(In addition to and other than Metro North commutation service with improvements.)

NOTE:  photos above of enjoyment of train travel (as opposed to some other modes and types) and the new and improved service promised by the new Administration comes from NYTIMES/Internet and is not part of the AMTRAK deal discussed here...former Commissioner of CTDOT.

Link HERE to news of Metro North.  Hot links immediately below describe and are related to photos above...and who could forget the other MTA (now "MBTA")?


Ceremonial demolition:  Tied to New Britain-Hartford Busway?  New Haven - Hartford - Springfield rail program?

Air Asia flight found. Ferry disaster Italian/Greek may get worse: http://www.reuters.com/video/2014/12/30/italian-prosecutor-says-illegal-migrants?videoId=356623537&videoChannel=1

FOUND - story here.
Nightfall Forces Indonesia to Suspend Search for AirAsia Flight
DEC. 28, 2014

BANGKOK — Search-and-rescue teams were mobilized from across Southeast Asia on Sunday after a commercial airliner with 162 people on board lost contact with ground controllers off the coast of Borneo, a search effort that evoked a distressingly familiar mix of grief and mystery nine months after a Malaysia Airlines jetliner disappeared over the Indian Ocean.

This plane, too, had Malaysian connections: The Airbus A320-200 was operated by the Indonesian affiliate of AirAsia, a regional budget carrier based in Malaysia.

And while it seemed premature to make such comparisons, the Indonesian authorities could not explain Sunday why the AirAsia jet disappeared from radar screens about 40 minutes after leaving the Indonesian city of Surabaya around 5:30 a.m...story in full:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/29/world/asia/airasia-jet.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

At Wilton LWV Annual Meeting...

Senator Murphy reports on full funding for Walk Bridge, FWIW
Repairs to New York Tunnels Will Limit Rail Service

OCT. 2, 2014

Amtrak officials said on Wednesday that they will have to sharply curtail use of the century-old rail tunnels leading to New York City for at least a year to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, a move that would affect train service for tens of thousands of commuters.

One of the four tubes that carry trains under the East River between Manhattan and Long Island would be the first to close, possibly in late 2015.

For story in full:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/nyregion/repairs-to-new-york-tunnels-will-limit-rail-service.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Plan calls for direct Metro-North service to Penn
Martin B. Cassidy, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 6:33 pm, Tuesday, September 23, 2014

After decades of discussion, a plan to bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station on Manhattan's West Side could finally be approved Wednesday.

The proposed $743 million proposal is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $32 billion 2015-2019 capital plan released Tuesday afternoon, and includes track, bridge, and signal improvements and construction of four new rail stations at former station sites in Co-Op City, Morris Park, Parkchester, and Hunts Point between New Rochelle and Penn Station.

The long discussed project would carry trains from the New Haven Line over the Amtrak-owned Hell Gate Line in the Bronx.

The MTA's full board, which oversees Metro-North, will vote to approve or reject the plan Wednesday. The proposal would then be weighed by the New York Capital Program Review Board, a panel representing the governor and legislatures in New York State...

 The Penn Station project and the new Bronx stations could be critical elements in attracting highly qualified employees to work in Connecticut by making travel for workers in the South Bronx to cities like Stamford and Norwalk much easier, said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy and programs for the Fairfield County Business Council.

Increased capacity for Metro-North trains at Penn Station might also advance efforts to establish more frequent and faster train service, McGee said. The Business Council has been working

Currently, about two thirds of train boardings in the Bronx are for trips to destinations in New York's northern suburbs and Connecticut, according to the railroad.

"Having another point of entry into Manhattan gives us more options to begin with," McGee said. "Our main goal is to get faster and more frequent trains from Connecticut into Manhattan and vice versa."

For full story:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Plan-calls-for-direct-Metro-North-service-to-Penn-5775844.php


New cars at top.

Comparison of 2014-2015 ontime record for Metro North.

 Read this story and weep.
  How about this report that makes CT #1?

Isn't there a song to describe transit woes?
From YouTube:  Published on Jan 11, 2013

"M.T.A.", often called "The MTA Song", is a 1949 song by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. Known informally as "Charlie on the MTA", the song's lyrics tell of a man named Charlie trapped on Boston's subway system, then known as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The song was originally recorded as a mayoral campaign song for Progressive Party candidate Walter A. O'Brien. A version of the song with the candidate's name changed became a 1959 hit when recorded and released by the Kingston Trio, an American folk group.

The song has become so entrenched in Boston lore that the Boston-area transit authority named its electronic card-based fare collection system the "CharlieCard" as a tribute to this song. The transit organization, now called the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), held a dedication ceremony for the card system in 2004 which featured a performance of the song by the Kingston Trio and then-governor Mitt Romney.


Since CT was named, the other day, the worst state for road repair...
By The Associated Press
Posted: 07/21/14, 7:23 AM EDT

NORWALK >> Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is seeking to borrow $3 million in state bonds to fix a railroad bridge in Connecticut that blocked commuter rail traffic in May and June.

The governor said Sunday the money for the Walk Bridge used by Metro-North Railroad and Amtrak will be for maintenance projects while the state works to replace the span.

The 118-year-old rotating bridge was stuck in the open position twice recently, disrupting the busy commuter rail system between Connecticut and Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Sen. Bob Duff and Reps. Chris Perone and Bruce Morris say that when the bridge fails, it affects more than 141 Metro North and Amtrak trains, inconveniencing 125,000 commuters. The three lawmakers represent Norwalk.

The governor is chairman of the Bond Commission, which is set to meet Friday.

House approves Amtrak subsidy, study of high-speed service skipping CT
By: Ana Radelat | March 4, 2015

Washington — The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would authorize the spending of billions of dollars to shore up Amtrak and require the passenger rail company to study the feasibility of a high-speed service from Washington, D.C., to Boston that would make no stops in Connecticut.

The bill was supported by all House Democrats, including all members of Connecticut’s delegation, and more than half of the House’s Republicans, and was approved on a vote of 316-101.

It included an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R.-Fla, that would require Amtrak to study the feasibility of a new, non-stop, high-speed service from Washington to New York and New York to Boston...

“Governor Malloy will stand firm against any high-speed rail project that goes through Connecticut, but doesn’t stop in Connecticut,” said Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia. “That plan would be dead on arrival. The notion that a high-speed train would somehow go through our state, without stopping in our state, is, very simply, not happening.”  Story in full:  http://ctmirror.org/2015/03/04/house-approves-amtrak-subsidy-study-of-high-speed-service-skipping-ct/

Name given to "brand" our tourism product, "Still Revolutionary." What revolution?  FYI - CT
State Motto:  "Qui Transtulit Sustinet -- 'He Who Transplanted Still Sustains'"

Amtrak train hits vehicle in Connecticut
Jun 23, 12:13 PM EDT

BERLIN, Conn. (AP) -- Authorities say five people were injured in central Connecticut when an Amtrak train traveling at about 70 mph struck a truck towing a wood chipper.

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz says the accident happened shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday at a private crossing in Berlin (BURR'-lihn). Police say one of the injured people was in the truck. The severity of the injuries isn't clear.

Police are investigating why the truck was on the tracks. Officials say the truck was owned by a tree-trimming company.

About 45 passengers were on the train headed from New Haven to Springfield, Massachusetts. Uninjured passengers were bused to Springfield. Amtrak service in central Connecticut was suspended.

Late Sunday, another Amtrak train struck a vehicle in Mansfield, Massachusetts, killing three people. The cause is under investigation.

High-Speed Trains Could Come To State By 2030 — And Keep Going;
Controversial Long-Term Amtrak Plan Would Bypass Shoreline Cities
The Hartford Courant
By DON STACOM, dstacom@courant.com
7:13 PM EDT, August 19, 2012


Amtrak's long-term proposal to build a staggeringly expensive rail line along an entirely new route diagonally across Connecticut has caught the attention of top state officials.  And not in a good way.  Amtrak's 30-year "NextGen High-Speed Rail Alignment" would send Boston-to-Washington express trains hurtling at 220 mph through Connecticut without stopping anywhere in the state.

Its second-tier express service would offer just three Connecticut stops: Hartford, Waterbury and Danbury.

In response, state leaders are trying to push back without alienating the federal officials who control the money that Connecticut needs to maintain its existing rail lines.  When Amtrak first put forward the idea two years ago, some Connecticut legislators quietly wrote it off as pie-in-the-sky federal fantasy. After all, it would require plowing new twin rail lines through the densely developed region from Danbury to Waterbury, then parallel to the I-84 corridor into Hartford before shooting eastward to Providence.

But staffers and consultants from the Federal Railway Administration and the federal transportation department are traveling the Northeast this month to show off updated plans in every major market from Washington to Boston. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave the tour enough credibility to take time out from his schedule on primary night to catch the Connecticut stop.

"Here in Connecticut, access to rail has been critical and essential to our growth," Malloy said, urging the railway administration and Amtrak to pump money into the existing infrastructure.

Overall, Amtrak estimates it would spend $115 billion to dramatically reduce the travel times between Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.  By 2040, the railroad says, the New York to Philadelphia trip would be down to under 40 minutes. Boston to New York, currently a 214-minute journey, could be done by 220 mph trains in 94 minutes, Amtrak says.  Amtrak would leave in place the 457-mile Northeast Corridor route, which in Connecticut runs mostly along the shoreline and shares the same railbed with Metro-North's commuter rail system.

State. Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, told the railway administration last week that the first priority should be improving the signals, catenaries (overhead lines) and tracks of the New Haven line. High-speed rail might boost the region's economy dramatically sometime in the future, but Metro-North's 39 million passenger trips a year are doing that already, she said.

"There is nothing speculative about Metro-North. The reasoning is not 'build it, and they will come.' Instead, it's 'get on with it already, because they are here — and if you don't, they just might not stay.' "

Amtrak's long-term plans include some improvements for the shoreline route and possibly for the New Haven to Springfield line, but they're dwarfed by the prospect of blazing a new route from Boston to D.C.

Amtrak envisions bullet trains making just four stops: Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. More traditional express trains on the new route would speed through suburbs, old mill towns, rural villages, forests and the center of Greater Hartford, with stops only in Danbury, Waterbury and Hartford.

Amtrak is accepting public comment about its plan. Details of the proposal are here: http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/453/325/Amtrak-Vision-for-the-Northeast-Corridor.pdf

New Amtrak president reshuffles senior management 
By SARAH KARUSH, Associated Press Writer 
Posted on Dec 18, 5:47 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Amtrak's new president on Monday announced broad changes to the company's senior management and said his new team would be better able to reform the much-criticized passenger railroad.  Alexander Kummant, who took over at Amtrak in September, announced the departure of four top officials, including the chief financial officer, and the transfer of a fifth to a temporary position. As part of the broad reorganization, three more departments will report directly to him, Kummant said.

"Ridership and revenue continue to grow and we've made a lot progress in the past few years - from rebuilding the railroad to paying down the debt - but we still face tremendous challenges ahead," Kummant said in a message to employees outlining the changes.

"One of my chief responsibilities as president of the company is to build the team that can tackle the challenges and I believe these changes will accomplish that," he wrote.

Amtrak has $3.6 billion in debt and is heavily dependent on government subsidies. Its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million.  Last year, the congressional Government Accountability Office said Amtrak wasn't doing a good enough job monitoring performance and spending.  The company, which runs trains in 46 states, also has suffered some high-profile technical problems. In April 2005, it had to suspend all high-speed Acela service after discovering cracks in some brakes. And this spring, three power outages disrupted trains along the Northeast Corridor. A report on the cause of the outages is expected to be released soon.

Among the changes announced Monday:

-Eleanor Acheson, a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, will take over the company's law department. She replaces Alicia Serfaty, who will serve as counsel to Kummant during the transition period. The change comes less than two months after the Transportation Department's inspector general found that Amtrak cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary legal expenses by failing to properly manage work done by outside law firms.

-Chief Financial Officer David Smith is temporarily replaced by Dale Stein, previously Amtrak's treasurer, until a permanent CFO is named.

-Management consultant Roy Johanson has been named vice president of planning and analysis. Paul Nissenbaum, who previously occupied the post, will work with him over the next several months before taking on a new executive role, Kummant said.

-James McDonnell, a counterterrorism expert who has worked at the Department of Energy and at the White House, will serve as chief risk officer, replacing Al Broadbent.

-The heads of marketing and communications departments have been fired and their offices incorporated into other departments.

-The chief of a new marketing and product management department, as well as the heads of the security and technology departments, now report directly to Kummant.

News of the shake-up was greeted positively by both supporters and critics of Amtrak.

"I'm pleased that Amtrak is making some changes in personnel that may be long overdue," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who has long advocated for reform of the railroad.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and a strong defender of Amtrak, said through a spokesman: "We hope this dramatic restructuring ushers in a team of managers determined to improve service for all Amtrak riders."

Another Amtrak supporter, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said it was reasonable for a new leader to bring in a new team. If the changes will help Kummant fix Amtrak, then they are for the best, he said.

"The more progress Amtrak can show, the more likely it is that even Amtrak's opponents will at least be quieted with regards to reducing spending on the corporation," he said.

The reason why Amtrak might not be interested?  Read the fine print.

Sell The Rail, Bridge Mess To Uncle Sam For $1
The Hartford Courant
2:38 PM EDT, June 16, 2014

Rail commuters along the shore have become used to delayed trains, lack of seats and annual fare hikes. They aren't happy, but have no real alternatives to get to their jobs.

But adding insult to literal injury, now they have to contend with a 118-year-old swing bridge that won't close, cutting off rail service for hours.

Connecticut owns that Norwalk River (Walk) bridge and four others (they're only 110 years old). The state pays Metro-North to maintain them, but that's like asking your local mechanic to keep your Model T running after a quarter-million miles: Some things are impossible.

Why wasn't the Walk Bridge replaced years ago? Because our governors and General Assembly had other priorities and followed the "if it ain't broke, don't replace it" philosophy that harkens back 30 years to when the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich collapsed one morning.

Why is it that we seem to lurch from crisis to crisis in this Land of Steady Habits? Why can we never get ahead of a problem before it happens?

Don't waste too much time pondering that conundrum because the more immediate question is, "Who's got the $465 million needed to replace that Walk Bridge … and how quickly can they start?"

I have the answer — the alternative nobody's dared to mention. But first, the other ugly alternatives:

After diverting millions from the Special Transportation Fund (money collected in gas taxes to pay for mass transit) to balance his budgets in recent years, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy now says that the federal government should pay for this new bridge using Super Storm Sandy relief money.

But why should Uncle Sam pick up the tab for our neglect? The bridge wasn't damaged by the storm, it was just left to rust. What happens with the other four bridges that will need replacement? Do we pray for hurricane relief funding to see them rebuilt?

Bonding seems a logical alternative. But remember that 40 percent of today's state Department of Transportation budget just pays debt service on previously issued bonds going back 30 years. So bonding the $2 billion for the five strategic railroad bridges along the coast are debts our grandchildren will curse us for (along with the rising sea level lapping at those bridges).

Here's a better solution: Sell the whole mess to Uncle Sam for $1 and let him pay for it.

As a quirk of the bankruptcy of the New Haven and Penn Central railroads 30 years ago, Connecticut ended up owning the track, the bridges and signals all the way from the New York line to New Haven. While the rest of the Northeast Corridor is owned (and maintained) by Amtrak, Connecticut owns this 56-mile stretch. But with our ownership comes the responsibility (and cost) for maintenance.

Our rail infrastructure in Connecticut is so old and its maintenance has been so deferred that the widely respected Regional Plan Association estimates it will cost $3.6 billion and take until 2020 to bring it back into a state of good repair. We simply do not have that money or that much time.

Nor should Connecticut be solely responsible for that work and its cost.

This rail line is for more than just Metro-North commuters going to their jobs in New York. It is a vital part of the national rail system and the U.S. economy as it also carries Amtrak (and some freight trains) between Boston and Washington.

As a national asset, the railroad's maintenance should be a federal responsibility, just as the Mississippi River is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers and the nation's air lanes are run by the Federal Aviation Administration.

There is no logical reason for this state to own and operate these tracks. Commuter trains in every other state run just fine on tracks they do not own. So let's make a deal with Amtrak and sell them back this railroad line and let all U.S. taxpayers pay for its upkeep.

Jim Cameron of Darien, a transit advocate, is founder of The Commuter Action Group, CommuterActionGroup.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Blumenthal wants restrictions on bridge opening

Associated Press
Published June 09. 2014 7:34AM   Updated June 09. 2014 7:36AM

Norwalk (AP) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling the Coast Guard to restrict the number of times it allows a railroad swing bridge over the Norwalk River to rotate open.

The 118-year-old Walk Bridge has become stuck twice in the last two weeks, leading to major delays for passengers on the Metro-North and Amtrak railroads.

In a letter Monday to the Coast Guard, Blumenthal says the problems with the bridge are chronic, noting it failed 16 times in 271 openings during 2013.

Blumenthal also is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to expedite the state's request for funding to replace the bridge.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called officials, including Blumenthal, to a "Crisis Summit" Monday morning at the Legislative Office Building to discuss the problem.

Senator Toni Boucher
Jim Cameron also About Town guest some years ago.  "Bully pulpet" over latest Metro North story.

U.S. Orders Safety Improvements At Metro-North

Former Rail Watchdog: 'There's a conspiracy of silence and obfuscation'
The Hartford Courant
December 8, 2013

Alarmed by Metro-North's seven-month-long string of train wrecks and derailments, the Federal Railroad Administration on Friday issued emergency orders to make the nation's busiest commuter railroad operate more safely.

The new rules force Metro-North to modify its signals and train-control systems to prevent the kind of high-speed crash that killed four passengers and injured 75 others in the Bronx on Sunday, when a Hudson Line train jumped the tracks at 82 mph on a curve with a 30 mph speed limit.

The FRA also directed that until those systems are improved, the railroad must post a conductor or second engineer near the controls when a train passes through a zone with a sharp change in speed limits. In addition, the agency demanded that Metro-North devise a detailed plan before the new year to explain exactly how it will better ensure the safety of passengers and employees.  The rules apply to Metro-North's operations in Connecticut and New York, where it serves an average of about 281,000 passengers a day.

The FRA, which had already stepped up its oversight of Metro-North after a May 17 derailment and crash in Bridgeport injured 75 people, has used uncommonly harsh language this week in criticizing the railroad's operations.

Agency Administrator Joseph Szabo wrote that "four serious accidents in less than seven months is simply unacceptable," and a press release about Friday's orders warned that "failure to comply with [the] requirements will result in enforcement actions."

He was referring to the fatal crash on Sunday, the collision in Bridgeport in May, the death of a Metro-North track foreman who was hit and killed by a train in West Haven in May, and the derailment of a freight train on Metro-North tracks in the Bronx in July. In September, a major power failure affected New Haven Line service for several days.  The head of Metro-North's parent organization admitted on Friday evening that confidence in the railroad has suffered.

"We understand very well that public perception has been damaged and that our focus on safety must be transparent to our customers and other stakeholders," Thomas Prendergast, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, wrote in a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has told Metro-North he wants monthly updates on its safety initiatives.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, along with three New York congressmen, called for a congressional hearing on rail safety in light of Metro-North's accidents.  Critics say the railroad's troubles extend beyond the crashes, and include a stretch of service meltdowns and schedule-disrupting mishaps that began about two years ago, including the stranding of passengers in Westport in 2011 when a heat wave caused catenary wires to droop. They acknowledge that there is no single cause for what has gone wrong, but agree that any solution would require two dramatic cultural changes at Metro-North: Stricter accountability and more transparency.

"This railroad has a lot of soul-searching to do. It needs to look at itself in the mirror very closely, it needs to connect the dots. These very serious incidents all indicate lapses and gaps in management," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "Metro-North needs to ask 'How do we change?' Not just tinkering at the margins, but fundamentally."

James Cameron, former chairman of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, suggested that Metro-North leadership carries plenty of the responsibility.

"In the past two years, Metro-North has gone from first to worst. It's been going to hell in a handbasket," said Cameron, who for years was one of the railroad's most seasoned and outspoken watchdogs. "There's a conspiracy of silence and obfuscation at Metro-North. I've seen the pattern over the last couple of years. The railroad is constantly trying to hide its problems. "

Cameron specifically criticized railroad President Howard Permut.

"After the accident Sunday, he was nowhere to be seen. It was like 'Where's Waldo?' It was 'Where's Howard?' Then yesterday his name showed up on a statement — when the railroad was saying they'd just restored service," Cameron said. "The man doesn't take criticism well."

Blumenthal said Connecticut should get a seat on the board of the MTA, which runs Metro-North and has a long-term contract to operate most commuter trains in the state.  The MTA is a mammoth, $13 billion-a-year organization that also runs the Long Island Rail Road and New York City's subways, buses, tunnels and bridges. Metro-North makes up barely 10 percent of the MTA's budget and payroll.

"What people forget is that Metro-North is a vendor to the state. I've asked before whether it's time to fire Metro-North," Cameron said. "But in the last decade, the state transportation department has become more and more hands-off with its rail operations. I don't know if the DOT does an annual evaluation of Metro-North. They just seem to lurch from crisis to crisis."

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, is pressing for a hearing by the General Assembly's transportation commission.

"Transparency is really part of the problem with the contract with Metro-North. It's convoluted and opaque and doesn't really define their role and responsibilities," said Boucher, who has tracked the issue for years.

Boucher said Connecticut taxpayers also deserve to know why Connecticut-owned rail cars were part of the train that crashed in New York on Sunday. Diesel-power equipment for New York lines and the Connecticut branch lines is traded around periodically, she said, but there's no accounting at the end of the year.

"We should be able to ascertain what we're getting for the costs our riders are paying, but we can't," she said. "Connecticut bears a large portion of the cost of the entire Metro-North operation, but we don't know how the equipment is actually being used. We should know about the infrastructure, but we don't. I'd like our transportation commissioner to take that contract and dissect it.

"I've talked with people who have become a little gun-shy about taking the train now," Boucher said. "That's not acceptable."

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

IIRC, the locomotive is located in the rear of this train, so the engineer cannot actually see the tracks ahead???

