the project and that the length of the planned route is partially related to federal requirements that the service provide transport for a wider area.

"If we just built a system from Washington Boulevard in the South End to the train station, it would have a substantially more limited benefit and make it harder to get funding," Lecar said.

Fixed-route systems required high density, I thought?
Trolleys could hold promise for Stamford; Stamford studies route from South End to Bulls Head

By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 01/24/2009 10:46:38 PM EST

STAMFORD -- A future trolley line linking the South End to the Stamford train station and looping north through Bulls Head could remedy congestion and repay its construction costs by drawing new companies and stores to the city, a consultant told city legislators Thursday night.

Stuart Popper, a community planning consultant for URS Corp., told the Board of Representatives' Transportation Committee that although buses can provide much the same service, other cities have found that light rail draws more riders and attracts corporations and economic development to the corridors they travel.

URS, an international engineering firm responsible for the Hudson-Bergen light rail system in New Jersey, began a $141,000 study in August to evaluate the potential impact of light rail in reducing automobile traffic and pollution and spur economic activity in the city.

Stamford could start out with as few as three trolley cars and two miles of track for a cost of $5 million to $10 million, Popper said.

"The rails that are installed are permanent in the road, while bus routes can change," Popper said during the presentation. "It seems that installation of streetcars attracts development to the areas where they are."

Popper gave the progress report to the board after a request from the Transportation Committee.

The final study will provide a more in-depth analysis of the economic benefit of the system and determine more precise cost estimates based on possible routes and what size fleet the city would start with, Popper said.

Stamford's proposed system would reach from the South End, past the train station, and north on either Washington Boulevard or Atlantic Street to make a circuit to the Bulls Head and High Ridge Road retail area, city transportation planner Joshua Lecar said.

Popper said light rail could operate alongside car traffic, providing an efficient way to move workers and shoppers. He also said it may provide an incentive for executives working locally to reside in new developments in the South End.

Congestion caused by automobile traffic could become an increasing economic liability, Popper said.

"We're talking about the ride not taken," Popper said. "In the downtown area, the primary mode of transportation for the majority of trips to work or shop are made by private car."

Members of the committee asked the consultant to ensure the final study deals with the benefits from several options, including plans to use the light rail system in tandem with buses.

City Rep. John Zelinsky, D-11, whose district includes the downtown area between Bedford and the Summer Street area, asked whether any

cities of similar size that had built streetcar systems had experienced increased economic activity that justified the investment.

"Do you have any idea what this project might cost from start to finish?" Zelinsky asked.

The length of the loop system, the route chosen and whether the city buys new street cars or refurbished old ones are all variables that could place the cost of the project between $5 million and $100 million, according to Popper.

"Construction costs depend on the route and where it is," Popper said. "There's a range of costs."

Most of the cities that have built systems, including Portland, Ore., and the Hudson-Bergen region of New Jersey, are larger than Stamford, according to a report provided by URS.

Kenosha, Wis., a city of about 95,000 that is an hour from Chicago, built a light rail system and limited startup costs to about $6 million by acquiring cars from another city for about $75,000 each and refurbishing them, Popper said.

The city might obtain and refurbish older cars to use, a process that typically costs $400,000 to $1 million per car, Popper said. New streetcars each can cost $3 million or more, according to URS.

With other advances in mass transit technology likely to become more widespread and affordable, including hybrid and electric-powered buses, City Rep. Terry Adams, D-3, the vice chairman of the committee, said he wondered if bus lines couldn't deliver the same environmental and mass transit dividends as the rail system for dramatically less money.

"You have to look at the money you'd save on infrastructure with those other options that would make it more profitable than digging up the streets and putting up the overhead wires," Adams said.

Jack Condlin, president and chief executive officer of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, said he believed installing the system is the sort of bold initiative that could set Stamford apart for businesses looking to set up shop. He likened it to the city's urban redevelopment efforts a generation ago that Condlin said contributed to the city's population and economic growth in the past 30 years.

"We need to look at this as the big project ," Condlin said. "I think we need to think outside the box. Let's show Stamford as a city that is on the move."

In the past, Stamford had an extensive streetcar trolley system that functioned between 1886 and 1933.

City Rep. Robert "Gabe" DeLuca, R-14, the chairman of the committee, said he believed the novelty and convenience of a light rail system could help Stamford maintain and draw new companies and would outweigh any investment if costs could be limited.

"I think the increased ridership and economic boost it provides are good selling points," DeLuca said. "We need to wait until the final report is in to see what any drawbacks might be."

Once the city establishes a final plan for the system, construction could take six years or longer to begin and might be paid for with a combination of local, state and federal funding, Lecar said.