Feds: Engineer's sleepiness caused derailment
Oct. 28, 2014 11:22 AM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — A sleep-deprived engineer nodded off at the controls of a commuter train just before taking a 30 mph curve at 82 mph, causing a derailment last year that killed four people and injured more than 70, federal regulators said Tuesday.

William Rockefeller's sleepiness was due to a combination of an undiagnosed disorder — sleep apnea — and a drastic shift in his work schedule, the National Transportation Board said. It said the railroad lacked a policy to screen engineers for sleep disorders, which also contributed to the Dec. 1 crash. It also said a system that would have automatically applied the brakes would have prevented the crash.

The board also issued rulings on four other Metro-North accidents that occurred in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, repeatedly finding fault with the railroad...
Story in full:  http://bigstory.ap.org/article/bc9b39408dc6404a8926a561416aa5eb/feds-engineers-sleepiness-caused-derailment

NTSB: Engineer in NYC derailment had sped before

By JIM FITZGERALD, Associated Press
Updated 7:17 pm, Friday, October 3, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The engineer whose commuter rail train was speeding when it derailed in the Bronx, killing four people, went 24 mph over the speed limit on the same run a few days earlier, a federal agency indicated Friday.

Charts released by the National Transportation Safety Board showed the results of tests that used data recorders to look back at the speeds of trains run by Metro-North Railroad engineer William Rockefeller in the week before the accident.

The chart shows that Rockefeller broke the speed limit on four of the six runs tested. And at one point his train was going 54 mph in a 30 mph zone...
Full story:  http://www.ctpost.com/news/us/article/NTSB-Blood-on-train-cars-after-2013-NY-derailment-5799496.php

Metro-North Investigation Turns to Engineer’s Inattention
December 3, 2013

Hours after crews cleared derailed cars from the scene of Sunday’s fatal Metro-North Railroad crash in the Bronx, investigators on Tuesday turned a closer eye toward the engineer’s possible inattention before the derailment.

A law enforcement official briefed on an account provided by the engineer, William Rockefeller, said that Mr. Rockefeller did not appear to have been fully focused shortly before his train barreled into a sharp curve at 82 miles per hour — nearly three times the speed allowed through the curve, just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Four people were killed and more than 70 were injured in the crash early Sunday morning.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because various investigations were still continuing, added that immediately after the derailment, investigators asked Mr. Rockefeller if he had been drinking, and he said that he had not. The official said that the investigators who spoke to him reported that he did not appear to be drunk or on drugs.

The official said that a preliminary examination of Mr. Rockefeller’s phone by detectives from the New York City and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police did not seem to indicate that he had been texting or on a call. But the official added that investigators, as part of a parallel inquiry, were going to review data from nearby cell sites to conclusively determine whether he had been using the phone that was seized, or possibly another device.

Another source familiar with Mr. Rockefeller’s account said that the engineer described being “almost hypnotized” or in a temporary trance.

“That place where you’re not asleep and you’re not 100 percent awake,” he said.

Officials have said that Mr. Rockefeller performed an emergency braking maneuver when he realized the train was heading into the curve too quickly.

The source added that Mr. Rockefeller had not, to his knowledge, attributed the crash to any sort of brake malfunction.

Earl Weener, a board member with the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference on Monday that investigators were “not aware of any problems or anomalies with the brakes.” Senator Charles E. Schumer added that he had been told that the tracks were in proper condition before the derailment.

The safety board, which is leading the investigation, has cautioned that it remains unclear if human error or faulty equipment was responsible.

Asked about Mr. Rockefeller’s possible culpability in a radio interview with WNYC on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, “The operator has rights, but there’s all sorts of liability questions.”

Mr. Cuomo said on Monday that he expected to see Metro-North service restored toward the end of the week, though officials said there was no definitive timetable for full service.

The authority said that all rail cars had been cleared from the tracks on Monday night. Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that crews worked through the night to clear debris, remove ballast — the stone between ties — and begin laying new ties. A specialized device called a “Rail Vac” was being used to vacuum stone from between ties, she said.

About 900 gallons of diesel fuel were siphoned from the locomotive before its removal, Ms. Anders said, but a “small amount” spilled in the accident. She said that workers had begun a cleanup effort.

The tracks were in varying states of disrepair. The track farthest inland was essentially undamaged, Ms. Anders said; the middle track was being worked on first and will need to be almost completely rebuilt. Crews must also perform significant work on the track closest to the river.

William K. Rashbaum and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

NYC train derailment airs queries about technology
Associated Press
Article published Dec 3, 2013

Yonkers, N.Y. (AP) — The revelation that a New York City commuter train derailed while barreling around a sharp curve at nearly three times the speed limit is fueling questions about whether automated crash-avoidance technology could have prevented the carnage.

Safety officials have championed what's known as positive train control technology for decades, but the railroad industry has sought to postpone having to install it because of the high cost and technological issues.

Investigators haven't yet determined whether the weekend wreck, which killed four people and injured more than 60 others, was the result of human error or mechanical trouble. But some safety experts said the tragedy might not have happened if Metro-North Railroad had the technology, and a lawmaker said the derailment underscored the need for it.

"This incident, if anything, heightens the importance of additional safety measures, like that one," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, which also is served by Metro-North. "I'd be very loath to be more flexible or grant more time."

The train was going 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph turn Sunday morning and ran off the track, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Monday. He cited information extracted from the train's two data recorders; investigators also began interviewing the train's crew.

The speed stunned officials — "I gulped," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the NTSB findings make it clear "extreme speed was a central cause" of the derailment and vowed to "make sure any responsible parties are held accountable" after investigators determine why the train was going so fast.

"At this point in time, we can't tell" whether the answer is faulty brakes or a human mistake, Weener said.

The New York Police Department is conducting its own investigation with assistance from the Bronx district attorney's office in the event the derailment becomes a criminal case.

Weener sketched a scenario suggesting that the throttle was let up and the brakes were fully applied way too late to stave off the crash. He said the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop — "very late in the game" for a train going that fast — and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.

It takes about a quarter-mile to a half-mile to stop a train going 82 mph, according to Kevin Thompson, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesman.

Investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment, Weener said.

Weener would not disclose what investigators know about the engineer's version of events, and he said the results of drug and alcohol tests were not yet available. Investigators are also examining the engineer's cellphone; engineers are allowed to carry cellphones but prohibited from using them during a train's run.

The engineer, William Rockefeller, "is totally traumatized by everything that has happened," said Anthony Bottalico, executive director of the rail employees union.

"He's a sincere human being with an impeccable record that I know of. He's diligent and competent," Bottalico said. Rockefeller, 46, has been an engineer for about 11 years and a Metro-North employee for about 20, he said.

Positive train control, or PTC, is designed to forestall the human errors that cause about 40 percent of train accidents, and uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or going the wrong way. The transportation safety board has urged railroads to install PTC in some form since 1970, and after a 2005 head-on collision killed 25 people near Los Angeles, Congress in 2008 ordered rail lines to adopt the technology by December 2015.

Metro-North has taken steps toward acquiring it but, like many rail lines, has advocated for a few more years to implement a costly system that railroads say presents technological and other hurdles.

Grady Cothen, a former FRA safety official, said a PTC system would have prevented Sunday's crash if the brakes were working normally. And Steve Ditmeyer, a former FRA official who teaches at Michigan State University, said the technology would have monitored the brakes and would not have allowed the train to exceed the speed limit.

"A properly installed PTC system would have prevented this train from crashing," he said. "If the engineer would not have taken control of slowing the train down, the PTC system would have."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North, began planning for a PTC system as soon as the law was put into effect, spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. After some early-stage work such as buying radio frequencies, the MTA awarded $428 million in contracts in September to develop the system for Metro-North and its sister Long Island Rail Road.

But the MTA has advocated for an extension to 2018, saying it's difficult to install such a system across more than 1,000 rail cars and 1,200 miles of track.

"It's not a simple, off-the-shelf solution," Anders said Monday.

On Sunday, the train was about half full, with about 150 people aboard, when it ran off the rails while rounding a bend where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet. The lead car landed inches from the water.

The dead were identified as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh; James G. Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose; and Kisook Ahn, 35, of Queens.

Some of the injured remained hospitalized Monday, including seven in intensive care at one hospital and two patients in critical condition at another.

The train was configured with its locomotive in the back instead of the front. Weener said that is common, and a train's brakes work the same way no matter where the locomotive is located. Ditmeyer said the locomotive's location has virtually no effect on train safety.

Still, some people feel the configuration provides less protection for passengers because if the train hits something, there's no locomotive in front to absorb the blow, said Bill Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, a riders' advocacy group.

The derailment came amid a troubled year for Metro-North, and marked the first time in the railroad's 31-year history that a passenger was killed in an accident.

In May, a train derailed in Bridgeport, Conn., and was struck by a train coming in the opposite direction, injuring 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor. In July, a freight train full of garbage derailed near the site of Sunday's wreck.

Repair work on the latest derailment damage continued on Metro-North's Hudson Line, which normally carries 26,000 weekday riders.

On Monday night, workers used a backhoe to push pieces of damaged track off to the side, and then broke them up for disposal. On Tuesday, dozens of workers in orange vests were hammering new tracks into ties. There was heavy equipment along the tracks; one worker pounded with a mallet.

Metro-North Train Sped at 82 M.P.H. Into 30 M.P.H. Zone Before Crash
December 2, 2013

The Metro-North Railroad train that hurtled off the rails on a sleepy holiday weekend morning was traveling 82 miles per hour as it approached one of the sharpest curves in the region’s rail system, federal investigators said on Monday — nearly three times the speed permitted through the turn.

The throttle was still engaged — giving the engine power — until six seconds before the locomotive, in the rear of the train, came to a stop around 7:20 a.m. Sunday after the train careered toward the Harlem River, killing four people and injuring more than 70, north of Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation, and a board member, Earl Weener, said the train’s sudden power shift came “very late in the game.” The board cautioned that it remained unclear if the speed was the result of human error or faulty equipment.

But the extraordinary speed shed new light on the deadliest New York City train derailment in more than two decades and heightened the focus on the veteran engineer at the center of the investigation. The maximum allowable speed through the curve is 30 m.p.h.; even the straightaway north of the crash site permits speeds no greater than 70 m.p.h.

Asked if the safety board was looking into the possibility that the engineer, William Rockefeller, fell asleep, was using his cellphone or was otherwise distracted, a spokesman for the board, Keith Holloway, said, “Part of our investigation, as in all investigations, is to look at human performance factors.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s cellphone was recovered as “part of our routine process,” Mr. Weener said, and the results of drug and alcohol tests conducted after the crash were not yet known. Mr. Rockefeller was treated at a hospital and released.

The authorities said that the train’s brakes appeared to have been operating effectively shortly before the crash.

“We are not aware of any problems or anomalies with the brakes,” Mr. Weener said.

Senator Charles E. Schumer noted, “The train did make nine stops before coming to this curve. So clearly the brakes were working a short time before.”

He added that he was told by the safety board that the tracks in the area also seemed to have been in proper condition.

The revelations came as workers raised the train cars — all seven and the locomotive had been derailed — and thousands of commuters were forced to use alternative routes. The police and prosecutors began a parallel investigation to see if a crime had been committed.

The safety board’s interview with Mr. Rockefeller, a Metro-North employee who lives in Germantown, N.Y., was cut short Monday afternoon and is to continue this week, officials said.

Anthony Bottalico, the acting director of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, said that the interview was postponed because of “the trauma of the whole thing and the lack of sleep” for Mr. Rockefeller.

Several law enforcement officials said that detectives from the New York City and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police, with assistance from the office of the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, were mounting an investigation parallel to the safety board’s inquiry.

That was being done to collect evidence if officials determine a crime occurred, three law enforcement officials said. The safety board is not a law enforcement agency; its role is limited to issuing findings and making recommendations.

Prosecutors from Mr. Johnson’s office were at the scene of the derailment on Sunday, and two officials said the prosecutors had issued subpoenas for the engineer’s blood samples, for drug and alcohol testing, and for his cellphone.  Mr. Bottalico predicted that “when all is said and done here,” the authorities would find there was “no criminal intent.”

A senior official with the transportation authority has said that Mr. Rockefeller initially told emergency workers that he “dumped the brakes,” an emergency maneuver, after he realized he was traveling too quickly.

Mr. Weener said that six seconds before the rear locomotive came to a stop, “the throttle was reduced to idle.” The brakes were fully applied one second later.

Marjorie Anders, a transportation authority spokeswoman, said that the front car, where the engineer was positioned, had a “dead man’s pedal,” which operators must keep depressed to avoid automatic braking.  A crucial question, officials said, was why the train was traveling so fast as to require an emergency maneuver.

Mr. Weener said that the transportation authority had provided surveillance video from the nearby Henry Hudson Bridge, but that the footage was “of low quality” and would be sent to Washington to be enhanced at the safety board’s laboratory.  The rate of speed was determined by the safety board using the train’s onboard data recorders recovered at the scene.

For those close to Mr. Rockefeller, who rose from the ranks of Grand Central Terminal custodians to a six-figure job as an engineer, Sunday’s crash was particularly harrowing.  Friends described Mr. Rockefeller as a mechanically inclined tinkerer and a former volunteer firefighter. Michael McLendon, a friend and former boss, recalled his early days on the job at Grand Central in the 1990s.  After taking a job at Metro-North’s control center at the terminal, Mr. McLendon said, Mr. Rockefeller’s attention turned toward train engineering.

Mr. Bottalico said this shift on the Hudson line had been his regular job since Nov. 17, though he said Mr. Rockefeller was a veteran of the line and was familiar with the route. It was not an overtime shift, he said.

Mr. Bottalico added that a conductor and assistant conductor were interviewed on Monday.  Ms. Anders said on Monday that the tracks north of the station did not include any kind of marker telling engineers when to slow down.

“Engineers are required to know maximum authorized speeds and speed restrictions as part of their territory qualification,” she said.

By early afternoon, all of the train’s cars had been righted with the help of cranes. Some had missing windows. The derailment left a broad swath of dark soil in the area where the train had come to a stop, as if the surface had been plowed.

Looking from Riverdale into Manhattan;  the reverse here.

Call for Expedited Probe Into Latest Deadly Metro-North Derailment
Dec. 2, 2013

A Metro-North train on the Hudson line derailed Sunday morning in the Bronx
. Four people were killed and more than 60 people were injured.

It's been a difficult year for Metro-North. In May, two commuter trains collided outside of Bridgeport, injuring more than 70 people. Just weeks later, a track foreman was killed by a train near West Haven. Then in September, a power failure disrupted travel on the New Haven line for nearly two weeks.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said he’s losing patience. He’s calling on federal officials to move quickly on a probe into Sunday’s deadly derailment. "I have already contacted the chairman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman," he said. "I’ve urged an expedited investigation. We can’t wait as long for this investigation as we have been for the Bridgeport derailment which is still incomplete."

Blumenthal said Sunday’s tragedy again dramatizes the need to focus on railroad safety and reliability. He said, "It really adds powerful evidence to recent Connecticut incidents requiring that Metro-North confront questions about the adequacy of its equipment and tracks, maintenance, and repair practices."

Metro-North said New Haven Line service in Connecticut will not be affected by Sunday’s derailment.

CBS.com report

Accident Ends Commute to Help Set Up the Rockefeller Center Tree
December 1, 2013

As for so many other commuters from the river towns and suburbs north of New York City, the Metro-North Hudson line train was Jim Lovell’s lifeline, shuttling him from his Hudson Valley home to Grand Central Terminal in under 90 minutes whenever he had a job to do.

On Sunday morning, the assignment was special: Mr. Lovell, a freelance media consultant with nearly 40 years’ experience in sound, lights and production, had been hired to help set up the towering Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, which is to be lighted on Wednesday. He took the early train from Cold Spring, on the banks of the Hudson River, bound for Manhattan.

But Mr. Lovell, 58, never made it to Rockefeller Center. He was one of four passengers killed when a southbound train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station just after 7 a.m. Sunday. The authorities identified the others as Donna L. Smith, 54, of Newburgh, N.Y.; James M. Ferrari, 59, of Montrose, N.Y.; and Ahn Kisook, 35, of Queens.

When Mr. Lovell’s sister-in-law Eileen Raleigh saw the news at 8:15 a.m., she said in a phone interview on Sunday night, she immediately called her sister, Nancy Montgomery, Mr. Lovell’s wife.

“I said, ‘Please tell me Jimmy wasn’t on that train,’ ” Ms. Raleigh said as relatives and friends gathered at the family’s home to grieve.

“She said, ‘I wish I could.’ ”

Calls to Mr. Lovell’s cellphone went unanswered. So when they learned that the authorities had set up a center for the families of passengers at a high school near the derailment site, Ms. Raleigh and Ms. Montgomery drove to the Bronx. Ms. Raleigh arrived first. Detectives showed her a photo of Mr. Lovell’s license, she said. That was when she found out.

In recent years, Ms. Raleigh said, Mr. Lovell had overcome some health issues, though she did not say what kind.

“And the thing that Nancy said is, ‘He beat some health problems and look what takes his life,’ ” Ms. Raleigh said. “He’s going to be very sorely missed.”

Mr. Lovell had four children, an adult daughter from a previous marriage and three sons, ages 12, 15 and 17, with Ms. Montgomery. He grew up the youngest of four brothers in Garrison, N.Y., not far from Cold Spring, and married Ms. Montgomery, a local town councilwoman with a big family, after meeting her in the area.

Cold Spring and other Hudson River towns have become quaint, affordable destinations for young couples leaving the city. But Mr. Lovell and Ms. Montgomery were no city escapees; natives of the area, they wanted to stay near their families, and Mr. Lovell loved being outdoors, Ms. Raleigh said. They had lived by a lake for 15 years, building an idyllic life among a close-knit network of friends and neighbors.

An avid hiker and a “free spirit,” Mr. Lovell often fished, swam, canoed, kayaked and windsurfed on the lake and the Hudson with his family, Ms. Raleigh said. He also liked to play guitar, mostly classic rock.

Above all, he cherished his freedom. No 9-to-5 desk job for him, no regular Metro-North train, only consulting assignments for NBC, the Smithsonian and other big-name clients, which kept him traveling at odd hours for years.

“He liked having autonomy,” Ms. Raleigh said. “He didn’t want to have ‘a train.’ ”

But on Sunday morning, fresh from spending Thanksgiving with relatives in Albany, Mr. Lovell was on the train once again. This time, he would not be coming back.

“Words can’t express how much my father meant to me,” his son Finn Lovell, 17, wrote on his public Instagram account. “It’s safe to say he molded me into the man I am today. I love you and I miss you.”

Derailed train operator: Brakes didn’t work
By Jamie Schram, Kate Sheehy and Rebecca Harshbarger
December 1, 2013 | 2:07pm

The brakes didn’t work.

That’s what Metro-North operator William Rockefeller told investigators just after his train’s deadly derailment in the Bronx on Sunday, law enforcement sources told The Post.  Rockefeller, 46, said he hit the brakes as his train approached the Spuyten Duyvil station, but nothing happened before cars flipped out of control.

“We’re looking into the speed” and also the possible brake issue, a law enforcement source said.

The operator has been working for Metro-North for 20 years and has a clean disciplinary record, authorities said.  Rockefeller’s dad, William Rockefeller Sr., told The Post that he’d just seen his son at Thanksgiving — and was unaware of the horrific accident until a relative called him.  The operator’s father said he didn’t know his son was even on the train until William Jr.’s wife called him shortly after the crash.

“I had no idea he was involved,’ the train operator’s dad said.

“His wife called us just to let us know. We’re doing as good as can be expected… We’re holding up.”

William Rockefeller Sr. stuck up for his kid.

“He’s one of the better engineers, the most dependable. And he really does like trains,” William Sr. said.

The train operator is married, but has no children. He’s never been in an accident before, according to his pop.

“It’s too traumatizing right now,” the dad said before hanging up.

Additional reporting by Larry Celona and David K. Li

‘It was just a bloodbath’: 4 dead, 60 injured in NYC train derail nightmare
By Jamie Schram, Larry Celona, C.J. Sullivan and Kevin Sheehan
December 1, 2013 | 8:13am

High speed and faulty brakes might have caused a Metro-North train derailment in the Bronx on Sunday, killing four passengers and injuring dozens more, authorities said.  The accident happened at 7:22 a.m. about 100 feet north of the Spuyten Duyvil station just north of Manhattan as all seven cars derailed, according to MTA officials.

“One woman seemed like she had lost most of her head. The side of the car was just covered in her blood,” said survivor Emilie Miyauchi, 28, who was in the first car. “I think her friend she was traveling with was stuck in the car and trying to find out what happened to her friend. We were just trying to keep her calm too.”

Several passengers said the train appeared to be taking a tricky curve at Spuyten Duyvil station too fast.  The train’s operator, 46-year-old William Rockefeller, said he hit brakes but they didn’t work, according to law enforcement sources.  The train’s speed appears to be an early focus of the probe.

“I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling several times. Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming,” said passenger Joel Zaritsky, headed into New York for a dental convention.

“There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train.”

One FDNY rescuer at the scene said he couldn’t believe the carnage in front of him.

“It was just a bloodbath,” the FDNY Bravest said. “This is the worse accident scene I’ve ever worked. There was blood everywhere.”

Family of passengers on the derailed train are being asked to call 311 or (212) 639-9675 for more information about their loved ones’ whereabouts.  There were at least four dead, 11 critically injured, six seriously hurt and 46 riders with minor wounds, authorities said. The dead included three men and one woman, according to WABC-TV.  One of the dead was buried in wreckage between cars.

“I’ve just toured the cars and it’s horrific,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. “The sheer speed the train must have been going … hopefully the injured will survive. We’re all praying for the critically injured.”

Four NYPD cops and one recruit were on board the train, and three of them were injured, law enforcement source said.  The most serious injured officer was a female cop who broke a shoulder and rib in the crash, officials said. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly visited her at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.  The injured also included a 43-year-old man, who was being treated at St. Barnabas for a damaged spinal cord.

The terrifying crash sent passengers flying.

The crash happened at the foot of Spuyten Duyvil creek and cars narrowly missed going into the water.  NYPD dive teams fished into the creek just to make sure no victims were submerged.

“We believe, we believe, but we need to obviously recreate this. We believe three of the four fatalities were thrown out as the train came off the track and was twisting and turning,” FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano said.