One potential advantage light rail has over bus service is that it typically runs more frequently than bus lines, providing greater mobility in Stamford's business district, Lecar said.

Picking a route for the light rail system will carry engineering challenges, Lecar said, because the lines will have to fit onto already densely developed thoroughfares.

"Our engineering consultant is looking at different configurations of the line for Washington (Boulevard) and Atlantic and Bedford (streets)," Lecar said. "It's all pending a more detailed analysis by URS' team."

Zelinsky, who is also a member of the legislatively appointed State Public Transportation Commission, said he is concerned that the trolleys might siphon ridership from buses but fail to generate much new interest in mass transit.

More work needs to be done to assess whether the public would ride trolleys on a regular basis or keep driving, or if Stamford's projected population is large enough to sustain the system, Zelinsky said.

"We have an excellent bus service, which runs through the areas we're talking about," Zelinsky said. "We should see if it is something the public wants, because if they are not enthusiastic and eager for it, we're wasting a lot of time and money on this."

Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future
Published: August 13, 2008

CINCINNATI — From his months-old French bistro, Jean-Robert de Cavel sees restored Italianate row houses against a backdrop of rundown tenements in this city’s long-struggling Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
He also sees a turnaround for the district, thanks to plans to revive a transit system that was dismantled in the 1950s: the humble streetcar line.

“Human beings can be silly because we move away from things too quickly in this country,” Mr. de Cavel said. “Streetcar is definitely going to create a reason for young people to come downtown.”

Cincinnati officials are assembling financing for a $132 million system that would connect the city’s riverfront stadiums, downtown business district and Uptown neighborhoods, which include six hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, in a six- to eight-mile loop. Depending on the final financing package, fares may be free, 50 cents or $1.

The city plans to pay for the system with existing tax revenue and $30 million in private investment. The plan requires the approval of Mayor Mark Mallory, a proponent, and the City Council.

At least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.

More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.

“They serve to coalesce a neighborhood,” said Jim Graebner, chairman of the American Public Transportation Association’s streetcar and vintage trolley committee. “That’s very evident in places like San Francisco, which never got rid of its streetcar system.”

Modern streetcars, like those Cincinnati plans to use, cost about $3 million each, run on an overhead electrical wire and carry up to 130 passengers per car on rails that are flush with the pavement. And since streetcars can pick up passengers on either side, they can make shorter stops than buses.

Streetcar advocates point to Portland, Ore., which built the first major modern streetcar system in the United States, in 2001, and has since added new lines interlaced with a growing light rail system. Since Portland announced plans for the system, more than 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the system.

Critics, including Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization in Washington, and an expert on urban growth and transportation issues, counter that growth along streetcar lines is dependent on public subsidy and of little use.

“It looks like it’s going to take you somewhere, but it’s only designed to support downtown residents,” he said. “If officials fall for the hype and don’t ask the hard questions, voters should vote them out.”

Cincinnati’s streetcar enthusiasts counter that they serve to shrink residents’ everyday world of work, shopping and entertainment by bringing services and businesses to one area.

“One happy consequence will be that streetcar customers who live in the area will be less mobile by choice,” said John Schneider, a Cincinnati real estate developer and downtown resident who championed an unsuccessful 2002 county sales tax proposal that would have financed a regional light rail system.

Since then, gas prices have risen sharply and advocates have started emphasizing streetcars’ ability to revitalize urban neighborhoods.

“In years gone by, people would move to cities to get a job,” Cincinnati’s city manager, Milton Dohoney, said. “Today, young, educated workers move to cities with a sense of place. And if businesses see us laying rail down on a street, they’ll know that’s a permanent route that will have people passing by seven days a week.”

After looking into streetcar systems in Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., and Charlotte, Mr. Dohoney became convinced that they spur growth. “Cincinnati has to compete with other cities for investment,” he said. “We have to compete for talent and for place of national prominence.”

A hundred miles north, Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, has come to the same conclusion and is pushing to build a $103 million streetcar network along the city’s High Street connecting Ohio State University with the downtown business district. The loop would be paid for through a 4 percent surcharge on concert tickets, sporting events and downtown parking and a $12.5 million contribution from Ohio State.

“It is directly tied to economic development, and when times are tough in Ohio, we need an additional tool to create jobs,” Mr. Coleman said.

While critics question whether scarce city money would be better spent elsewhere, Mr. Coleman argues that streetcars are important to the city’s growth.

“We have to plan for the future,” he said. “I believe in 10 years, we would ask, ‘Why didn’t we do this?’ It will be 10 times more expensive, and the cost of gas will be unaffordable.”