Train No. 8808 originated out of Poughkeepsie, departing at 5:54 a.m., and was scheduled to arrive into Grand Central Terminal at 7:43 a.m., officials said. The cars were being pushed south by a locomotive.

Rescuers were slowed briefly by the steep incline between the street and tracks below.

Several passengers said the train seemed to be moving too fast on a curve headed toward Spuyten Duyvil station.

“It would appear the train was clearly going too fast on the curve,” City Councilman Oliver Koppell [D-Bronx] said.

“I take this train every morning and they always slow on this curve. On first look, it appears the operator was going way too fast.”

The train was going “a lot faster” than usual as it approached the tricky bend, passenger Frank Tatulli told Channel 7. The speed limit coming into Spuyten Duyvil is 30 mph, the MTA said.

“The guy was going on one of the turns fast. I have no idea why,” said Tatulli, who rides this same train into work in Manhattan every Sunday morning. “It [the train] left them [tracks] because it went too fast.”

Gov. Cuomo rushed to the Bronx and toured the crash site. NTSB investigators were set to take charge of the investigation.

“It’s obviously a very tragic situation,” Cuomo said.”What we do know is four people lost their lives today in the holiday season right after Thanksgiving. They’re in our thoughts and prayers.”

Red Cross volunteers set up a makeshift triage operation, prepping injured passengers for ambulance rides to the hospital.

“It [the train] just started to tip and then `bang!’ ” a 50-something woman said as she was treated by the Red Cross.

“I hit the seat in front of me. The next thing, I was sitting on a window and the lights were off. The car was on its side. Everything hurts.”

A 30-something woman, shaking under a Red Cross blanket with an ice packet on her head, was in obvious pain when she said: “It hurts so bad.”

“I was like a bomb went off, I don’t know,” she said, describing the derailment.

Neighborhood resident Brendan Conley said he was jarred awake by the loud crash.

“I thought I heard what I thought was a building collapsing,” said Conley, 22. “I came to the window and saw people walking across the tracks. Smoke was coming out of the second car that rolled over. I yelled for my mom to call the fire department. I stood there and saw 40 or 50 people come climbing out of the train on their own.”

Another neighbor, 62-year-old Mike Segell, said the train cars coming apart.

“It sounded like an explosion and I looked and saw the cars hitting each other,” Segell said. “The FDNY got here really fast and started cutting the train doors and windows with grinders.”

Reginald Ragin, 45, was anxiously waited outside Jacobi Medical Center in hopes of seeing his s sister, Sharon Martin, 42, of Newburgh, who was on her way into Midtown where she works for the MTA.

“The nurse said they’re really busy in the back. I asked her if she could please go in the back and check her status. She came back and said she’s OK,” Ragin said.

“That was the most she could tell me. They won’t allow anyone in the back. They won’t tell anyone any other information. That’s why I’m out here right now.”

Steven Ciccone, a 29-year-old Long Island man on the train, said he didn’t notice it going too fast before his fellow passengers were sudden piling on him.

“It [the train] shuddered and it started to flip and other passengers fell on top of me,” he said. “there were screams and laments from the injured.”

A freight train hauling garbage derailed in about the same place of Sunday’s crash in the Bronx back on July 18.

The northbound train went off rails between the Spuyten Duyvil and Marble Hill stations.

4 Dead in Metro-North Train Derailment in the Bronx
December 1, 2013

At least four people were killed after a Metro-North Railroad train derailed Sunday morning in the Bronx along the Hudson River, officials said.

A total of 67 people were injured, including 11 critically, a New York Fire Department spokesman, Jim Long, said.

The derailment occurred when several cars of a train headed south from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., left the tracks about 7:20 a.m. near the Spuyten Duyvil station under the Henry Hudson Bridge on the Hudson Line, according to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman, Aaron Donovan.  At a news conference, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the operator of the train was among the people injured and was being treated. The families of the four victims had not yet been notified as of midmorning, he said.

“It’s obviously a very tragic situation,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Three of the four people who were killed were thrown from the train during the derailment, fire officials said.

Any curve in the tracks would have speed restrictions, officials said. They said that investigators would examine the track, the equipment, the signal system and the operator.  Joel Zaritsky had just fallen asleep in the fourth car of the train when the train started to roll over and landed almost on its side, he said.

“People were screaming,” he said on Sunday morning as he was traveled to the hospital. “I found myself thrown to the other side of the train.”

Mr. Zaritsky, who lives in Poughkeepsie, and was heading to New York for a convention, said his hand was cut and he was very bruised.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m very happy to be alive.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said that it was sending a team to New York to investigate the derailment.  Rescue workers from the Police and Fire Departments converged on the scene and lowered stretchers into the train cars, which were lying nearly on their sides; one car was just above the water.

Many local residents at the scene described being awakened by a prolonged crashing sound. Some said it was a quick series of booms and then they saw several train cars on their sides away from the tracks.

Michael Keaveney, 22, a security worker who lives in a co-op apartment building overlooking the crash site, said the crash awoke him and that when he looked out his window, “I thought I was still dreaming.”

Several crashed cars lay on their sides for about 10 minutes, he said, with no visible commotion. “They were trapped inside the cars,” he said of the passengers, until emergency responders arrived.

Firefighters arrived and climbed onto the toppled cars with ladders, opened the passenger doors and lowered ladders into the car and “started pulling people out,” said Kevin Farrell, 28, a hospital administrator who lives in a co-op building overlooking the crash site. He said he watched passengers being helped out with arms in splints or other minor injuries, and several of them were taken by stretchers.  Responders rushed the passengers to ambulances through a section of a chain-link fence that they had removed.

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, who represents the area and was at the scene, said the accident was “certainly the worst one on this line.”

The train was the 5:54 a.m. out of Poughkeepsie, and was due at Grand Central Terminal at 7:43 a.m.  All service between the Croton-Harmon station and Grand Central Terminal was suspended, Mr. Donovan said.  Officials said that anyone who thinks they might have a relative involved in the crash should call 311, officials said.

Annie Correal, Emma G.Fitzsimmons, Corey Kilgannon and Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.

Still no effect on New Haven Line
Martin Cassidy
Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Metro-North train derailment on a curved section of track in the Bronx,N.Y. near Spuyten Duyvil station has left four confirmed dead and at least 67 injured, according to FDNY spokesman Michael Parella.

The accident has not impacted New Haven Line service, though the Hudson Line passengers traveling south of Tarrytown are being shuttled to the Harlem Line at White Plains,N.Y., according to the railroad.

More than 130 firefighters have responded to the accident in which five of the seven cars of a southbound train that originated in Poughkeepsie derailed just north of the Spuyten Duyvil Station.

Metro-North has suspended Hudson Line service south of Tarrytown and put in place a shuttle service from that station to White Plains, N.Y. that is expected to be running by mid morning.

Sources: At Least 4 Dead In Metro-North Train Derailment In The Bronx
Fire Officials: Several Injured, Some Seriously
December 1, 2013 9:58 AM

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Four people were killed and 46 injured when a Metro-North commuter train derailed Sunday morning in the Bronx, fire officials said.

Emergency crews were on the scene removing passengers from inside the cars, WCBS 880′s Monica Miller reported.

Passengers were taken off the derailed train, with dozens of them bloodied and scratched, holding ice packs to their heads. Eleven of the injuries are critical, officials said.  Five of the train’s seven cars came off the track about 100 feet north of the Spuyten Duyvil station around 7:20 a.m., MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told WCBS 880. One car came to rest feet from the water.

Witnesses told 1010 WINS the train was moving very fast and took a hard turn before going off the tracks.  Joel Zaritsky, a passenger, told The Associated Press he was on his way to New York City for a dental convention.

“I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling several times. Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming. There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train,” he said, holding his bloody right hand.

“I was at my desk at my computer, and I thought a plane was coming in,” Steve Kronenberg, who lives nearby, told Miller. “I jumped away. Then after the noise stopped, I looked out the window and saw the train derailment, and I called 911 right away. They put me on with the fire department. I told them what had happened, where it was, so on and so forth. … I told them there wasn’t any flames. There was a little bit of smoke coming out from one of the cars, and they got here pretty quickly.”

“Hoping people are OK, hoping nobody’s hurt,” he added.

At least 4 dead, 48 injured in Metro-North train derailment, sources tell 1010 WINS - The southbound train left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive at Grand Central Terminal at 7:43 a.m.

The Fire Department of New York said 130 firefighters are on the scene. The extent of the injuries is not yet clear, the MTA said.

“I didn’t realize it had been turned over until I saw a firefighter walking on the window,” he said.

The derailment occurred near where a freight train derailed in July. No one was injured in that accident.  Service has been suspended on the Metro-North Hudson line between Grand Central Terminal and Poughkeepsie.  Amtrak has suspended service on its Empire line between New York City and Albany.

Metro-North Train Derails in the Bronx
December 1, 2013

A Metro-North Railroad train derailed Sunday morning in the Bronx along the Hudson River, and a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said there could be fatalities.  Five of the seven cars on the southbound train from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., left the tracks about 7:20 a.m. near the Spuyten Duyvil station under the Henry Hudson Bridge on Metro-North’s Hudson Line, the spokesman, Aaron Donovan, said.

The New York Fire Department reported multiple injuries. Mr. Donovan said the extent of the injuries was not immediately known, but he said there were “possible fatalities.”

The police and fire departments were sending rescue teams to the scene. Firefighters could be seen lowering stretchers into the train cars, which were lying nearly on their sides; one car was just above the water. 
The train left Poughkeepsie about 5:54 a.m., Mr. Donovan said, adding that it was unlikely to have been carrying many passengers.

“We are just not sure” what caused the derailment, he said. “That will be the subject of a detailed investigation.”

A freight train derailed near the same station in July.  All service between the Croton-Harmon station and Grand Central Terminal was suspended, Mr. Donovan said.

Powerless.  And out of touch - that is a reference to the group on the far right above.  Cultural difference between CT State Government and Fairfield County:  one tries to do business and the other bets on KENO.

AP NewsBreak: Conn. economy hurt by rail mishap
By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
Oct 9, 4:08 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut's economy apparently suffered during the recent 12-day disruption of commuter rail service along Metro-North's busy New Haven Line, according to a new analysis by the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The analysis, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, determined Connecticut's gross state product - a measurement of the state's economic output - declined $62 million. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated Connecticut's gross state product in 2012 at nearly $230 billion.

"It reconfirms the point that we're making of the absolute critical nature of the rail system," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County, which supports spending at least $2 billion on upgrades to the line and enhancing the ability of trains to travel at higher speeds between New Haven and Manhattan.

"These numbers illustrate why. This is extraordinary," he said of the estimate.

The report also determined the service disruption on Metro-North led to a net loss of $2.5 million in state revenue, while lost productivity was the equivalent to 260 jobs, including 200 private-sector jobs lost and 25 construction-sector jobs lost.

Among the assumptions used in the calculation were an estimated loss of rail ticket sales of $5.3 million and an estimated $3 million for expenses associated with running diesel-powered trains once per hour on a limited basis and buses for alternative transportation.

On Sept. 25, a failed electrical circuit cut power to part of the New Haven Line, forcing Metro-North Railroad to reduce rail service by half. Tens of thousands of commuters had to make other arrangements as the railroad tried to get by with a handful of diesel-powered trains, and then limited electric train service.

The report estimates 62,500 Metro-North commuters were affected during the eight workdays of the rail disruption.

The line returned to full service between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal on Monday, thanks to a new electrical substation activated in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Peter Goia, economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, cautioned that economic models are not as sophisticated as they may seem. But he said he wasn't surprised by the $62 million estimate considering he saw the traffic backups firsthand while driving along I-95 during the disruption.

"It was a parking lot through Norwalk to Bridgeport," he said. "You've got people either late to their jobs, or they're coming in frazzled and are less productive. Anybody who was trying to make a business meeting on time, going south, for it. It was impossible."

McGee said he has urged Connecticut's Department of Transportation to include a wide-ranging economic impact study of Connecticut's commuter rail system in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's "Transform CT" initiative, an 18-month series of public hearings and events to help come up with a long-term plan for improving highways, bus and rail systems.

McGee said the disruption shows how much of an impact the rail service has on Connecticut communities and workers, and how there needs to be a more comprehensive analysis of what the system is worth.

"It's not just a matter of a Manhattan ad executives using the rail to get to work," he said. "Everyone takes the rail."

From Rep. Shaban Monday morning (Oct. 7th):

The MTA Board has authorized Metro-North to offer a credit to any New Haven Line Monthly and Weekly Ticket Holder to compensate for the significant disruption caused by the recent Con Edison power outage.

Here are details of the credit program:
For any questions about the credit process, please contact Customer Service at 511 (outside of NYS, 877-690-5114).

Full Power To Be Restored To Metro-North For Monday's Commute
Amtrak Acela Expected Fully Back On Track Sunday
The Hartford Courantourant.co
5:54 PM EDT, October 5, 2013

Metro-North service between Stamford and New York City will be restored to full capacity for Monday morning's commute, the railroad announced.

"Regular New Haven Line service will resume Monday morning following initial successful testing of a major new electrical substation at Mount Vernon," the commuter railroad said.

"I'm happy for the thousands of Connecticut commuters that service will be back to normal on Monday," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement Saturday afternoon. "I hope this outage serves as a wakeup call to both Con Ed and the MTA when it comes to maintenance."

Amtrak also announced on Saturday that its Acela train service between Boston and New York City will return to its full schedule on Sunday.  Metro-North and Amtrak Acela service have been hobbled since Sept. 25, when power from the Mount Vernon, N.Y. substation that fed electricity to the New Haven Line failed. Crews since then have been hurrying to complete a new substation that already was under construction.

"Everybody has been working like crazy," Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Saturday. "It was a huge accomplishment. This wasn't supposed to be finished until mid-October."

Metro-North was in the midst of a $50 million project to replace the 1977 substation when the power crisis hit, Anders said. Con Edison had taken one of the substation's two feeder lines out of service in mid-September as part of the construction job, and the other one evidently failed on Sept. 25.

"We went through all kinds of testing in the summer to be sure there'd be enough power with just one line. Con Ed and Metro-North determined that one was just fine — but halfway through the project it went out," she said Saturday.

The power failure created havoc for Metro-North and Acela riders. A patchwork of portable transformers in Larchmont, N.Y., has allowed severely limited service between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal, and the railroad will keep that system in place for now as a backup, Anders said.

Metro-North officials had said this past week that they expected full service to return Monday, provided the new power equipment tested well.

On Friday, Metro-North also announced that it would be implementing a credit program for inconvenienced customers.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, on Saturday praised Malloy for publicly pressing the railroad to issue refunds.

"We need to look at why this happened and take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," Malloy said.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Metro-North limited service enters 10th day
Staff reports, Greenwich TIME
Published 6:08 am, Friday, October 4, 2013

As the Metro-North meltdown enters Day 10, there is light at the end of the train tunnel.

Con Edison expects to have work on restoring full power to the crippled New Haven Line by Monday.

Con Edison and the New York Power Authority continue to make permanent repairs to the failed Con Edison feeder cable in order to restore full power to the crucial eight-mile section between Harrison and Mount Vernon and allow for full restoration of regular train service on the New Haven Line.

Testing of the new feeder cable is expected this weekend.

Metro-North has not given an exact time when full rail service will be restored.

Today, Metro-North is operating at 65 percent of capacity.

Earlier this week, state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said workers are hoping to restore full rail service in time for Monday morning's commute.

"By Monday, we hope to have everything back to normal service," said at meeting of state mayors at the Connecticut Convention Center

Workers plan permanent repairs over the weekend, and the railroad will need to test trains for more than half a day to determine if the restoration succeeded, Redeker said. If everything goes well, the Monday morning commute will be back to normal.

Metro-North had earlier said full service would resume on Tuesday "at the earliest."

Metro-North to boost train runs from Connecticut to NYC
Associated Press
Article published Oct 2, 2013

Hartford (AP) — Metro-North Railroad says more trains will be running on the New Haven Line.

Nearly a week after a circuit failed in a New York City suburb, the commuter rail line said the New Haven line has gotten a power boost from Con Edison's temporary substation in Harrison, N.Y.

Metro North says trains will be operating at about 65 percent capacity beginning Wednesday. That's up from 50 percent since the disruption began.

Interstate 95, the Merritt Parkway and other highways in southeast Connecticut have been jammed with by traffic tie-ups as commuters look for alternative ways to get to Grand Central Terminal

Officials say normal commuter rail service between New Haven and New York City should resume by Oct. 8.

Metro-North pins hopes on temporary power solution
Railroad looks to add more buses for start of week
Rob Varnon, Greenwich TIME
Updated 9:29 pm, Saturday, September 28, 2013

HARRISON, N.Y. -- With normal train service still a week away at best, railroad and utility executives hope a temporary substation they're putting online in Harrison can power a few more trains into New York City by Monday.

Howard Permut, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro-North Railroad, told reporters Saturday at the Harrison Station the plan is to add buses, park and ride options along with the return of some electric-powered trains to the affected corridor that's been operating at 30 percent capacity since Wednesday.  The failure of a 138,000-volt Con Edison feeder cable at a substation in Mount Vernon brought the railroad to a virtual standstill leaving a nearly 9-mile stretch of the busy New Haven Line between Connecticut and Grand Central without enough power to move Metro-North's fleet of electric trains through the corridor.

The railroad has been operating on its limited fleet of 24 diesel engines.

For the last four days, Con Edison crews have been building a temporary substation at the Harrison Railroad Station that will tap into the local city power grid and pipe it into the railroad.  The company brought portable transformers in, put five power poles in the ground and made hundreds of connections.  About 31 workers were on the site Saturday making final connections and testing was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. The extra power would only be made available to run more trains beginning Monday.

"It's a temporary substation," Tom Prendergast, MTA chairman and CEO, said at the station. "It will only provide about 20 percent capacity to run through that corridor,"

Prendergast and Permut explained by using diesel train engines combined with the 20 percent, the railroad could be operating at about 50 percent of capacity if the substation tests show it can power trains through the corridor.  The utility wanted to run several tests, including operating a 10-car express and a 10-car local, to see if the substation could handle the load.

Craig Ivey, Con Edison's president, said crews have been working around the clock on a permanent solution and are expected to get a feeder cable in Mount Vernon in service by Oct. 7 -- a week ahead of its scheduled completion.  Con Edison does not know why the cable failed in the first place, with Ivey explaining the utility is concentrating on fixing the problem before investigating what went wrong.  The exact cost of all this is not known, but it is growing and could be quite high. Con Edison crews are working around the clock to fix the feeder cable and have been working around the clock to build the substation. The substation must be guarded at all times by Harrison police, and that cost is being covered by Con Edison, a local law enforcement agent said.

In the meantime, the MTA's Metro-North New Haven Line is losing revenue as people avoid riding the trains. On top of that, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has asked the MTA to refund riders' money.

"We would look into that whether Gov. Malloy asked or not," Prendergast told reporters.

Commuter Pressure Off, Metro-North Works To Restore Some Power
Electrical Failure Caused Chemical Spill In N.Y.; Malloy Strengthens Call For Commuter Refunds
The Hartford Courant
7:44 PM EDT, September 27, 2013

NEW HAVEN — Workers tried to find ways to restore some power to the crippled New Haven Line before commuters return on Monday, while New York environmental crews assessed a chemical spill at the Mount Vernon, N.Y., substation where the power failure originated, officials said Friday.

Wendy Rosenbach of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said about 1,000 gallons of fluid — which is under pressure in the electric wires and is used as a coolant — leaked when the wires failed on Wednesday morning. The dielectric fluid could have trace amounts of PCBs, Rosenbach said.  She said Consolidated Edison, the New York electric utility, is responsible for cleanup and has hired a firm to handle that. She said that there could be environmental damage, but said officials weren't sure.

Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy strengthened his call for refunds for Metro-North rail commuters Friday, the third day of limited train service between Stamford and New York City.

Malloy also said Con Edison planed to test three transformers this weekend in the hopes of getting a portion of the electricity needed to the New Haven Line, Metro-North's busiest line, which serves Connecticut and parts of suburban Westchester County.  Malloy said updates will be provided to residents on Sunday night, before the next commute.

On Friday, many commuters appeared to avoid the transportation problems by staying home. Union Station in New Haven lacked its usual crowds at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, and traffic on major routes to the city was only a little heavier than usual.

"Yeah, there's usually a lot of people at this time," Glen Richards of New Haven said at Union Station Friday morning. "It's usually shoulder-to-shoulder, I think. Today, it's a little bit emptied out."

Malloy first suggested that Metro-North consider refunds for inconvenienced customers on Thursday, but on Friday he spoke more strongly.

"I have told Metro-North and the MTA in no uncertain terms that I expect them to produce a plan to compensate Connecticut riders for the lack of service," he said.

"As you know, I am more than willing to put the full power of the State of Connecticut behind that demand. This is not a weather condition, this is something beyond what we normally call an act of God, and I expect our ticket-holders to be compensated.''

Asked if he is anticipating taking legal action, the governor said, "No, I'm not anticipating it's going to be a court case. It's very difficult for a consumer to sue over a $20 loss. It doesn't make economic sense and that's why I've made it very clear the full authority of the state stands behind this ... and that I have urged them ... [to] rapidly come up with a compensation system for our riders."

Commuters have been crowding onto fewer trains, sitting in highway traffic, finding creative ways to get to work or staying home since an electrical failure forced Metro-North to suspend commuter rail service between the two cities Wednesday.

"You usually can't get a seat on the train at night, but last night, since people were taking different routes, maybe half the train was empty," said Jared Barolli, who was commuting to New York Friday.

Limited bus and train service is being provided — accommodating about 33 percent of the regular ridership — for the New Haven Line, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. The MTA runs Metro-North.

The electrical problem could take several weeks to repair fully, leaving limited service available to the 125,000 people who use the New Haven Line each day, officials said. Metro-North has been using diesel trains and buses to get some commuters back and forth.

Malloy said the outage happened when a 138-kilovolt Con Edison feeder line at the Metro-North Mount Vernon station was taken out of service for repairs and another feeder that provided power to the Metro-North trains failed.

Malloy's order to suspend road construction projects on I-95, the Merritt Parkway, Route 1, Route 7, Route 123 and other busy roads in lower Fairfield County, intended to cut down on traffic jams during the Metro-North trouble, will continue until further notice. That suspension includes a major lane expansion project on I-95 in Norwalk, but it does not include bridge maintenance, which is done at night. Night work will be stopped and cleared by 6 a.m., Malloy said.

Other work to be halted includes mowing, patching roads, clearing brush from catch basins, trimming trees and redoing line striping on roads.

Unless some electricity is restored to the New Haven Line on Monday, the peak travel hour schedule will still have trains running between Stamford and Grand Central every 20 to 30 minutes, Metro-North said. During off-peak hours, trains leave every half hour and make all local stops between the stations.

Amtrak service to and from Penn Station in New York also is delayed, and Amtrak's Acela Express service between New York and Boston, which was suspended Wednesday, will stay offline at least through Sunday, the company said. Passengers are advised to call ahead (1-800-872-7245) before arriving at the station.

New Haven Line tickets continue to be honored on the Harlem Line, which runs from Southeast, N.Y., to Grand Central.

The power outage comes less than five months after a New Haven Line train derailed and crashed into another train near the Fairfield-Bridgeport border, created creating major commuting problems for about a week.

It also comes less than a year after storm Sandy, the worst storm in Con Edison's history, which brought flooding that left lower Manhattan without power for days.

"It's like this post-apocalyptic commute, courtesy of Metro-North," said John Weiss of Larchmont, N.Y., as he hopped on a train bound for nearby Stamford. The New York City Landmark Preservation Commission lawyer said he didn't understand why there was no backup plan, when "it just seems on a regular basis they have these semi-disasters."

The updated service schedule is available on both the Metro-North and state DOT websites.

Reports from Courant Staff Writer Daniela Altimari and FOX CT are included in this story.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Metro-North, Con Edison tested plan that led to failure
Martin B. Cassidy, Greenwich TIME
Published 10:35 pm, Thursday, September 26, 2013

STAMFORD -- As the investigation continues into the cause of Wednesday's power failure that pulled the plug on Metro-North's busy New Haven Line, a railroad spokeswoman said the plan to take a secondary electrical line out of service had been planned and tested over the summer.

"We ran extra trains in that section and put extra load on the grid, and it was decided mutually between Metro-North and Con Edison that there wouldn't be a problem," Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

Though it may take officials weeks to determine the cause, it appears the 138,000-volt line that was left to bear the burden of energizing trains along an eight-mile stretch of track in Westchester County, N.Y., from Pelham to Rye became overwhelmed and superheated.  This month, Con Edison de-energized one of the two 138,000-volt feeder cables in the Mount Vernon substation to accommodate Metro-North's ongoing $50 million project to increase the system's capacity and support more service in the future in the area, Anders said.  During the summer tests the railroad ran a higher than normal number of trains through the area on the 36-year-old feeder cable to see if it could bear the additional load, Anders said. The normal design life of the feeder cable is 30 years, she said.

After the tests, Metro-North Railroad and Con Edison deemed it unlikely that the primary 138,000-volt feeder line would fail due to being overloaded by the railroad's traffic through the area, Anders said.  Establishing a secondary power source linked to Con Ed's grid as a backup in the event of failure would cost millions and didn't appear warranted because the single feeder showed no cause for concern, Anders said.

"We thought plenty about this, and it was considered a low risk," Anders said.

On Thursday, a Con Edison spokesman said the utility had yet to diagnose the cause of the electrical failure of a feeder cable that crippled Metro-North's New Haven Line because the cable is superheated and is being cooled by liquid nitrogen so it can be inspected.

On the first day of running a reduced service plan requiring transfers in Stamford from electric to diesel trains to reach Grand Central Terminal, many New Haven Line riders seemed to heed the advice of officials who urged them to carpool or telecommute, due to the limited number of seats. The number of New Haven Line riders using Metro-North dropped to around 19,000, roughly half the normal ridership during a regular weekday rush hour, with 5,800 of them riding the Harlem Line, or about 25 percent higher than normal, according to Anders.  About 2,100 took Metro-North's bus shuttle from Rye to White Plains to take Harlem Line trains, Anders said.

The schedule, which provides about a third of the usual seats of normal service is expected to remain unaltered until voltage is restored to the stretch of track, Anders said.  On Thursday morning, the 9:10 a.m. train leaving Stamford for Grand Central Terminal pulled into the station with less than half the seats full when it pulled out. David Ashbery, a New Haven resident, said that the need to transfer at the Stamford station only slightly inconvenienced him.

"I'm originally from New York where the trains have been much later, so this is really nothing but a slight setback," Ashbery said.

After arriving in Stamford yesterday, David Meeson, of Stratford, switched tack and called a friend to pick him up to get to work at his Harrison, N.Y., office. Meeson said he did not know about the service disruption until Thursday morning and didn't want to gamble on the arrival of the next local train to Rye, N.Y.

"I'm stressed out," Meeson said. "I can't be late every day to the office. I'm going to have to stay late at the office."

Louis Nario, of West Haven, said he was unaware of the electrical failure and accompanying service reductions until he got to his station. At his home station, public address announcements didn't announce the train he was waiting for was late for arrival.

"The only problem was getting to Stamford," Nario said.

Allan Drury, a Con Edison spokesman, said the utility had still not determined the cause of the cable's failure because the utility was still working to bring the superheated line under control so it could be worked on.

"There are multiple steps we have to take and those steps have to be taken in sequence," Drury said. "And it all has to be done to very specific engineering specifications."

Drury said the company has to clean up the coolant that normally protects the cable that leaked when the cable burst, and also freeze oil in several reservoirs to stabilize the line.

"Our focus is now on two things: repair the feeder that failed yesterday morning and working with Metro-North to find alternate ways to power the line and get more trains back on the tracks," Drury said.

While the summer tests might have shown one feeder cable would be satisfactory, Otto Lynch, of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the organization has advocated for maintaining a redundant power source as part of a contingency plans when transmission lines are taken out of service for major upgrades.

Lynch is the energy representative for the American Society of Civil Engineers' Committee on America's Infrastructure. The group regularly issues a report card on the state of the nation's infrastructure, most recently this year.  During planned outages, an extra line can pick up the slack when demand unexpectedly peaks and reduce the risk of failure, Lynch said.

"If there is a third line, it may not be needed every day, but if you have an outage on one of the lines, that line can step up to the plate," Lynch said. "People always ask why we need to install new power lines, and the answer is we need it for redundancy in case something happens and you need to repair lines."

Riders avoid Conn. rail as commutes crawl to NYC
Sep 27, 2013 9:21 AM EDT

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Ridership on the New Haven line of Metro-North Railroad has dropped by half as Connecticut commuters stay home or find other ways to get into New York City to avoid snarled commutes caused by a failed circuit.

Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says about 19,000 riders are using the New Haven line, the Hearst Connecticut Media Group reported ( http://bit.ly/15Y7kjM ).

About 5,800 passengers are using the Harlem Line in New York, or about 25 percent higher than usual, she said. About 2,100 riders are taking Metro-North's bus shuttle from Rye, N.Y., to White Plains, N.Y., to board Harlem Line trains.

During the summer, the railroad and New York-based utility Consolidated Edison ran more trains than usual on the 36-year-old feeder cable as a test to see if it could bear additional load, Anders said.

"We ran extra trains in that section and put extra load on the grid and it was decided mutually between Metro-North and Con Edison that there wouldn't be a problem," Anders said.

After the tests, Metro-North and Con Edison considered it unlikely that the primary 138,000-volt feeder line would fail due to overload by the railroad's traffic through the area, she said.

Establishing a secondary power source linked to Con Ed's grid as a backup in case of failure would cost millions of dollars and didn't appear warranted because the single feeder showed no cause for concern, Anders said.

"We thought plenty about this and it was considered a low risk," she said.

A Con Edison spokesman says the utility has not diagnosed the cause of the electrical failure of the feeder cable in Mount Vernon, north of New York.

Metro-North disruption could last weeks, ConEd says
Staff Report
Updated 4:17 pm, Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Update: Con Edison now says the electrical problem that has crippled Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line today could take weeks to fix.

STAMFORD -- Con Edison said it is unlikely power will be restored in time to run evening rush hour trains on the New Haven Line after this morning's electrical failure at a power substation in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Chris Ulert, a spokesman for Con Edison said a second feeder line that normally flows into the Mount Vernon substation that was shut off to enable the railroad's work was being restored by Con Edison and can't be brought on line in a matter of hours to pick up the slack of the 138,000 volt feeder line that failed.

Ulert said there was still no estimated restoration time for one or both lines.

"We're working around the clock but don't expect it to be repaired for the evening rush hour," Ulert said.

The failure of the one working feeder line at 5:20 a.m. crippled Wednesday morning's commute sending passengers looking for other ways to get to work into and out of New York.

Around mid-day Metro-North announced that for the remainder of Wednesday it would run an extremely limited train service using diesel locomotives and to expect very crowded conditions, suggesting riders find alternate ways to get to work.

The schedule includes hourly eastbound service from Grand Central Terminal making all local stops to Stamford and hourly inbound service from Stamford on the hour making all local stops to Grand Central Terminal. The amount of service was capable of carrying about 10 percent of the regular ridership of the New Haven Line, according to the railroad.

Overhead catenary power remains in place from Stamford eastward to New Haven. Electric trains from New Haven are departing at 14 minutes after every hour, and customers can connect at Stamford with eastbound trains to New Haven.

The railroad was trying to organize some type of bus shuttle to train service to help bring passengers to trains for Thursday's morning commute.

The railroad has been operating on a limited basis using its fleet of diesel locomotives on a once an hour schedule from Stamford to Grand Central making all local stops. The railroad is also using bus service to bring passengers from Stamford to White Plains where they can board Harlem Line trains.

The incident comes on a gridlock alert day in New York urging commuters to take mass transit as the United Nations General Assembly brings street traffic to a virtual halt.

This latest incident highlights a railroad beset with an aging infrastructure that has been paralyzed by weather, bridge malfunctions and the derailment and collision of two commuter trains that halted service for five days.

'Lost Tracks' to take riders along Norwalk's vanished trolley routes
Norwalk Preservation Trust's third annual Living History will bring trolley travel back to Norwalk with a bus tour of some of the old routes and stops around town.
Updated 4:38 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013

The tour will roll on Sept. 15.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, trolleys tied together the towns that eventually became the city of Norwalk. Children rode them to school. Shoppers took them to go downtown, uptown and even to other towns.

Workers in the cigar factories and hat factories and corset factories rode them home very evening. And, on summer weekends, families got on open trolleys with their picnic baskets to enjoy a summer day at Roton Point.

Today Norwalk residents can revisit those routes with Norwalk Preservation Trust's fall event: Lost Tracks -- A Trolley Tour of Norwalk. It's a chance to travel back in time and hear the clang, clang, clang of the trolley on Norwalk streets once again.

The tour will retrace the path of some of Norwalk's trolley routes. The tour will include stops at historic points along the way such as the Trolley Barn on Wall Street and Roton Point.

The tracks are long gone, so the tour will use buses designed as replicas of trolleys from the early 1900s to reproduce the experience. Re-enactors in period costumes will join the tour at various points to bring history to life.

Former City Historian Ralph Bloom and NPT president, architectural historian Tod Bryant, will provide insight into "Lost Norwalk" while discussing historic buildings that once stood along the route.

Photos of some of the lost pieces of Norwalk history will be included in the program for the tour.

There will be a reception with refreshments at the end of the tour at Tinto Tapas Bar in the renovated Trolley Barn.

Music for the reception will be provided by students from the Talent Education Suzuki School of Norwalk.

Tickets must be purchased in advance by visiting the www.norwalkpresevation.org or calling 203-852-9788 for information.

The tour is the third annual Norwalk Living History Tour conducted by the Norwalk Preservation Trust.

Lost Tracks is the kickoff event for Norwalk Historic Fortnight: Celebrating the Consolidation, which will include 16 events over 13 days at many venues around town.

The tour is part of the First Taxing District's celebration of its 100th anniversary. For more information, visit www.norwalkpubliclibrary.org

The tour is also part of the ongoing "Faces of Norwalk" program presented by Norwalk 2.0. For more information, visit www.norwalk2.org

Norwalk Preservation Trust is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve Norwalk's irreplaceable historic buildings and neighborhoods by raising awareness, partnering with other organizations and taking appropriate action when necessary. It fulfills its mission through education, information, advocacy award programs and public events. The goal is to be a preservation resource for property owners, businesses and developers as well as city, state and national organizations and government agencies.

Train crash in France.
BBC report;  and from the NYTIMES, back across the pond, next day report on same event, plus some insight into the French sensibilities

We remember.  Snowy night, slick highway.

Fraternity can be sued in 2003 crash that killed 4 Yalies, Connecticut Supreme Court says

By The Associated Press

Thursday, September 20, 2012

HARTFORD — A fraternity can be sued for alleged negligence in connection with a 2003 crash that killed four Yale University students, including two members of the school’s baseball team, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The students were returning from a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event for pledges in New York City on Jan. 17, 2003, when their SUV slammed into a tractor-trailer that had crashed on Interstate 95 in Fairfield at around 5 a.m.

Relatives of one of the victims alleged in a lawsuit that fraternity leaders failed to provide safe transportation home from the event. They said the driver, who was a Yale student and fraternity member, was sleep-deprived during the fraternity’s so-called “Hell Week,” when its pledges are allegedly hazed.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the fraternity and said the lawsuit can proceed.

The crash killed the driver, Sean Fenton, 20, of Newport Beach, Calif., and three of four back seat passengers — Andrew Dwyer, 19, of Hobe Sound, Fla.; Nicholas Grass, 19, of Holyoke, Mass; and Kyle Burnat, 19, of Atlanta. Grass and Burnat were pitchers on the baseball team.  Five other Yale students in the SUV were injured, including members of the football team.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2005 by the administrator for Grass’ estate, attorney Marc Grenier, against the national office of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the fraternity’s Yale chapter, the state Department of Transportation and two construction companies that had worked on the highway.  The lawsuit claims the fraternity had a duty to provide safe transportation home and negligently chose Fenton as the driver, even though he had had little sleep that week and had been up for nearly 20 hours before the accident.

“It’s a sad case,” said Michael Stratton, a Stamford attorney for the Grass family. “We have a Yale fraternity here with lots of resources that, instead of getting a car service back from the city, the fraternity leaders instructed ... pledges to get in the back of an SUV with a very young, inexperienced driver.”

Messages were left Wednesday for Delta Kappa Epsilon attorneys and for officials at the fraternity’s national office in Ann Arbor, Mich.  Lawyers for the fraternity said in court documents that Delta Kappa Epsilon shouldn’t be held liable because it couldn’t have foreseen the “series of unfortunate events” that led to the accident.

The lawsuit also claimed the state DOT and two construction companies were liable for alleged safety hazards at the highway construction site where the tractor-trailer crashed. Other victims’ families sued the state and the two companies. Claims against the state were dismissed because of government immunity from lawsuits, while the construction companies entered into settlements, lawyers in the cases said.

Superior Court Judge John F. Blawie found in favor of the fraternity in September 2009, saying national and local fraternity leaders didn’t owe Grass a “duty of care” while transporting him back to New Haven from New York. Grenier appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. wrote that the fraternity had no duty to provide transportation, but once it decided to, “it assumed a duty to do so safely.” The court said it was up to a jury to decide whether the fraternity was negligent in having Fenton drive the students home.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident and found plenty of blame, including poor highway conditions, speeding, fatigue and lack of seat belt use.  The agency concluded that the tractor-trailer driver probably was driving too fast on ice and snow when he lost control of his vehicle. Part of the tractor-trailer, which was traveling north, went over the median barrier and collided with two other vehicles in the southbound lanes.

Fenton probably was suffering from a combination of fatigue, lack of highway lighting and distraction from the collisions in the southbound lanes, and likely did not see that part of the tractor-trailer was in the northbound left lane, the NTSB said.

Relatives of all the crash victims, including Fenton, also have a pending federal lawsuit against the tractor-trailer manufacturer for not putting enough lights on the truck’s trailer, Stratton said.

Metro-North plans for winter weather
Greenwich TIME
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Updated 11:34 p.m., Sunday, November 27, 2011

STAMFORD -- After harsh winter storms and freezing temperatures knocked out more than half the fleet last year, Metro-North and state transportation officials are finalizing plans to cut rail service during extreme conditions this winter to protect its aging railcars.

"We learned a lot last year," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Judd Everhart. "It was probably the toughest winter we've ever had for the New Haven Line."

The draft plan calls for Metro-North to more quickly reduce or suspend service during blizzard-like conditions and improve communications about any service changes.

Last winter, more than 80 inches of snow paralyzed the New Haven Line, and at some points kept more than half the state's fleet of 320 M-2, M-4, and M-6 cars -- the oldest of which, the M-2s, are between 33 to 40 years old -- out of service for repairs.

Though the number of the state's new M-8 railcars, which are less weather sensitive, should help improve but not resolve reliability issues, Everhart said, limiting damage to the older cars through maintenance and curtailing service when harsh conditions warrant it will be crucial to maintaining service.

"As more and more M-8s are put into service, fewer issues are to be expected," Everhart said. "But we still have a fleet dominated by much older cars. So the biggest challenge remains constant readiness, and expecting the unexpected."

Metro-North expects to be close to getting 60 of the state's new, more weather-resistant M-8 cars into service by the end of December. The debut of the cars in March was put off for more than a year due to computer and electrical problems.

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said the widespread breakdowns last winter demonstrate the wisdom of preparing plans to reduce or suspend service and protect cars from damaging conditions.

"Railroads are not weatherproof, and it would be foolish to try to run the old, M-2, M-4, and (M-6s) in bad weather if they were going to break down," Cameron said. "I think they are wise in pulling the plug on service if the weather conditions look like that is going to happen."

The winter will also be an important test of the performance expected from the M-8 cars, which are more resistant to hot and cold extremes and designed to withstand temperatures as low as 40-below zero, Cameron said.

"I hope they try running the M-8s in the worst weather conditions and see if they live up to expectations and parameters for which they were designed to live up to," Cameron said.

Caroline Egan, 22, a senior at Fordham University, said she hoped the railroad's plans to limit the extent of car outages this winter will lessen the service outages that made traveling to and from the Bronx campus to Stamford and Manhattan difficult last winter.

"The New Haven Line cars are awful," Egan said. "They are much better on the Hudson and Harlem lines. Being in the Northeast, I hope they do a better job."

Ashley Kammerer, 27, of Greenwich, said last week that when service problems came up during the winter of 2010 or 2011, she was able to adjust her travel plans to work at home.

"There weren't too many delays, and I was able to work from home when there was a service suspension," Kammerer said.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for Metro-North Railroad, said beyond service reduction plans and improved communications, the railroad will also suspend work on a project to revamp the railway's overhead catenary system to close one rather than two tracks between Southport and Bridgeport during the winter.

Keeping an additional track open will hopefully lessen problems created by weather related outages due to disabled trains, breakage of catenary wire or other causes, Donovan said.

"Suspending work during the winter will help alleviate the situation and allow more flexibility to run trains through this area during weather emergencies," Donovan said.

Officials at Metro-North and DOT also said they are confident that snow-related service outages will not hinder the placing of new, more weatherproof M-8 cars into service through the winter.

The state's M-8 acceptance facility and other facilities at the New Haven Rail Yard should be able to address any maintenance and repair issues on the new M-8 cars that could arise in the winter, according to Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

The M-8s shield some of the more critical components, such as speed controls, in cabinets, while other functions, like the interaction of circuits, are controlled by computers instead of by mechanical parts that can be fouled in snowy weather. The cars also have AC traction motors, which will not be prone to ingesting snow like the DC traction motors in the M-2, M-4 and M-6 railcars, according to Anders, though extreme amounts of snow and ice can still interrupt connections with third-rail power.

"There is no maximum snow depth, per se, beyond which M-8s cannot go," Anders said. "The third rails are about a foot above the ties, and they have to be kept clear, which we do with plow trains, switch heaters, snow blowers (and other methods)."

Cameron said that commuters who are concerned about the forecast and possible service problems should plan in advance to make alternate plans to work from home, or have plans to fall back on if train service is curtailed.

"From the commuters' point of view, they have to be flexible and have a Plan B and not count on the railroad being there in any and all kinds of weather conditions as the railroad has attempted to do with some success and failures in the past," Cameron said.

Visit major works of Henry Hobson Richardson and Daniel Burnham - an architectural history tour in the travel path of the Acela - but not in N.Y.C., where Penn Station bit the dust.

Police: Man Dead After Car Strikes Bicyclist, Gas Station
By AYANA HARRY, aharry@ctnow.com
10:51 AM EDT, July 17, 2011

A man riding his bicycle was killed early Sunday morning in Manchester after being struck by a car.

The crash happened on Hartford Road near Palm Street, just by the exit 2 offramp of Interstate 384. Manchester Police said a Subaru traveling east on Hartford Road struck another car befor hitting the bicyclist. The car continued, out of control, hitting a gas station fixture before striking a gas pump and flipping onto its side.

The bicyclist was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, where he was declared dead. The driver of the car is in serious condition at Hartford Hospital, police said.

Relatives of the victim arrived at the crash site Sunday morning, identifying the bicyclist as 18-year-old Steven Henry Jr.

The car was towed from the scene around 8:30 a.m. Police remained on scene well into Sunday morning reconstructing the crash scene.

Bicyclist Hit, Killed By Train In Windsor Locks
Hartford Courant
By AYANA HARRY and HILLARY FEDERICO, aharry@ctnow.com
2:45 PM EDT, July 16, 2011


A man riding a bicycle on Route 140 was killed when he was hit by an Amtrak train early Saturday afternoon, authorities said.  The victim was a middle-aged man, police said. Amtrak police are investigating the accident.

Stamford Bicyclist, 24, Struck By Motor Vehicle; Sustained Serious Head Injury
The Hartford Courant
By HILLARY FEDERICO, hfederico@courant.com
1:00 PM EDT, July 16, 2011


A 24-year-old city resident is in serious condition at Stamford Hospital after a motor vehicle struck him while he was riding his bicycle on Atlantic Street early Saturday morning, police said.

Officers said the victim sustained a serious head injury and was found lying in the roadway near the intersection of South State Street and Atlantic Street around 2:45 a.m.

A preliminary investigation indicates that the victim was riding his bike on Atlantic Street and was crossing South State Street when he was hit by an unidentified vehicle. Police said the vehicle was turning onto South State Street from Atlantic Street or was exiting the I-95 North exit ramp.

The vehicle fled the scene, police said.

Members of the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Squad said they are reviewing video footage of the accident, which was captured on closed circuit video cameras in the area. The driver of the car involved in the collision, or his attorney, is asked to contact police at 203-977-4712.

Anyone who may have witnessed or has information on the crash is also asked to contact police.

And now, in 2011 in CT, fares go up for the reason that...the state is broke
Panel Suggests Higher Gas Tax


February 27, 2009

A commission established by Congress to study options for financing the nation’s roads and bridges recommended on Thursday raising the federal gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

In a report, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission cited a “crisis” of neglect for infrastructure, and also called for an eventual switch to a tax based on miles driven, rather than gasoline consumed.

Raising the federal gas tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, is so politically tricky that the idea has gone nowhere in 16 years. The tax is the main source of federal dollars for fixing roads and bridges. The commission said that a 10-cent increase would cost the average household $9 a month extra.

The report also called for raising the federal diesel tax, now 24.4 cents a gallon, by 15 cents.

Track inspection found problems before Conn. crash
Jun 5, 4:19 PM EDT

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- A track inspection found problems two days before a train derailed in the state and injured more than 70 people, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

The May 15 inspection found a rail joint with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track near the point of derailment, the NTSB said. The agency, which has been investigating the crash, said rail sections were shipped to a lab for further examination.

The ballast is loose stone, and the Metro-North Railroad constantly makes sure it's packed tightly so the track doesn't go up and down slightly when a train passes, railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The inspection noted the issue, but it wasn't deemed an immediate problem, and the stone wasn't added and packed down before the derailment, she said.

"If they think it has reached a critical point they will not hesitate to order slow speed and immediate repair," Anders said.

The chairman of a commuter advocacy group said he was concerned Metro-North didn't think the issue was serious enough to halt service or issue a slow order for trains.

"Passengers on Metro-North should be able to expect a safe ride at all times," Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, said in a statement. "That the railroad's own inspection found a problem but nothing was done is not reassuring. I would hope that when the NTSB completes its investigation, Metro-North and other railroads re-examine their policies and procedures when problems like this are found in the future and that they always err on the side of safety."

The NTSB had previously said a joint bar, used to hold two sections of rail together, had been cracked and repaired. The railroad said it was replaced.

That joint bar is the one where the inspector noted the lack of stone, Anders said. Metro-North is conducting an inspection and inventory of all joint bars on its main tracks, the NTSB said.

The eastbound train from New York City was traveling at about 70 mph when it derailed during evening rush hour in Bridgeport on May 17. After it stopped, it was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train, which had slowed from 70 mph to 23 mph, NTSB said.

The crash injured 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor. Damage was estimated by Metro-North at $18 million, the NTSB said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Yale Surgeon Recounts Moments After Train Crash
The Hartford Courant
By WILLIAM WEIR, wweir@courant.com
6:36 PM EDT, May 20, 2013

Dr. Daniel Solomon, a chief resident in general surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital, was on the first car of the train heading toward New Haven for his 7 p.m. shift last Friday when the train started to shake.

"It was not significant — the train bucked a little bit and it felt like it was on a track change," he said. "It shook a little bit harder and then a little harder and then it came to a stop. At that point, I think the worst any of us expected was to be late to home or to get to work."

After a minute, though, he saw people from another car screaming, "We have to get out of here!"

He approached the third car and told officials he was a trauma surgeon. The first badly injured person he saw was a woman on the tracks.

"When I saw her down there I was convinced she was dead, but when I called to her she responded," Solomon said.

He and a few other passengers carried her to a dirt road where the badly injured passengers were being taken. Solomon also helped a man was a severe cut on his hand. With no other resources, Solomon took off his sweatshirt to protect the wound from the dirt road. He also helped the man's wife.

"She had a bad dislocation of the ankles and her feet were bent outwards and it was pretty horrific to look at," Solomon said. She was able to wiggle her toes, though. Otherwise, he said, her situation would have been much more dire.

He told passengers to hold up the head of another woman in case she had a cervical spine injury.

Overall, he said, it was only minutes before emergency workers showed up and did triage. He and other passengers were evacuated shortly after. He managed to get a ride from Bridgeport to Yale-New Haven, where he started his shift an hour later than scheduled. Solomon said he wasn't particularly shaken.

"To me it felt like a regular shift on the Yale trauma service," he said. "We see these injuries all the time, so while I didn't have my colleagues, nurses and diagnostic equipment, the situation was the same. It didn't feel all that different."

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

As it happens, Metro North announce that return of normal service would commence Wendesday A.M.

Jim Cameron, from a 2007 "About Town" interview and right, great q&a from Greenwich TIME.

Commuters Face Nightmare As Search Begins For Cause Of Metro-North Crash
Fairfield Police Warn Of 'Overloaded' I-95 Commute Monday; Malloy To Announce Plan For Service At 6 P.M. Briefing
The Hartford Courant
By NICHOLAS RONDINONE, nrondinone@courant.com
4:09 PM EDT, May 19, 2013

BRIDGEPORT — The roughly 125,000 commuters who rely on the Metro North rail line – as well as thousands of other travelers -- face a potential nightmare of detours and traffic jams after the collision of two trains shut down tracks between the Fairfield and Bridgeport rail stations Friday night.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will hold a news briefing updating the plans for rail service and how to accommodate passengers on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the State Armory on Broad Street in Hartford, according to a press release. Those plans may include buses covering the sections of track that are impassible, officials said.  Plans provided by the state's Department of Transportation show that during the morning commute train service will run every 20 minutes from New Haven to Bridgeport on the New Haven commuter line. Two buses will run from Bridgeport to Stamford Station – one will be express and a second will make stops at Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport Stations – bypassing the site of the accident.

Regular service will run from Stamford station and South Norwalk sdtation to Grand Central Station; limited service will run from Westport station.  The state DOT is warning that commute times will be "considerably longer in many cases."

Fairfield police were preparing for a frenzied commute on Monday. On the department's Facebook page Sunday, it warned: "Commuters need to be prepared for a long commute on Monday. Please make alternate plans and please consider staying home if possible."

The department said I-95 is expected to be "overloaded," and that Metro North will have buses available -- but not enough for the 20,000 passengers that travel through the area by train.  Fairfield police said they are waiting to hear back from Metro North so they can finalize their preparations.  Stephen J. Humes, a Hamden resident, said he practices law in New York and takes the train from New Haven into the city three to four days a week. He was working from home on Friday when the accident happened, but said he's concerned about Monday's commute.

"I am certainly waiting with great interest… I do rely on that service to get New York," Humes said. He added that his son John, a freshmen at Fairfield College Preparatory School, uses the train to get to school.

Humes added that Monday's commute is going to be "hellacious," with people taking I-95 to get to the train station in Stamford.  Average weekday traffic on the New Haven line is 125,000 passengers, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  The MTA, which operates the Metro-North trains, began removing the trains Saturday night; by Sunday morning 18 cars had been removed and MTA officials said crews should complete the removal by early afternoon.

Of the more than 70 people injured in the crash, nine people remained hospitalized on Sunday, with one reported in critical condition, officials said.  National Transportation Safety Board officials, who have been on the scene since Saturday, said they have ruled out foul play as a cause of the derailment, but would not speculate beyond that. They said it may take up to two days to finish their work.

After the trains are removed Sunday, MTA officials said crews face the longer, more difficult task of repairing the damage to the track infrastructure.

"Our crews will essentially be rebuilding 2,000 feet of damaged track, and overhead wires and signal system," said Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut in a statement. "This amounts to the wholesale reconstruction of a two-track electrified railroad. It will take multiple days of around-the-clock work to do that, and then to inspect, test and requalify the newly rebuilt infrastructure. Unfortunately, service disruptions on this section of the New Haven Line are expected to continue well into the coming week."

Investigators said on Saturday evening that they found a fracture in a section of the eastbound track, where the derailment apparently began. But the investigators are unsure whether the fracture happened before the derailment or as a result of it.

Meanwhile, Metro-North train service between New Haven and South Norwalk is indefinitely suspended, as is all Amtrak service between New York and New Haven, because no trains can get through the crash site. Officials said Saturday that they do not know when service will be restored.

"You should begin making plans ... for alternate travel," Malloy said at a Saturday morning briefing near the site of the crash.

NTSB officials said the investigation is "still in the very early stages." They said the fractured portion of rail was sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NTSB investigators have requested full inspection reports on the cars of the two trains involved, and will conduct a full inspection as soon as the cars can be removed from the track. The train that previously traveled that route also will be inspected.

Starting Monday, commuters who normally park at stations to the east of Bridgeport to head south toward Fairfield County and New York City will have to use other transportation to get around the blocked tracks, or drive to already crowded stations like South Norwalk or Stamford to park and ride.

That could clog I-95 and other roads along the coast.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, said these "refugee commuters" should not assume that a solution will be in place after the weekend.

"None of this is going to happen quickly," he said, adding that the NTSB investigation can't be rushed because the cause of the accident needs to be discovered to prevent it happening again.

"Commuters should leave early, think creatively and don't all drive to Stamford," Cameron said.

He suggested driving to one of the stations farther south on the line, or head west to catch a train on the Harlem line, which runs north and south in New York State. Cameron said he hopes there will be continued communication from all the agencies involved so commuters are aware of possible travel and parking options.

"This is unknown territory to a lot of these people," he said.

The derailment took place at 6:10 p.m. on Friday, when the eastbound 4:41 p.m. train out of Grand Central Terminal in New York went off the tracks just east of the Fairfield Metro station, said Marjorie Anders, an MTA spokeswoman. It then hit the side of a westbound 5:35 p.m. train from New Haven on the adjacent track. Some cars on the second train also derailed, Anders said.

Of the 46 people brought to St. Vincent's Medical Center, six people were still at the hospital Sunday morning and remained in stable condition, spokeswoman Dianne Auger said.  At Bridgeport Hospital, 23 people were treated and released. One person remains there in critical condition with traumatic, impact-related injuries, and two others are in stable condition, hospital officials said Sunday morning.

Passengers said they felt a harsh bump and saw a lot of dust and smoke in the air as the train derailed. Malloy said it appeared that one train began to derail as it approached the other, and the trains hit side-to-side.

Malloy said most of the injuries were in the cars that collided with each other, mainly the front car of one train and the third car of the other.  All passengers were taken off the trains, and buses were brought in to carry them to other stations so they could reach their destinations.

NTSB investigators will evaluate what Weener described as "perishable evidence." The scene will then be turned back over to the railroad so that the damaged equipment can be removed and the rails rebuilt.

About 200 yards of track were damaged in the crash, Malloy said.

"The damage is absolutely staggering," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who viewed the scene Saturday. The sides of some train cars were pulled away, he said.

"The informed speculation focuses on the track at this point," Blumenthal said. "The trajectory of the train going off the track suggests that the derailment was caused by some breakage, fault or default in the track itself. But, again, it's only speculation."

Construction work has been ongoing in the area, mostly to the catenary system that provides electrical power to the trains, Malloy said. That work had already limited traffic to two of the four rails that normally would be available, and those two rails were destroyed by the collision.

Earl Weener of the NTSB said the agency will examine braking performance, the condition of the tracks and the cars and signal information in its investigation.

Officials have already downloaded data on speed, braking and other parameters from recorders on board the trains, Weener said.

The MTA said that in addition to the shutdown between New Haven and South Norwalk, Metro-North is running a reduced schedule between South Norwalk and Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Buses are running between Waterbury and Bridgeport, with no train connections.

On Amtrak, limited Northeast Regional service is available between Boston and New Haven. Trains continue to run on Amtrak's New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line.

"We will set up a system to move people from Bridgeport to the next closest station," Malloy said.

He did not specify whether buses or other methods would be used to move people to and from stations on either side of Bridgeport.  The state DOT has already hired contractors to remove the damaged equipment so that repairs can begin. Connecticut owns the tracks between New Haven and the New York state line.  Officials said Friday and Saturday that as bad as the crash was, it could have been worse. That the trains had mostly a side impact versus a head-on crash prevented even more injuries.

"We dodged a bullet," Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said.

The trains involved in the crash consisted of the new M-8 commuter cars, which started operating on the New Haven line in 2011. Connecticut and Metro-North are buying 405 of the cars to replace a fleet that dates to the early 1970s.  Malloy and Blumenthal said the new cars, built to high safety standards, may have helped limit serious injuries in the crash.

The DOT and Metro-North are junking hundreds of battered rail cars from the busy New Haven line as they phase in 405 sleek, high-tech new M-8s. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expedited the long-overdue fleet replacement, and as of mid-October nearly 140 of the new cars were in daily operation.

"The newly constructed cars, the higher standards of quality, seemed to have made a difference," Blumenthal said.

"The crash worthiness of the cars seemed to be remarkably good," added the NTSB's Weener.

"These are new cars designed to the latest standards," Malloy said.

The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets those crash worthiness standards. The agency has been criticized for its high standards, which make equipment commonly used in Europe unsuitable for use in the U.S.

The higher standards increase costs for equipment used in the U.S. The FRA continues to research ways to increase survivability in train crashes.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Commuter mess "Well into next week"
Libor Jany, CT POST
Updated 8:39 am, Sunday, May 19, 2013

Metro-North's efforts to restore normal service to a stretch of track between Bridgeport and South Norwalk after Friday's train crash that left more than 70 people injured "looks to continue well into next week," according to an agency spokesman.

"As of 9 o'clock last night, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) allowed us to begin the process of removing the damaged cars from the track," the spokesman, Aaron Donovan, said on Sunday. The last of the damaged train cars are expected to be removed by Sunday afternoon. Officials will then begin the arduous process of "rebuilding from scratch hundreds of feet of track," he said.

Since the crash, trains have been running on a normal schedule between Grand Central Station and Stamford. Service along the Danbury and New Canaan branches has also remained unimpeded. Donovan said that trains were running on an abbreviated schedule to South Norwalk.

Train passenger: 'I thought it was a bomb or something'
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Updated 12:58 am, Saturday, May 18, 2013

BRIDGEPORT -- Barbara Bolden thought it was a terrorist attack.

"Horrible. Horrible. Horrible. I'm still shaking," Bolden said, her right arm in a sling, as she was transported by wheelchair to a waiting minivan outside Bridgeport Hospital's emergency room.

The Hamden resident was among the two dozen passengers of the two-train, rush-hour collision on the Fairfield border rushed to Bridgeport Hospital on Friday night.

Another 40 passengers were treated at St. Vincent's Medical Center.

"We train for emergencies like this year-round," Bridgeport Hospital spokesman John Cappiello said calmly as a state police cruiser, lights and sirens blaring, arrived with a blood delivery from the American Red Cross to bolster the supply.

Authorities said five passengers were in critical condition. Two of those were being treated at Bridgeport Hospital.

While the hospital discouraged interviews in order to protect patient privacy, Bolden and another commuter quickly recalled the terrifying experiences for the Connecticut Post while on their way out of the building.

Bolden was on the northbound train, commuting home from her job in Wilton, when the crash occurred.

At first, she said, passengers experienced some shaking in their car, but nothing alarming.

"Then it just kept rocking, rocking, rocking. Then it started whipping people around," Bolden said in a brief interview.

She tried to hold tight to the seat in front of her, but she was "sucked under."

And there she stayed, fearing the worst.

"I hid," Bolden said. "I thought it was a bomb or something ... Then this loud noise went `Bam!'"

Authorities at the scene believe Bolden's train struck a derailed southbound train.

Another Hamden resident -- Susanne -- who declined to give her last name, walked out of Bridgeport Hospital with a male friend and no visible injuries. She had boarded the southbound train in Milford for an evening in New York City.

"Everything happened really, really fast," said Susanne, who was eager to get home.

Like Bolden, she tried to brace herself on the seat in front of her.

"There was a lot of dust. Some screaming," Susanne said. "It went really, really fast."

M.T.A. President visits site

Investigators find broken rail at scene of train wreck
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Updated 10:37 pm, Saturday, May 18, 2013

BRIDGEPORT -- After a day of combing through the wreckage of two trains that collided during Friday evening's rush hour, federal investigators have found a broken rail, but they do not know if it was a factor in the eastbound train's derailment. 

Federal investigators combed through Metro-North train wreckage Saturday in what promises to be a lengthy investigation into the cause of Friday night's rush-hour collision.  National Transportation Safety Board staffers pulled up in a caravan of cars along Commerce Avenue, joining an awaiting group of state and city officials for a mid-morning tour of the crash scene.  NTSB member Earl Weener told reporters the probe is focusing on the train's brake performance, condition of wheels, condition of tracks and signals.

"We'll also be looking at how the crew behaved (and) operated the train," Weener said.  He said data recorders should have been on board both trains, collecting their rate of speed and other information.  The goal is not only to determine what happened, he said, but seek to prevent it in the future.

The NTSB's working theory is that a Metro-North train heading east from New York City's Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed at about 6:10 p.m. just outside Bridgeport and was struck by a westbound train from New Haven to Grand Central on an adjacent track. About 700 were on board, 70 were taken to the hospital with two in critical condition.  The site of the wreckage is, essentially, being treated like a crime scene, with the media and curious onlookers kept at a distance while NTSB experts begin sifting through the debris for answers.

Weener said Day 1 is focused on time-sensitive, "perishable evidence."  That is going to be a daunting task, based on the descriptions from the elected officials who viewed the wreckage.

"The scene down there is enormously violent," said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said it looked like giant toys had been strewn throughout the area.

"The sides of cars are torn away like ribbons of cloth," Blumenthal said.

Weener added, "The tracks are very much torn up."

Asked about possible foul play, Weener said nothing could be ruled out at this stage.  With the Metro North line out of service between Bridgeport and Norwalk, Gov. Dannel Malloy and other lawmakers urged commuters to be patient. Malloy said as of mid-Saturday morning he could not provide good information on when train service would return to normal.

"We will set up a system to move people from Bridgeport to the next closest station that can handle that traffic," he said, adding right now that is South Norwalk. "Folks east of Bridgeport, you should being making plans for alternative travel."

Malloy said the city and state are trying to stay out of the NTSB's way.

"People will have to be patient," said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. "We want to get this investigation right."

The elected officials also said it was fortunate there were not more injuries considering the scale of the destruction.

"It's frankly amazing there weren't more serious injuries and lives lost on scene," Murphy said.

The crash occurred right behind Steve Junker's car customizing shop, Sunlimited, on Commerce Drive just below the I-95 overpass.  It was mostly business as usual for Junker as Saturday's investigation continued. He did allow some media onto his property to take photos of the trains.

"We heard a big boom" Junker recalled from night before.

But he said he and his staff were used to the noise because of ongoing construction in the vicinity of the train bridge where Commerce Drive meets Fairfield Avenue.

"They're doing construction, pounding beams into the ground. All day long all you hear is, `Boom, boom, boom.' We assumed it was the grand finale," Junker said.

Curious onlookers made their way down to the accident site Saturday morning to see the wreckage in person.

"This is just unbelievable," said Steve Traski, a Wilton resident, as he aimed his camera at the train.

Traski grew up in Bridgeport.

Traski recalled playing as a child in a vacant lot at the corner of Commerce Drive and Fairfield Avenue, now home to a McDonald's.

"We used to play in there where the trains came by," he said.

Metro-North train derails; 60 injuries reported; service disrupted
By The Forum Staff on May 17, 2013

Two Metro-North trains collided at the Fairfield Metro Station Friday night at approximately 6:10 p.m., injuring at least 60 passengers and train crew members. No fatalities have been reported.

Gov. Dannel Malloy was at the scene at about 9:30 this evening, and said five people were critically injured, with one in “very critical condition.”

There is “pretty devastating damage” to the rail cars with a side ripped off and “extensive damage” to the front, Mr. Malloy said.

“We have no reason to believe it was anything but an accident but obviously that is something that needs to be looked at,” Mr. Malloy said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The governor said the area is being secured and that the investigation is expected to last into Saturday morning.  The MTA reports service is suspended in both directions between South Norwalk and New Haven. Westbound service will originate out of South Norwalk making all stops to Grand Central Terminal. Eastbound service will make all stops to South Norwalk.

Passengers are reporting there is bus service eastbound from Stamford train station.

A Metro-North spokesman told Hersam Acorn newspapers that an eastbound train was derailed at the Fairfield Metro Station, causing it to collide with a westbound train.

The governor said he promises a “full and robust” investigation and said “nothing can be ruled out, but nothing is being promoted as a cause yet.”

Mr. Malloy said travelers should anticipate that train service will end at Bridgeport (westbound) and South Norwalk (eastbound) at least through Monday. This includes Amtrak service between New York and Boston.

“In a perfect world, we would be up and running by Monday morning, but I’m not saying that,” Mr. Malloy said.

Millions more needed to finish Fairfield Metro station (is this near the accident of two Metro-North trains May 17, 2013?) - more on the troubled construction here...
Genevieve Reilly, Staff Writer
Published 06:58 a.m., Tuesday, June 28, 2011

FAIRFIELD -- The news was like a train wreck: Fairfield may have to ante up an additional $2 million -- possibly $6 million in the worst case -- to complete Fairfield Metro, the town's third railroad station.

Members of the Representative Town Meeting were stunned by news of the funding gap Monday night as interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau delivered a report on the status of the project.  However, recently departed First Selectman Kenneth Flatto soon became the target of blunt criticism for failing to keep the legislative body informed of the funding problem.  For months, Flatto had given regular updates to the RTM on the rail station off lower Black Rock Turnpike that indicated the project was on time and on budget -- reports that several RTM members called "fluff."

Tetreau said he began gathering information since taking over the job 17 days ago, after meeting with Selectman Sherri Steeneck. Steeneck had begun to get an inkling of possible cost overruns while serving as acting first selectman since May.  Tetreau said one of the biggest factors adding to costs is that much more contaminated soil -- though not polluted to the extent that it has to be removed from former industrial site -- was discovered. The problem is finding a place to put that soil on the property interfering with required grading and drainage. The alternative of removing it would be very costly, he said.

"As many of you are, I'm a bit shocked, appalled and disgusted," said Selectman James Walsh.

What surprised many was learning not only was the project overbudget, but a modified agreement on the project signed last year by Flatto gives up revenue from the commuter parking fees at the depot. It also made the town liable for any cost overruns.  Town Attorney Richard Saxl said those were the requirements from the state in order for the Department of Transportation to chip in $19.8 million to jump start the stalled project.

The contract modification was not brought to the RTM or Board of Finance for approval. Walsh said he was sworn in to take has appointed seat on the Board of Selectmen the day the modification was approved, but not until after that action had already been taken.  A call to Flatto's cell phone Monday night was not returned.

Tetreau said he also was taken by surprise by the discovery of the budget overruns, and promised he will examine what options are available, including seeing what state or federal funding grants might be available to help close the gap. He also said a construction manager will be hired to oversee the project on site.

RTM member Edward Bateson, R-3, said he went to the Board of Selectmen last year, seeking to postpone action on the modification. "We lost the revenue stream and we picked up the environmental liability," he said. "I'm really going to have a problem with this appropriation ... I want this project. I'm really torn over the way its been handled."

Tetreau would like to see the extra cost -- whatever it ends up being -- voted on at the July RTM meeting. He said the currently available money probably be used up by August, at which point construction crews would leave for other jobs. Getting them back to work to complete the station, and getting the project restarted would be costly, Tetreau said.

"I don't see this as an emergency," said RTM member Kathryn Braun, who has been a vocal critic of the project.

City wins federal funding for study on East Side train station
Elizabeth Kim, Staff Writer, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published: 10:38 p.m., Sunday, October 17, 2010

STAMFORD -- The city is set to receive federal funds to pursue a feasibility study for building a new train station on the East Side.

The money, the exact amount of which is yet to be determined, is part of a larger $3.5 million grant that was awarded Friday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to a consortium of nine cities, two counties and six regional planning organizations in the metropolitan region. The group, known as the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium, had initially applied for $5 million in funding from HUD's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program.

A total of nearly $100 million will be available for regional planning initiatives related to affordable housing, economic development and transportation in areas surrounding commuter rail networks.

Laure Aubuchon, the city's economic development director said that as a member of the consortium, Stamford had requested $225,000 for the feasibility study. However, it will be up to the Consortium on how to divide the funding. She added that there may also be opportunities to collaborate on similar studies being pursued by neighboring cities.

"I think it's the kind of collaboration that certainly HUD likes to see," she said about the overall grant. "We keep saying we have transit-oriented development and it's all along a spine called I-95. Wouldn't it be great if we all worked together?"

For several years, the city and the East Side Partnership have been exploring the possibility of creating a Metro-North train station on East Main Street. Although the project does not rank as high in priority as redeveloping the existing downtown train station or widening the Atlantic Street railroad bridge underpass, Aubuchon said it would be good to commission "an objective study on what the merits would be."

The proposal for an East Side train station gained steam last year during a series of public discussions called Reinventing Stamford.

Organized by the Stamford Urban Redevelopment Commission, members involved in Reinventing Stamford have taken part in several brainstorming sessions to come up with projects designed to make the city more sustainable and competitive.

The creation of a regional consortium to apply for federal funding was one of the ideas that came out of the events. Kip Bergstrom, the executive director of the URC, said the coalition resulted after about six months of meetings between municipal and planning groups stretching from as far north as New Haven and as far south as Newark. The latter city, however, did not apply as part of the consortium.

In addition to Stamford, other participating cities are: New York, New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Yonkers, White Plains, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon. The group also includes Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Metro-North’s New Haven Line Shuts Down
July 10, 2010

Trains on Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line stopped running for several hours on Saturday afternoon after the power supply was disrupted, and service remained spotty throughout the night.

The problems, which began about 4:30 p.m., stranded thousands of people at stations in Connecticut and Westchester County and led to a chaotic scene at Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, where would-be passengers rushed from track to track in an effort to find seats on any New Haven-bound train.

Passengers aboard trains that were in service when the power went out were forced to sit inside cars with no air-conditioning for more than two hours. One trip from New Haven to Grand Central, usually a two-hour journey, took five hours.

A Metro-North spokesman said the problem was caused when the devices on top of several trains that pull electricity from the overhead lines tore down the wires just west of the Greenwich, Conn., station.

Railroad officials were unsure on Saturday how the devices — known as pantographs — were able to bring down the power lines, but they suspected the recent heat wave might have played a role. “That can cause those wires to be very droopy,” said the spokesman, Dan Brucker.

Eventually, the lines came down on three of the New Haven line’s four tracks, littering them with debris from the pantographs and overhead wires, Mr. Brucker said. The fourth track had already been shut down for maintenance.

Cleanup crews quickly went to work, and one track was cleared by 7:34 p.m. Metro-North soon began running diesel-powered locomotives that provided limited service. Until service with electric-run trains was restored, travelers at Grand Central Terminal had the option of taking a diesel train to Stamford, Conn., then boarding an electric train to their destinations. Shuttle buses also were pressed into service between Grand Central and Stamford.

Mr. Brucker said travel delays lasted up to 90 minutes. Amtrak also reported delays that affected more than 1,500 passengers.

Metro-North reported that service was restored at 10:48 p.m. after two of the three tracks that had been blocked began running electric-powered trains again. The third track was expected to be up and running Sunday.

At Grand Central Terminal about 8:30 p.m., knots of passengers stood gazing at displays that showed train departures.

One electronic announcement told passengers: “There is limited train service to Stamford. Customers for Rye, Port Chester, Greenwich change at New Rochelle for bus service.” At the same time, however, a man wearing a Metropolitan Transportation Authority uniform was weaving through the crowd saying that the board was not necessarily accurate and that passengers should listen instead for announcements over the public address system.

Agents inside the information kiosk faced a barrage of questions. One woman wanted to know if she had to take a bus to Greenwich; another sought advice on the fastest way to Mamaroneck, in Westchester County. One man indignantly wanted to know why there had been no notification of delays for passengers waiting in Pelham.

Among the people waiting for information was Evan Hindman, 25, of Old Greenwich. “Fortunately, I don’t have anywhere real important to be,” he said. “It’s just keeping me from getting home.” A moment later in a softer voice, almost to himself, he said, “Stay calm, stay collected.”

Others, however, seemed more anxious about the delay, including Derrick Watson, 20, a photographer who had been working at a wedding in SoHo and said he had to shoot portraits in Branford, Conn. Mr. Watson said he was trying to get to New Haven, at the end of the line, which he estimated would take until about midnight.

“Right now, this is aggravating me more than anything,” he said. “I’m trying to make the rush to get back home and get my equipment together for early tomorrow morning.”

A passenger traveling from New Haven to New York described being stuck on a train, without air-conditioning, for roughly two hours and 20 minutes. He said the train’s doors were opened to let in fresh air, and passengers strenuously objected when the crew tried to close them in advance of the arrival of a backup train.

Connecticut residents who were waiting at Grand Central for trains to take them home wondered aloud about what had caused the delay. “We have no idea what caused this,” said Susan Slaga, 40, of New Haven.

Just before 9 p.m., a voice echoed through Grand Central’s Great Hall: “The 9:07 to New Haven will not be operating today. Please take the 9:11 train on Track 27.”

Passengers rushed to Track 27 from every part of the station. Soon it was standing room only.

Before boarding, many of them clustered around a conductor who leaned out a train window answering questions. She explained that the train would make its regularly scheduled stops up to New Rochelle. At that point, she told them, passengers traveling further north would have to transfer to a diesel-powered train that would slowly wend its way to New Haven as a local.

A question rang out: “Should I get on here to get to Rye?”


Inquiries about other stations followed: Stamford, Darien, Westport. Each time, she replied: Get on board. “There’s no other way out of here,” she said.

A moment later, a bell rang, the doors closed, and the passengers aboard the 9:11 began their long-delayed trip.

"About Town" finds driving and talking on the cellphone, even hands-free, dangerous.
Driving While Distracted: Ray LaHood, government guy, targets our ­cell phones.
BY Andrew Ferguson
February 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 22

If you want to know why it may soon be illegal for you to use your cell phone when you drive your car, you have to remember that Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, is a government guy. It’s all he knows.

As a young man LaHood taught for six years in a private school, but since then it’s been government all the way—a few years as a planner for the state planning commission, a term in the Illinois legislature, nearly 20 years as a congressional aide, and 14 years in the big time, as a Republican congressman, piping federal grants into a derelict district in central Illinois. Though he’s driven many automobiles and ridden in countless airplanes, he has no particular expertise in the nation’s transportation systems, and some kibitzers wondered aloud why President Obama appointed him secretary. But the kibitzers miss the point: As a government guy LaHood doesn’t need any expertise beyond being a government guy.

This is where you and your cell phone come in. Over the last several months LaHood has mobilized his vast and lavishly funded ($70 billion) department behind a high-minded goal: “to put an end to distracted driving.” Those are his words—not curtail, not discourage, not even reduce by 50 percent. No: Put an end to. In its ambition and method, LaHood’s initiative is a kind of textbook example of how government guys create work for themselves, manage to keep themselves busy, and put the rest of us on our guard.

The government guy’s first step, always, is to raid the language of epidemiology and declare a problem—any problem, from anorexia to obesity—an “epidemic.” And so: “Distracted driving is a serious, life-threatening epidemic,” LaHood said at one of his big events last month. (By definition, of course, epidemics are serious and life-threatening, but since distracted driving isn’t really an epidemic, the adjectives are needed to juice it up.)

Even imaginary epidemics need victims. The next step is for the government guy to identify dead people whose relatives are willing, for unknown reasons, to let him publicly exploit their unutterable grief for his own purposes. To advance his distracted driving campaign LaHood keeps several of these abject relatives handy, so his publicists can position them just behind him and slightly to the right, where the cameras catch them gazing at him with liquid, upcast eyes. The relatives are particularly useful if some cynic or pantywaist naysayer questions the urgency or logic of a government initiative. When his use of statistics was called into question a few weeks ago, LaHood fired back on his website. “Ask Shelli Ralls,” he said, “who lost her son Chance Wayne Wilcox on March 22, 2008” in a “crash caused by a cell phone driver.” Here he inserted a tasteful picture of Wilcox’s crash site. And then he invoked the deity. “Ask any one of the hundreds of people who have poured out their stories of loss on Oprah.” Nothing shuts up a cynic like a grieving mother.

Epidemic isn’t the only essential term for a government guy. Certain phrases act as a kind of dog whistle for bureaucrats, activists, and sympathetic reporters, to let them know an important initiative is afoot. In seeking to end distracted driving in the United States, LaHood has used them all. He has issued a “call to action,” vowed to “raise awareness,” invoked a “national network” of “stakeholders” pursuing “best practices,” insisted that “the American people” “demand action” and “commonsense solutions.”

The most valuable term for LaHood is “distracted driving.” It is an expansive phrase that a deft government guy can play like an accordion, stretching or squeezing it as his argument demands. The immediate upshot of LaHood’s initiative, he said last month, is that he wants laws that will make it illegal for drivers to use handheld cell phones behind the wheel. State laws, local laws, federal laws, whichever, it seems not to matter to him—just so long as this little slice of unregulated human behavior is prohibited and punished. Already seven states and the District of Columbia have outlawed the use of handheld cell phones by drivers, and dozens more are entertaining similar legislation. LaHood urges Congress to push all states to pass cell phone laws or, if the states fail him, to pass a law of its own.

It’s a big step, telling people that they can’t hold a cell phone in their car, but the fuzzy phrase “distracted driving” makes it look smaller, more reasonable, and much less intrusive than it is. Department of Transportation literature defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.” Elsewhere the department offers a partial list of those dangerous nondriving activities in addition to holding a cell phone: “eating, drinking, conversing with passengers, interaction with in-vehicle technologies [I think this means changing the radio station], daydreaming, or dealing with strong emotions,” along with other activities unspecified.

Quite a list! But LaHood doesn’t mention it when he appears at events designed to “raise awareness” about the dangers of handheld cell phone use. At a typical event last month he announced that “nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver,” with the implication that a cell phone driving ban would halt the butchery—
I mean epidemic.

The real-world situation, you won’t be surprised to learn, is more complicated. The precise number of these fatalities in 2008 was 5,870. According to the official tables, they occurred in “police-reported crashes in which at least one form of distracted driving was reported on the crash report.” The fatality statistic doesn’t tell us anything about cell phone use because it doesn’t mention cell phone use. It doesn’t even tell us whether “distracted driving,” in any of its dozen or more manifestations, was the cause of the fatal crash. An Alzheimer’s sufferer who got hit by a dump truck while driving through an oil slick and taking blows from his angry wife with the family dog perched on his shoulder sticking its disgusting tongue in his ear would become, in LaHood’s statistical accounting, another piece of evidence for a ban on cell phone driving.

So what do we know about the safety of using cell phones in cars? Aside from the intuitive understanding that we all share—that anyone who can’t wait till he’s done driving to talk on his cell phone is a jackass—we don’t know a lot for certain. The number of fatal crashes “involving distraction” has increased in the last four years; but the overall number of such crashes has declined. Nationwide, car crashes have fallen dramatically while the use of cell phones has jumped dramatically (from 195 billion minutes in June 2000 to 1.1 trillion in June 2008). Last month the Highway Loss Data Institute issued a report comparing collision rates for states before and after they passed bans on drivers using handheld cell phones. The bans showed no effect on the number, frequency, or severity of collisions.

LaHood’s reaction to this latest report showed why he’s the government guy. It should have been a devastating blow; the institute’s evidence severely undercuts the logic of his initiative. Instead he took to his blog—yes, even Ray LaHood has a blog—and summarily declared that the new study provided still more evidence that government action was urgently needed.

“The surprising data,” he wrote, “encourages people to wrongly conclude that talking on cell phones while driving is not dangerous! Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask Jennifer Smith  .  .  .  ” Smith, of course, is another grieving mother. He went on to equate cell phone driving with drunk driving. “If anything, the study suggests we need even tougher protections.”

How so? LaHood had an explanation for why the state bans had not reduced collisions. In states that banned handheld cell phone use, he said, drivers probably began using hands-free cell phones. And “research tells us hands-free is just as dangerous as handheld.”

Thus the call to action escalates, and the needed prohibitions grow more comprehensive. A ban on handheld cell phone use will be insufficient if we are to cure the epidemic. Only a total ban on drivers’ use of cell phones, handheld and hands-free, will bring progress.

LaHood didn’t go further, at least for the moment. He might have mentioned that “research” also tells us that talking on a cell phone, hands free or handheld, is just as “dangerous” as having a spirited conversation with a passenger, which can be just as dangerous as drunk driving .  .  . and so on through the official list of distractions: eating, drinking, daydreaming. .  .  

We are, in other words, going to need a very big ban, and Ray LaHood is just the guy to give it to us. “Studies of cognitive distraction,” he wrote on his blog, “tell us that it’s not about where your hands are, but where your head is.” It is a dream almost too big even for the most ambitious government guy: a National Initiative for Head Relocation.

Can you believe this?  The President uses his teleprompter for everything! 

$26 million approved for work on rail line
By Ed Stannard, New Haven Register Metro Editor
Saturday, January 9, 2010

HARTFORD — The state Bond Commission Friday approved $26 million for work on double-tracking the rail line between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.

The money, which will go toward design, environmental documentation and construction, is a step toward creating a 62-mile commuter line between the two cities, with stops in Hartford and up to 12 other towns, as well as connections to buses and Bradley International Airport.

“This is a crucial step forward for one of the most important transportation improvements we have made in decades,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in a statement. “Along with the new M8 passenger cars coming to Metro-North’s New Haven Line and the highway upgrades we have made across Connecticut, this project will truly transform public transit in our state.”

Now, the line carries Amtrak passenger trains and freight trains, and would have to accommodate commuter service, which makes double-tracking necessary.

Both Rell and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, emphasized the line would enhance development and reduce highway congestion.

“Bookended by Boston and New York, our location is one of Connecticut’s great assets,” Donovan said, also in a statement. “If we remove one of the great impediments to growth — traffic congestion along the corridor — with high-speed rail, our economic future improves exponentially.”

The New Haven-Springfield line would have four or five new stations built to add to the existing eight. Trains would run up to every 30 minutes during peak periods, according to state Department of Transportation plans.

Donovan said he and the state’s congressional delegation have been pushing for the Bond Commission’s approval since last spring. The item was on the agenda of the commission, of which Rell serves as chairwoman, in October, but state Sen. Eileen M. Daily, D-Westbrook, asked that it be postponed because of questions she had.

Rell canceled the Dec. 11 meeting, prompting Donovan to write the governor a letter asking her not to delay further. “I believe we are at a critical point in terms of the availability of federal funding for high speed rail,” he wrote. Design and environmental work must be completed before the state can apply for federal matching funds, he wrote.

Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said Friday the January meeting was moved up in order to increase the chance of federal financing.

Liegeot said the governor’s office already has applied for $50.4 million in federal stimulus money for the New Haven-Springfield line, as well as for Metro-North’s New Haven Line and Waterbury branch, freight lines and parking at the Branford station.

U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement that he is pleased by the bond commission’s decision and would continue to work for federal funding for the rail line.

“Commuter rail linking New Haven and Springfield will not only create jobs for our state, but will alleviate the often-tedious commute on I-91 that so many Connecticut commuters face every day,” Dodd said.

The state’s 2005 study can be found at www.nhhsrail.com.

Obama Unveils High-Speed Rail Plan
April 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday highlighted his ambition for the development of high-speed passenger rail lines in at least 10 regions, expressing confidence in the future of train travel even as he acknowledged that the American rail network, compared to the rest of the world’s, remains a caboose.

With clogged highways and overburdened airports, economic growth was suffering, Mr. Obama said from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, shortly before leaving for a weekend trip to Latin America.

“What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

And he added, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this.”

Mr. Obama said the $8 billion included for high-speed rail projects in his stimulus package — to be spent over two years — and an additional $1 billion a year being budgeted over the next five years, would provide a “jump start” toward achieving that vision.

The stimulus money has yet to be allocated to specific projects, but Mr. Obama said that the Transportation Department had expedited this process and would begin awarding funds to “ready” projects by the end of summer.

The government has identified 10 corridors of 100 to 600 miles in length with greatest promise for high-speed development.

They are: a northern New England line; an Empire line running east to west in New York State; a Keystone corridor running laterally through Pennsylvania; a southeast network connecting the District of Columbia to Florida and the Gulf Coast; a Gulf Coast line extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama; a corridor in central and southern Florida; a Texas-to-Oklahoma line; a California corridor where voters have already approved a line that will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours; and a corridor in the Pacific Northwest.

Only one high-speed line is now operating, on the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, and it will be eligible to compete for funds to make improvements.

Mr. Obama’s remarks mixed ambition and modesty, reflecting the fact that American high-speed rail is in its infancy compared with far-flung systems of technological virtuosity like those in France and Japan as well as the network China is rapidly building.

"Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination," Mr. Obama said. "It is happening right now, it’s been happening for decades. The problem is, it’s been happening elsewhere, not here."

The president noted that his administration’s investments in improving roads, bridges and ports constituted “the most sweeping investment in our infrastructure since President Eisenhower began the interstate highway system in the 1950s.” Still, spending on rail travel in the United States remains a tiny portion of what Eisenhower spent or what Europeans or some Asians are spending.

The president defended his plan both against those who say it seeks to do too much and those who said it does too little.

“This plan is realistic,” he said, calling it a “first step that is quickly achievable.” Rail spending, he said, would not only provide jobs that “can’t be outsourced” but also help reduce the pollution from cars and planes while enhancing the ability to compete.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers welcomed the president’s remarks, saying it was “thrilled with this initiative.”

“It focuses the administration effort and commitment to high-speed rail and to passenger rail in general,” said David Johnson, a vice president of the association. He acknowledged that overall financing was “tiny” compared with European-style train systems but described it as an important start. The fierce competition for resources in a time of economic crisis has strapped the administration’s rail ambitions, though it has made no secret of its inclinations.

In making the announcement, the president was joined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom Mr. Obama joshingly referred to as “America’s No. 1 train fan.”

In the Senate, Mr. Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his regular train use between Washington and his home in Delaware over decades and for his strong support for increased rail financing.

New laws or government pronouncements:
Rail safety, security proposals announced by Transportation Dept. 
By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer 
Posted on Dec 16, 7:52 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The release of deadly chemicals from a rail car in a densely populated city could have catastrophic consequences, whether it's caused by a terrorist attack or a derailment.  On Friday, transportation and homeland security officials proposed ways to make it harder for terrorists to attack rail cars - and less likely that an accident would result in mass casualties.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters wants rail companies to send poison gases, like chlorine or anhydrous ammonia, and other hazardous cargo along routes that pose the least danger for nearby residents.  Under the plan, railroads would have to identify the amount of hazardous material carried over each route, then use the information to select the safest way to move it.

The announcement of Peters' plan Friday followed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's proposal to tighten rail security. The public has 60 days to comment on each.  Democratic lawmakers immediately denounced the Homeland Security plan as too little, too late.

"This rule is long overdue," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We need to be doing so much more to protect our communities from potential disasters."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was dumbfounded that the rules only apply to high-threat urban areas - of which his state has none.

"New Haven and other cities where tens of thousands of citizens could be harmed by a chemical release should not be ignored," Lieberman said.

The Homeland Security plan would require freight and passenger rail systems to inspect rail cars and keep them in secure areas when not in use. Railroads also would have to lessen the amount of time that cars carrying dangerous chemicals are allowed to stand still, which is when they're most vulnerable to sabotage or attack, Chertoff said.

Democrats, set to take control of Congress next month, said they'd file bills to require stricter safety and security measures for railroads.

Schumer wants to double the number of hazardous materials inspectors and limit the age of rail cars carrying dangerous cargo. He also wants to raise the penalty for railroads found guilty of negligence in a fatal accident to a maximum of $10 million.  Several Democratic proposals would reroute hazardous materials away from places where an attack could do the most damage.

The District of Columbia passed a law in 2005 banning hazardous material shipments within 2.2 miles of the Capitol. CSX Transportation sued; the case is pending.

The rail industry fears that other cities would follow Washington's lead if the city prevails. Eight other cities - Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis and Albany and Buffalo, N.Y. - have introduced legislation to ban hazardous shipments.

Railroads say forcing trains to take longer, circuitous routes would create a safety hazard by increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Ed Hamburger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said railroads have already taken steps to tighten security. They have increased rail car inspections, set up an operations center to share intelligence with the government and improved the security of information systems, he said.

Drivers barred from talking on cell phone while behind the wheel (if cellphone is hand-held); mini-motorcycles outlawed on the public R.O.W.

Gas prices force new work routes
Article Last Updated: 05/22/2008 12:23:07 AM EDT

More and more Connecticut commuters are racing to catch trains, buses and the Web to work in order to escape the financial beating they are taking from $130-a-barrel oil and $4-a-gallon gas.  Metro-North Railroad, bus operators, vanpool organizers and Telecommute Connecticut reported surges in contacts with people seeking alternatives to driving to work alone.

Dan Brucker, a Metro-North spokesman, said the figures for May are not available, but April 2008 ridership on the New Haven Line jumped 4.3 percent from April 2007. That's an increase of 128,561, or more than the population of Stamford, riding the train in one month.

There is a financial difference between driving and taking buses and trains, according to MetroPool, the Stamford-based van and carpooling advocacy group.

MetroPool's Web site has a feature to compute how much a daily commute costs.  For instance, a 30-mile roundtrip commute by car costs about $305.55 a month. That's using the Internal Revenue Service's latest 50.5 cent per mile reimbursement cost for a vehicle. It also takes into account a 21-day work month. The IRS figure includes insurance and maintenance costs.

By comparison, a monthly pass on Metro-North between Bridgeport and Grand Central Terminal in New York — a round trip of more than 120 miles — is $329.28. A monthly pass to ride from the Milford station to the Stamford station is $87.22. This does not include parking costs or the trip to and from home, the station and the office.

At $4.06 per gallon — the average for regular unleaded gas in Connecticut on Wednesday according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge — a person driving a car that gets 33 miles to the gallon would spend $18.45 per week just for gas for a 30-mile daily commute.

Ron Kilcoyne, chief executive officer of the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority, said a 31-day pass to ride his buses costs $60.  Like the railroad, GBTA's fare boxes are ringing more often these days, Kilcoyne said.  April ridership was up 3.5 percent compared to the same month in 2007, Kilcoyne said. This might not seem like a big jump, but Kilcoyne said April 2007 represented a rise of more than 10 percent from April 2006.

Kilcoyne was at a regional meeting of transit agencies in Massachusetts on Wednesday and didn't have access to exact figures.  One thing people can do to help ease the burden on their family budgets is to use the public transit system, he said. GBTA offers many routes into major work centers, including Trumbull and Shelton. It has connections with Milford and Norwalk and provides service to Metro-North train stations.

"Busy, busy," that's how MetroPool President and Chief Executive Officer John Lyons summed up activity at the Stamford-based group's office.  MetroPool has already had 90 contacts in May for information on various ridesharing programs, he said. That's compared to 41 contacts in May 2007.  The organization is also offering incentives to get people to share the ride.

MetroPool is giving out free 10- or 7-day bus passes, depending on the bus system, to people new to public transit, he said. That promotion began last year. MetroPool also hands out a $20 gift certificate to people who set up and actually complete the first trip of a carpool, Lyons said.

But $4 gas is also incentive.

"It's a motivation," agreed Jean Stimolo, executive director of New Haven-based Rideworks. Like MetroPool, Rideworks helps people create van- and carpools, but concentrates on the New Haven County market. It also can arrange for free 10-day passes on buses in its area to people new to public transit.  Rideworks also manages the statewide TelecommuteCT! program.

Stimolo said people aren't just looking to cut their costs. She credited Connecticut residents with being concerned about the environment and wanting to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

"Everybody's sensibilities are being sharpened to what we can do," she said.  That includes working from home.  Stimolo said her group has helped eight companies create telecommuting programs this year. Since its inception a decade ago, TelecommuteCT! has helped 206 companies establish these programs, she said.

Telecommute staff will talk to companies and employees about the benefits of working from home, but also evaluate the needs of both the business and the worker. And it's not usually an all or nothing arrangement.

"Typically a person works two days a week from home," Stimolo said.

That's also how carpooling can be most effective, according to both Rideworks and MetroPool.  The two groups recommend carpooling to work at least once a week. It would not only cut expenses, but Stimolo said carpooling would also cut congestion on the highways.  The key to most programs is flexibility, Stimolo said.

While some people are pairing up for the ride into work, or taking mass transit, the state has seen a big increase in motorcycle registrations.  As of Wednesday, the Department of Motor Vehicles said, there are 79,129 active motorcycle registrations, compared to 74,935 at the same time a year ago.  Motorcycles typically get better gas mileage than cars and Harley-Davidson advertised its Sportstar 883C on Wednesday as getting 60 miles to the gallon.

Wedding puts big squeeze on parking; Town to revise policy on parking space rentals

Greenwich TIME
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published May 26 2007

Thou shalt not park in front of Saks Fifth Avenue.

That's what the pastor of St. Mary Church is telling families who want to rent parking spaces on Greenwich Avenue by the day for weddings or funerals at his parish.

Monsignor Francis Wissel issued the directive after a wedding party took up more than 40 spaces in front of and across the street from the Roman Catholic church at 1 p.m. last Saturday during the height of weekend shopping.

The town received a number of complaints about the takeover from merchants, prompting a meeting between Parking Services Director Allen Corry and Wissel.  Wissel acknowledged the merchants' gripes were legitimate and said the church will no longer allow wedding parties and funeral processions to rent so many spaces.  They will be limited to four spaces -- enough for a limousine or a hearse.

"Some of these weddings, they can get out of hand," Wissel said. "Am I supposed to tell the merchants that they can't have parking all day because someone has 10 bridesmaids? This is not a country parish. This is like St. Patrick's Cathedral."

Corry said the town is developing its own policy on the number of meters that can be rented because of the "fiasco," albeit more generous than the limits set by Wissel. Churchgoers will be limited to 10 spaces under the new policy.

"That's the livelihood of those businesses in the downtown," Corry said. "It's tough enough to find parking."

Corry said several factors were to blame for the incident, which he explained occurred while he was away at a parking industry conference.

"We shouldn't have rented them as many spaces as we did," Corry said.  The wedding party was allowed to rent 26 metered spaces at the standard daily rate of $15 each -- the hourly rate for regular parking is 75 cents.

Instead of supplying the wedding party with bags to cover the individual meters, the town gave them signs to use, making it hard to tell exactly which spaces were reserved.

"I feel that our business was definitely impacted by that last Saturday," said Billie Messina, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue.

While she has no problem with the town renting spaces immediately in front of the church, Messina said a number of spots across the street in front of the store were unavailable because of the wedding.

"Parking in Greenwich is challenging as it is," Messina said. "It was all blocked off."

John Ferguson, who rented the spaces for his daughter's wedding at the church, said the situation highlighted a larger problem in the downtown.

"They need more parking," said Ferguson, a lawyer and former probate judge candidate.  Ferguson said he did empathize with the merchants, however.

"I feel badly that the merchants were put out for a period of time," Ferguson said.

To avoid misunderstanding in the future, Corry said he will use bags to cover the meters instead of the signs. The town will require a $5 deposit for each bag on top of the $15 daily rental fee per parking space.  Corry said families could also make it easier on the town.

"Their wedding should have been earlier in the morning," said Corry, who also suggested that large wedding parties car pool to the church.

Wissel put it more bluntly.

"They can come on motorcycles for all I care," Wissel said, explaining that he was not at the church the morning of the wedding.  The priest sent out a letter to downtown merchants this week explaining that the parish was sensitive to their parking needs.  Wissel, St. Mary's pastor for 10 years, said he often reminds churchgoers about the limited availability of parking in the business district.

"Every time they have something here, they experience a miracle, and the miracle is to find parking," Wissel said.

The "dirty little secret" about station parking on Metro North...

Connecticut's on right track with its trains
Norwalk HOUR editorial
December 21, 2006

The growing attention paid by the state to expanding rail service is looking more and more like the right course of action.
We look to the reports of growing numbers of commuters — not just to New York City — who take the train daily within the state's borders.

Metro-North, operator of the commuter line in Fairfield County, reports an increase of 6.5 percent in ridership within the state over the first 10 months of 2006.

That's good news because it means more and more commuters are choosing not to be a part of that daily grind on the Lodge turnpike (I-95).

There is no doubt that the increase in gasoline prices may be a factor in commuters' choices. That, coupled with additional train service and an improved-on-time record, enter into the picture.

Metro-North has shown some flexibility in promoting its service for those heading into the Big Apple for a one-day jaunt, especially during the holidays.
It has added extra trains to handle the 10 percent increase in weekend train riders in recent weeks.

That brings us to the question of expanding rail service elsewhere in the state, not just along the coastline. A Metro-North Link — or an Amtrak one — from New Haven north to Hartford and beyond seems a logical step.

The state Department of Transportation along with Metro-North, should also turn its attention to improving service on the Danbury branch line.

This should include restoring the rail service beyond that point, a service that once carried skiers to Pittsfield, Mass., area.

We are aware of the limitations of the existing Danbury line — trains limited to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour on its single track. We've often called for the re-electrification of the line.

We never understood the thinking behind the move years ago to take down the wires in the first place.

One of the tougher problems in increased use of the rails is the need for more parking at the stations along the line.

There is an alternative, one that is offered here in Norwalk and in some other towns — that's the bus. Norwalk's Transit District is keeping the buses rolling, adding three state-of-the-art buses to its fleet. According to Wheels Director Louis Shulman, the bulk of the city's buses are two years old, reducing maintenance costs.

A bus ride to the train of an easy way to go — you should try it.

State says no to last call on bar cars
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published December 9 2006

State Department of Transportation officials say they intend to keep the New Haven Line's bar car stocked and in service for the foreseeable future, despite a New York proposal banning liquor sales on Long Island and Metro-North railroads.  Because of the state's agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York-based agency that runs Metro-North, the New Haven Line would not be affected by any legislation coming out of the Empire State, said Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for DOT's rail bureau.

"We recognize how important the bar car is and we plan to continue running it," he said yesterday.

If any liquor ban was authorized by the MTA, the state would "have to talk to Metro-North about any legal issues" in selling alcohol on the New Haven Line on New York property, but "under our agreements with Metro-North, there are ways to resolve these type of issues," Colonese said.

The New Haven Line is mainly subsidized by Connecticut.  Earlier this week, Mitchell Pally, an MTA board member from Long Island, made the recommendation to ban liquor sales on Metro-North and LIRR properties.  The suggestion came four months after an 18-year-old woman was fatally struck by a LIRR train when she fell through the gap between the platform and the train at the Woodside, N.Y., station.

The New York Public Transportation Safety Board cleared the railroad of any blame in the incident, but the woman's blood-alcohol level was .23 percent, which may have contributed to her fall, the report said.  The MTA executive board will review Pally's proposal at its monthly meeting next week. Connecticut does not have a seat on the MTA board.

The New Haven Line is one of the last commuter lines in the country to have an on-board bar service serving drinks and snacks.  Metro-North eliminated the bar cars on its New York Hudson and Harlem lines to free up seats for commuters, but they have remained popular in Connecticut, even getting a Web site dedicated to their fans, www.barcar.com.

The state operates 10 bar cars and plans to get new, upgraded ones when it starts receiving new rail cars as part of its $881 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Cars Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y.  Customers can view which New Haven Line cars offer bar car service by checking the timetable, which prints a martini glass icon next to the scheduled train.  In addition to the New Haven Line's bar cars, Metro-North has bar service counters on many of its platforms in Grand Central Terminal.

These carts could be affected by the New York legislation.  Bar-car enthusiasts said they were pleased that the New Haven Line will continue to offer bar service on trains regardless of any legislation, but found the MTA proposal disconcerting.

"We don't want this to affect us in Connecticut, and this (proposal) made me stop and think of what could happen in the future," said Terri Cronin, a Norwalk commuter and co-vice chairwoman for the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

Most people who are intoxicated on the bar car were likely drinking before they got to the train, said Cronin, who, through the commuter council is spearheading an effort to get new bar cars for the New Haven Line.  And because commuters are only in the bar car for their hourlong ride, the law would do little to change people's drinking behavior, she said.

Ferry to kick off service in late July
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
Posted on 06/06/2010


In late July, kayakers, rowers, shell fishermen and other boaters using Norwalk Harbor will see a unique vessel pulling into and out of Norwalk Cove Marina on Thursday afternoons and Sunday evenings.

Last month, the city's Zoning Commission gave SeaStreak LLC the green light to dock a 130-foot, 400-passenger high-speed ferry at Norwalk Cove Marina in East Norwalk.

The ferry is scheduled to dock late Thursday afternoons and take on up to 100 passengers en route to Martha's Vineyard. The vessel will return Sunday evenings on the way back to Manhattan and Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

SeaStreak must, among other conditions, shut the ferry's engines off while passengers are boarding, and notify kayaking, rowing or sailing clubs of the service. Ferry service is set to begin on a test basis in late July.

Charles Huthmaker, Norwalk River Rowing Association director of rowing, said the ferry service -- if extended into the spring and fall -- will affect many rowers who use the harbor. But he added that those rowers already deal with large boats.,

"(In spring and fall) you can probably count on 200 or 300 kids on the river, Monday through Friday," said Huthmaker, referring to the association and three other rowing clubs. But "if we know (the ferry) is coming Thursday evenings, as coaches we'd make sure we're aware of it. It would just be another boat to look out for. Every afternoon, we're looking for oyster boats. If (the ferry) is coming in and out of Cove Marine, they would barely interact with our coaching. Only the big eight-man boats go out that far."

Under the approved plan, which has been vetted by the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission and Shellfish Committee, the ferry will approach the marina from the west, past Green's Ledge Lighthouse. A U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain will be at the helm, and he or she will have to throttle back upon entering the harbor's no-wake zone.

"Prior to the area of the Manresa Power Station, at that point in time, that area was designated as a no-wake of 6 mph. It means that once that boat starts into the inner harbor, they're going to have to operate at a speed that leaves no wake and they'll have to exit at those same conditions," said Michael Griffin, state of Connecticut harbormaster for Norwalk. "The vessel, operated properly, can fit into our heavy mixed use boating environment without jeopardizing public safety."

In a letter to the Harbor Management Commission last month, Norwalk resident and kayaker David W. Park wrote that he is not opposed to the ferry service, but said he has concerns "regarding the safety of rowers and paddlers."

"There are currently four Norwalk rowing clubs and many recreational kayakers in the Norwalk Harbor area that are not familiar with basic boating navigation and safety," Park wrote. "Unlike motorized boats and sailboats over 19 feet, these types of self-propelled boats are not required to pass a state Department of Environmental Protection safe boating course. Most are not knowledgeable in the location of channels marked by buoys and basic Coast Guard rules such as not impeding the navigation of a boat restricted to a channel."

James A. Barker, SeaStreak president and Darien resident, acknowledged that kayaking and large vessels often don't mix well -- "We work with the clubs in New York City to inform (kayakers) to play by the rules of the road."

But Barker said the Norwalk ferry will operate in less difficult conditions than there. He said SeaStreak commuter ferries running between Manhattan and Atlantic Highlands, N.J., deal with more than 1,000 boats in the latter harbor.

"(In Norwalk) we'll be coming in at a low speed, we're highly maneuverable. We have two licensed captains on board and we'll be maintaining a sharp lookout," Barker said. "We're coming in at a time which I don't think is going to be prime time, and the traffic should be fairly light in the water. We are working with the marine police to notify all the clubs."

In pitching the plan to the city, SeaStreak representative met with officers of the Norwalk Police Department's Marine Division. Sgt. Peter Lapak, head of the division, said police will be ready to escort the ferry into and out of the harbor until other boaters become accustomed to seeing it coming and going. He foresees no problems.

"All of our exchanges to date with the people representing SeaStreak have been very positive," Lapak said. "They seem to be very professionally run, so I don't have any significant concerns."

Some East Norwalk residents have a different view of the planned ferry service. Speaking at a public hearing prior to the plan's approval, they predicted that the service will bring a rush of cars down residential streets.

Proposed city ferry picks up steam
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
Posted on 05/01/2010

Plans for a high-speed ferry stopping at Norwalk Cove Marina on the way to Martha's Vineyard is advancing through the review process, according to Michael Griffin, state of Connecticut Harbormaster for Norwalk.

"It's moving through the system, as far as the public hearings and the permitting requirements. At this point in time, it seems to be moving ahead. They made presentations before the Shellfish Commission and before the Harbor Commission," Griffin said. "It seems to be fitting into both the Shellfish plan and the Harbor Management plan. There was one concern expressed by the Shellfish Commission and that was the route that the vessel would take entering and exiting the harbor."

The concern, Griffin said, was whether the vessel might harm shellfish beds by using the east passage when entering Norwalk Harbor. He said SeaStreak, LLC, the ferry operator, has agreed to include in its application to the state Department of Environmental Protection a restriction limiting the ferry to use of the west passage.

"Beyond that, I haven't heard any other concerns expressed," Griffin said.

Under the plan, SeaStreak, which runs a high-speed ferry from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., to the Vineyard, would add a stop in Norwalk. The ferry operator has submitted a plan to the city's Department of Planning and Zoning. The 141-foot vessel would travel between Atlantic Highlands, East 34th Street in Manhattan, Norwalk Cove Marina and Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.

The 400-passenger vessel with crew of six would stop at Norwalk Cove Marina for 30 minutes on Thursday afternoons en route to Oak Bluffs, Mass., and again for 30 minutes on Sunday evenings on the way back to New York City and New Jersey. SeaStreak anticipates approximately 100 passengers would use the Norwalk location, and the company has negotiated 100 parking spaces in the southeastern part Norwalk Cove Marina, according to the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.

Vessel availability and the anticipation that passengers would prefer long weekends on Martha's Vineyard are behind the decision to have the ferry stop in Norwalk on Thursdays and Sundays, rather than on Fridays and Sundays, according to James A. Barker, president of SeaStreak and a Darien resident.

Barker anticipates SeaStreak will begin several test runs in mid-July -- tentatively beginning July 8 or July 15 -- if the city boards and commissions approve the plan.

"I think we've got a good plan. We've got our ducks in a row. We've got parking. We've done the traffic studies. So our paperwork is in order. We'll be answering any questions the public has," Barker said. If the plan is approved "we would commit to a test of probably two or three runs over the summer, maybe more. If it's successful, we can evaluate whether we want to do Fridays in the future."

Barker also feels a connection to the area. He said he grew up on the water, worked as a lobsterman and sits on The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk board of directors. He added that his children row in Norwalk.

"We are sympathetic to the yachting community and we'll be slowing down for any slow craft," Barker said.

In discussing the plan in March, a consultant for SeaStreak pitched the high-speed ferry as a much preferable alternative to Interstate 95. That has been borne out, according to Barker, who went on a test run in February.

"It took an hour and ten minutes to run from Wall Street to Norwalk," Barker said.

No change in the existing in-water structures or existing parking lot is proposed under the plan. The plan is consistent with city building zone regulations within the Marine Commercial Zone, according to staff for the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.

Elizabeth B. Suchy, the local attorney representing SeaStreak, said the city's Zoning Commission will review the application May 13 and has scheduled a public hearing for May 19. She is hopeful the plan will be approved.

"It is my client's goal to have this service operate this year," Suchy said.

Griffin, at this time, is endorsing the proposed ferry service.

"Given the elimination of the concerns by the Shellfish Commission, I feel that the vessel, although it will be contributing additional traffic, presenting additional challenges in an already mixed-use harbor environment, I believe that it can function without creating additional safety concerns," Griffin said. "We feel that properly managed, it can be done in a way that it doesn't create any additional safety concerns."

Study: Interest in ferry service strong despite setbacks
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published May 29 2007

At Long Island Sound's widest point, Connecticut's coastline is 21 miles from Long Island, N.Y. That's about the same distance between Stamford and Bridgeport, a commute tens of thousands of motorists and rail riders make every day.

But crossing the Sound barrier and opening the state up to a new source of labor, retail trade and tourism, while taking cars off Interstate 95 and other traffic-jammed highways, is an idea that has never been able to stay afloat.  Besides the long-standing ferry service between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson, N.Y., there has been nearly a century's worth of failed cross-Sound ideas that could have connected lower Fairfield County to Long Island and New York City by boat or bridge.

"We just haven't found the right way to do it," said Franklin Bloomer, a Greenwich resident and co-chairman of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory group to the Transportation Strategy Board.

"Waterborne transportation remains an underutilized resource for this state," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County. "Going to Long Island has a lot of promise. The same with going to (La Guardia) airport."

The latest proposal that appears stuck is a ferry service that could connect Bridgeport and Stamford to Manhattan and La Guardia.

The idea was first proposed in 1996 and has received more than $6 million in federal grants. But the plan remains without a docking site in Stamford, and little has been done the past 10 years to resolve that, said Roger Fox, chairman of Stamford's Harbor Commission.

"We need a dock, and we need a place to park" commuters' cars, Fox said. "And who's going to give up waterfront parking? Who wants this thing bad enough?"

A recent study from the Bridgeport Port Authority shows the idea has potential. Nearly 80 percent of commuters between Bridgeport and Stamford would consider using such a service, the study said. It would cost about $50 a week, compared with $28 a week by train and $163 by car. Ferry service to Manhattan would cost about $150 a week, compared with $83 by train and $230 by car, according to the study.

Some have criticized the ferry idea because it would serve a market already covered by Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line. But to be financially successful, it would only need to capture about 4 percent of the commuting market -- including road and rail commuters -- between Connecticut and New York, the study said.

"Money is not the issue," Fox said. "It's a profitable venture for somebody."

In its search for a dock site, Stamford has turned its attention away from the Admiral's Wharf area in the South End, which was purchased by Greenwich developer Antares Real Estate Services. Many on the harbor commission have viewed that as a tough spot to launch a high-speed ferry service because it's too far inland.

Alternative sites include the east side of the peninsula near Kosciuszko Park; near Brewer Yacht Haven on the east side of the canal; and near Cummings Park Beach in Westcott Cove, Fox said. But finding a place to park 150 cars remains difficult, he added.

Bridgeport Port Authority officials are more optimistic.

"As we've begun to visualize the service, it seems as if it would work from an operator's point of view," said Joseph Riccio, executive director of the port authority. "With traffic on I-95, we need to turn over to our waterways to alleviate congestion."

Using the Sound as a transportation source is not a new idea. Since the Bridgeport, Port Jefferson & Steamboat Co. was founded in 1883, dozens of ideas to link lower Fairfield County to New York have been proposed -- and all have failed.  After some short-lived excursion boats and ferry services in the 1930s and 1940s, the idea really started to percolate again in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But at that time, people were looking to connect Connecticut to New York by road and bridge instead of by boat.  umber of bridges were studied by New York and Connecticut and planners ruled out including a 14.5-mile bridge between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport. There was also a study of a bridge linking Northport, N.Y., and Norwalk at Route 7, which was ruled economically unfeasible.

The idea that had the most promise was a bridge connecting Oyster Bay and Rye, N.Y. The 6.1-mile span was strongly backed by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller but faced opposition from Connecticut officials, including then-U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney, Stamford Mayor Julius Wilensky and the Business Council of Fairfield County, then known as SACIA. Opponents said the bridge would have created dangerous conditions for marine traffic while increasing road traffic on I-95.

Floyd Lapp, executive director for the South Western Regional Planning Agency, worked for Westchester County at the time of the bridge debate. He said the "economic linkage" between the two areas made sense. "That's where I always thought it was going to be," he added.

While some groups continued studying bridge possibilities, others went back to finding boat services that could work. In 1975, an organization called the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission recommended many new ferry routes, including Stamford to Lloyd Point, N.Y., and Sherwood Island in Westport to Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island.

The same year, Norwalk and the town of Northport had seemingly agreed on an excursion boat that would cross the Sound between the two towns, but the idea was eventually voted down by Northport trustees, who thought the outside traffic it would bring could hinder their businesses.

That has not been the case with the ferry between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson. That service has been relatively successful because it appeals to day-trippers and other niche markets, Riccio said.  While the Bridgeport Port Authority doesn't track user demographics, it has noted truck traffic increasing on the ferry service since the clearance height for the entrance and exit viaduct was raised in 1998, Riccio said.

Last year, the service attracted 1.37 million riders, down 3.4 percent from the year before, but up 27 percent from 1999, when the company added a third daily vessel.

Use of the service usually spikes during the summer months, and during holiday weekends and school vacations, Riccio said. Monthly passes remain a small part of overall sales, but the service works for those "willing to pay the price" to get around traffic between Connecticut and Long Island, he added.

These kinds of ferry services, geared more toward day-trippers, may be the best way to go, Lapp said.

"The ferry is a different sell for a few reasons," he said. "You have a commuter rail that already takes people to most places where they want to go. And across the Sound is a reach, because it's a broken market."

Perhaps with more leadership behind the ferry issue, it could succeed, McGee said.

"There needs to be an overall state strategy," he said. "At the end of the day, we need a major state subsidy so the ferry will be more competitive price-wise with the railroad. Without that leadership, we've been left with a ferry system for which we don't know what the market is."

So despite its history, more ferry service is one idea that may never be truly sunk.

"It's like unrequited love, I guess," Lapp said. "People still feel a love for these things, even if there are reasons to believe it's not going to happen."

Alaska cruise ship taking on water, evacuated
May 12, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A cruise ship with about 280 people on board ran into trouble off the Alaskan coast and began taking on water early on Monday, forcing passengers and crew to evacuate, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard craft were sent to the 360-foot-long (110-meter-long) Empress of the North, about 15 miles southwest of Juneau on Alaska's eastern peninsula in an area called Icy Straits, Coast Guard spokesman Christopher McLaughlin told Reuters by telephone.

The ship was listing at about 8 degrees after hitting a rock but Dan Miller, a spokesman for owner Majestic America, told Fox News it was not in danger of sinking.

"It is stable and is under its own power and as soon as all the guests and crew are transferred off, she will make her way under her own power over to Juneau where we will assess the damage," Miller said.

Coast Guard Commander Jeff Carter told CNN the ship was carrying 281 passengers and crew.  McLaughlin said about 30 passengers had been evacuated so far, with nearby commercial vessels helping the Coast Guard, including a cruise ship that was due at the scene shortly to help evacuate remaining passengers.

"Several Good Samaritan boats are on the scene and taking passengers off," McLaughlin said. He said it was unclear how much water the boat was taking on.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or what caused the ship to run into trouble in 3-foot (0.9-meter) seas in icy waters.

"We're not sure what they hit," McLaughlin said.

The ship has 112 staterooms and an old-fashioned rear paddle wheel, according to the Web site of its owner, the Majestic America cruise line.  Majestic America is a division of Ambassadors Cruise Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ambassadors International Inc.. Its decor includes Native American totems and masks, as well as Faberge eggs and other Russian artwork.

Ferry service will restart at Keystone
By South Whidbey RECORD STAFF
Mar 14 2007

The ferry M/V Klickitat was repaired Tuesday night and will return to service Wednesday afternoon, state ferry officials said this morning.  Ferry sailings will start at 2:15 p.m. from Port Townsend.

The Klickitat was pulled from service on Monday after an inspection by the state ferry system and the Coast Guard. Water was found seeping through the hull of the ferry on Saturday. Ferry officials initially said there was no timeline for resuming service on the Keystone-Port Townsend run. But Todd Shipyard in Seattle made repairs overnight Tuesday, and work was finished this morning.

"Testing was successful and the vessel crews are preparing for transit from Seattle to Port Townsend," said Traci Brewer-Rogstad, director of marine operations for Washington State Ferries.

The crack found in the vessel was 6 inches long, and a 3-inch-long crack extended up the bulkhead of the Klickitat. A portion of the hull plating was replaced, and the state said the total cost of repairs will be roughly $50,000.  The Klickitat is a 256-foot-long car/passenger ferry that was built in 1927 and extensively rebuilt in 1981.

It can carry a maximum of 617 passengers and 64 vehicles, and has space for 24 commercial vehicles.

Keystone ferry route cancelled
By RECORD STAFF (Whidbey Island, WA)
Mar 12 2007

Ferry service on the Keystone-Port Townsend run has been suspended after water was found seeping through the hull of the ferry M/V Klickitat Saturday.

Inspectors from the state ferry system and the Coast Guard examined the ferry Monday afternoon during a round-trip sailing. Ferry officials said based on that examination, the Klickitat will be pulled from service until it can be repaired in a local shipyard. The state does not have another ferry available to substitute for the Klickitat.

The ferry is expected to go into drydock once space is available, but ferry officials warned that drydock space is in high demand due to the upcoming summer season.

Ferry officials said service has been suspended indefinitely.

"We know the suspension of the run will inconvenience travelers, truckers and commuters," said Traci Brewer-Rogstad, director of marine operations for Washington State Ferries.

"Unfortunately, with other vessels in drydock for annual inspection and repair, there is no available spare vessel at this time. We are working to review all options for service on this route as quickly as possible, but we are currently out of service," Brewer-Rogstad continued. "We at Washington State Ferries are committed to returning the Klickitat to service as fast as we can."

The 256-foot-long Klickitat was built in 1927 and extensively rebuilt in 1981.  The vessel can carry a maximum of 617 passengers and 64 vehicles, and has space for 24 commercial vehicles.

Backers Float High-Speed Ferry Idea
November 26, 2006
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
A new study endorses a high-speed commuter ferry traveling among Bridgeport, Stamford and lower Manhattan, saying there is a viable market for the service that could take cars off Interstate 95.

The service could be a quick, comfortable and affordable alternative to commuting by automobile and may ease gridlock on lower Fairfield County's highways, according to a Bridgeport Port Authority feasibility study.

"It's a quicker ride than driving and only a little slower than rail," said Joseph Riccio, executive director of the port authority. "There will be no overbooking like there is on a train, so no one will be uncomfortably crowded."

The analysis, done by TPA Design Group of New Haven and Martin Associates of Lancaster, has been in the works for nearly two years. A survey, conducted for the study, found 80 percent of commuters in the Stamford-Bridgeport area would consider using the service.  But while the study determines the service to be viable, little progress is being made to find a ferry landing site in Stamford.

The study proposes two ferry boats operating during the morning and evening peak commuting hours on weekdays. Eventually, a weekend service could be developed to function as a tourist boat throughout New England, the study said.  Commuting from Bridgeport to Stamford by ferry should cost about $50 a week, compared with $28 a week by train and $163 by car, according to the study. Ferry service from Stamford to Manhattan would cost $150 a week, compared with $83 by train and $230 by car.

The service would serve about 600 to 700 people a day initially, Riccio said.

The ferry would not compete with Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line, he said. While the New Haven Line primarily serves commuters in midtown Manhattan, the ferry would service the financial district in lower Manhattan.  Only about a third of Metro-North riders connect with subways or buses once they reach Grand Central Terminal, according to railroad statistics.

The ferry would likely service commuters between Bridgeport and Stamford, and Stamford to New York, Riccio said.

For years, Stamford pegged the Admiral's Wharf site at Washington Boulevard and Atlantic Street in the South End as the ideal spot, but the site's acquisition by Antares Real Estate Services LLC, a Greenwich developer, has put that plan in doubt.

The city's harbor commission recently recommended four new dock sites, including the east side of the peninsula near Kosciuszko Park; near Brewer Yacht Haven on the east side of the canal; at the southern tip of the Antares property in the South End; and near Cummings Park Beach in Westcott Cove.

Until a site is found, that would also provide ample parking for commuters, little can be done to establish ferry service, said Roger Fox, chairman of the harbor commission.

"The service is a real good thing because it will take cars off I-95 and it looks like it will work for a number of passengers," Fox said. "But there are some hangups finding a place for cars to park. We need still need to figure out where we're going to put it (the ferry) and who's going to be responsible for it."

FERRY FUNDING, J. Richard Capka, head of the Federal Highway Administration, answers questions with U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport...how is this getting on after the election?
Ferry service proposal gets a boost
Stamford ADVOCATE  
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published July 8 2006

STAMFORD -- The Federal Highway Administration chief visited Stamford yesterday to announce more funding for ferry service between Bridgeport and Manhattan, and to discuss ways to alleviate traffic in lower Fairfield County.

Flanked by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, and state Department of Transportation officials, Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka complimented the "passion" of the dozens of transportation advocates and planners who attended the meeting and said the solution to congestion lies in improving many modes of transportation.

"Ferry, rail, buses and highways all play a role," said Capka after the meeting at the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus. "These all have to play a huge role. It is a multi-modal solution."

The proposed high-speed ferry between Bridgeport, Stamford and New York City received a $2.2 million federal grant yesterday, Capka announced.

While the status of the Stamford ferry site remains unresolved, Capka said resources would remain available to the city as it makes progress on developing a dock and choosing an operator to run the service to LaGuardia Airport and lower Manhattan.

Appointed administrator on May 31, Capka was also deputy commissioner of the agency for nearly four years.

Before his service with federal highway, he was the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, where he directed the oversight of the $14.5 billion "Big Dig" project in Boston. The budget he established on the project in May 2001 has held through today.

The biggest question from many local transportation advocates yesterday was where the funding was coming from. While Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state legislature have approved $3.6 billion for transportation improvements the past two years, many advocates were curious how much the federal government could contribute.

Capka said that many states faces this problem and the Federal Highway Administration is working to try and find the right "tools and resources available" to provide financial assistance.

Federal highway has recently set up a 12-member committee to study state needs for the next six-year transportation funding bill.

In the last federal bill, the fourth congressional district received $93 million, including $35 million for Stamford, $50 million for Bridgeport and $4 million for Norwalk.

High-speed ferry proposal drawing support, but also questions
New London DAY
March 12, 2006

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- A proposal for high-speed ferry service linking southwest Connecticut and Manhattan is gaining support and financial backing, but also raising concerns about whether enough passengers would use it.

A recent report by several regional planning agencies found potential demand for a high-speed ferry to link Bridgeport and Stamford with Manhattan and possibly LaGuardia Airport.  However, the report stops short of recommending whether to pursue the project, saying more research is needed and local communities will have to determine whether they want the service.

The Bridgeport Port Authority is awaiting results of a study to answer several of those questions. The proposal also has already won nearly $9 million in federal grants that could be used to launch the ferry service.  However, questions remain about whether enough passengers would use the service to make it feasible, considering the rides are likely to cost more and take longer than those on Metro-North Railroad.

Joseph A. Riccio, executive director of the Bridgeport Port Authority and chairman of the Long Island Sound Ferry Coalition, said he sees a market in corporate workers who live in Fairfield County and work in New York City's financial district.

"This is not going to be for everyone; it's going to be probably for an executive market to get into Manhattan," Riccio told the Connecticut Post.  The ferry is one of several options reviewed in the planning agencies' report, which explores options to use waterways to cut the region's reliance on highways and rails.  The report also says the fast-ferry service from Bridgeport to Manhattan would be feasible only if it stopped in Stamford. Stamford officials said they like the idea, but need more information before committing to it.

"Stamford to Manhattan is difficult economics. Bridgeport to Manhattan is a non-starter. But Bridgeport to Stamford to Manhattan, there might be a market for that," said Michael Freimuth, Stamford's economic development director.

Connecticut House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said high-speed ferries are not included in the 10-year, $6 billion statewide transportation plan he's supporting in the General Assembly.  However, he said, he likes the idea and might include funding for it as the process progresses.

Not everyone is confident about the feasibility of the ferry idea, however.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Shore Line East Commuter Council, believes the state's priority should be improving commuter rail if it wants to ease the burden on highways.

"If we could do it on an experimental basis and see if there's a market for it, I'd be comfortable with that," he said of the high-speed ferry proposal.

But, he added: "If you can't get people out of their car to get on a train, why would we assume people would get out of their car to get on a ferry boat that would be slower and undoubtedly more expensive?"

Ferry plan floated again
Stamford ADVOCATE 
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published November 30 2005

Ferry service from Stamford to New York got more support yesterday, this time from a coalition of New York and Connecticut officials who studied how to use Long Island Sound for transportation.

The Southwestern Regional Planning Agency, the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency and its New York counterpart, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, released results from a three-year study of ferry services on the Sound.  The Long Island Sound Waterborne Transportation Plan calls for an enhancement of existing service and four new sites for fast passenger service, including a Bridgeport to Stamford to Manhattan ferry.

The service could cost $10 to $20 per trip, attract 600 to 2,340 riders a day, and take about 21Ú2 hours, according to the study.  Transportation planners said the proposal warrants consideration.

"I think it's a route that has intrigued people for a long time," said Joseph Riccio, executive director of the Bridgeport Port Authority. "The trains (into New York) are packed . . . and there is so much excess capacity that a high-speed ferry service presents another option. The question is if it can be done economically."  The transportation plan, which also recommends ferries from Rye, New Rochelle and Glen Cove, N.Y., into Manhattan, mapped out a number of scenarios for the Bridgeport to Stamford service.

Under the "base model" for service -- $15 a trip traveling at 35 knots -- attracting riders for a Bridgeport to Stamford to midtown Manhattan ferry would be difficult because it would be the same price as Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line, only slower, according to the study.  If service were extended to Wall Street, demand would increase, but still would carry only about 290 passengers because the service is slower, the study showed.

Ridership growth is contingent on the boat's speed, the study said. Morning ridership ranges from 175 passengers at 25 knots to 950 passengers at 55 knots, the study said.  Eliminating Stamford likely would increase demand from Bridgeport and shave about 25 minutes of travel time, but the study showed the number of passengers picked up in Stamford would offset those lost in Bridgeport.

"I can't say that all the legs of the proposal have potential, but the potential from Stamford to lower Manhattan is pretty good," said Robert Wilson, executive director of SWRPA.  The Bridgeport Port Authority is conducting its own study of ferry service from Bridgeport to Stamford to Manhattan, Riccio said.

Stamford, meanwhile, has received more than $3 million from the federal government to pursue ferry service. The city's ferry plans have been stalled for years because of legal squabbles over who has the right to run the service at the proposed Admiral's Wharf site in the South End.  The Long Island Sound transportation plan proposes ferry service from Bridgeport and Stamford to LaGuardia Airport in New York.

The study determined water taxis are not a solution to transportation woes, although they could be useful for short distances, such as Norwalk to Stamford and Stamford to Port Chester, N.Y.

Wilson said the viability of such services may hinge on whether the ferries are subsidized by the state or federal government.

"It becomes a premium service if it's subsidized," he said. "If you're talking about service without a subsidy, that could be different."

THE MAP:  Carnival Splendor catches fire, adrift off Mexican coast.  All things considered, a rather better outcome than in the three films made about make-believe as well as real ships and their stories.  Return plan changed:  no bus ride to the US border - instead, passengers stay aboard with Spam, fresh water, no lights, toilets, no Internet, yes on some cell phone service, apparently.

Stricken cruise ship reaches San Diego amid cheers
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
11 November 2010

SAN DIEGO – Six tug boats pulled a stricken cruise ship to shore Thursday morning amid cheers from a waiting crowd, bringing the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew closer to freedom after three days of limited food, smelly toilets and dark cabins.

Escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor reached the dock at about 8:30 a.m. PST. and passengers were expected to begin disembarking about two to three hours later, port officials said.

About 100 people onshore cheered loudly as the ship reached shore, while all along the harbor, tourists, joggers and fishermen stopped to snap photos.

"We're so happy to be getting off. Everybody's been cheering and clapping," passenger Sahizah Alim, 26, of Sacramento, said by cell phone...

Powerless cruise ship nears San Diego harbor
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
11 November 2010

SAN DIEGO – Six tug boats pulled a stricken cruise ship to San Diego Bay early Thursday, bringing the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew closer to freedom after four days of limited food, smelly toilets and dark cabins.  The nearly 1,000-foot Carnival Splendor was about eight miles off the harbor mouth Thursday morning, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Rachel Polish. Two tugs hauled it slowly up from the Mexican coast, and four more were hooking up to help gently steer it to the dock.

The rigging is expected to take about an hour and the ship will need another two hours to reach dock.  Coast Guard cutters will escort the ship around the tip of the Coronado Peninsula to San Diego's downtown harbor, a tricky operation because the vessel has no propulsion and can't steer, Polish said.

"It has to come in at a certain angle," she said. "You can't just pull it in as you would at a parking spot."

It is expected to take several hours for everyone to get off the ship.

"Every day is getting more frustrating for some people. You can tell some people are just angry," passenger Kate Kapelka told CBS's "Early Show" on Thursday morning.

Just about anything that requires electrical power was knocked out by a Monday morning fire in an engine room. There was no air conditioning, no hot food, no hot water, no casino. The swimming pool was off-limits because there was no way to pump chlorine.  Lines for cold food stretch for hours. Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew, passengers said.

"We're eating spoiled turkey sandwiches and warm milk and warm yogurt," passenger Joey Noriega told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday. "Everything smells like it's spoiled... Nothing's cooked. It's all sandwich meat. It's disgusting. You're afraid to eat it 'cause it's been left out and touched by everybody else on the ship."

The bathrooms are dark and toilets no longer flush, passenger Valerie Ojeda told "Good Morning America."

"It was bad, but now that I think back to it, it was really bad," she said

Still, she said people were trying to make the best of the trip, dancing, laughing and singing along to "Sweet Caroline." The bar was open and offering free drinks, and there were musical bands and children's games.

Intermittent cell phone service returned Wednesday, and Carnival made eight satellite phones available for passengers to make quick calls home.

Cruise Director John Heald said in comments posted in a blog on Carnival Lines website that the people aboard "have risen to the obvious challenges and difficult conditions onboard."

"Obviously it has been a challenge but let me tell you the most important facts and those are that the ship is safe, the guests are safe and that nobody was injured," he said.

Seth Grabel, 28, a Las Vegas magician, waited for his parents, who were on the cruise with hundreds of magicians participating in a convention put on by David Sandy Productions of St. Joseph, Mo.

"My dad is an amateur magician, but my mom hates magic. She was fighting this tooth and nail. She did not want to go on this thing. She had an intuition. I don't think my dad's going to live down this one," Grabel said.

The Splendor left Long Beach on Sunday for a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera. The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego and about 44 miles off shore when the fire killed its power.  Gerry Cahill, chief executive of Carnival Corp.'s Carnival Cruise Lines, said the crankcase on one of six diesel generators "split," causing the fire. He said he doubted other ships in the Miami-based company's fleet were at risk.

"We've never had anything like this happen before, so I really don't think we have any risks to other ships," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "This is a very unusual situation."

Gina Calzada, 43, of Henderson, Nev., said her diabetic sister, Vicky Alvarez, called her Wednesday on her cell phone and started sobbing. She said she has not been able to take her insulin for her diabetes because she is not eating enough.  She told Calzada all that she had eaten was some bread, cucumbers and lettuce.

"She said it stinks of rotten food and smoke," Calzada said. "It's dark, and it's cold.'"

Alvarez's husband said that when he went looking for food for his wife, a crew member told him to give her a Tic-Tac.  Carnival officials said they could not confirm Alvarez's report.  Carnival first planned to haul the ship to the Mexican port of Ensenada, not far from a movie studio complex used to film "Titanic," and bus passengers to the U.S.  But the cruise line decided it would be better to go a little further to San Diego, sparing passengers the 50-mile bus ride to the border. San Diego also offers more transportation and hotel options.

"The conditions on the ship have been challenging and we are very, very sorry for the discomfort and the inconvenience that our guests have had to deal with in the past several days," Cahill said. "They signed up for a great cruise vacation and obviously that is not what they received."

In his comments Heald defended the ship and crew.  There will be those who will say this has been "`the cruise from hell,'" he wrote. But he continued that there are "many more who will tell you what they have been telling me and the crew and that is that Carnival as a company have done everything they can and continue to do so."

9 November 2010 Last updated at 16:26 ET
Cruise ship fire leaves 4,500 stranded off Mexico coast

A cruise ship which sailed from California has caught fire and is having to be towed back to shore, with 4,500 people on board but unharmed.  The Carnival Splendor was 200 miles (310km) south of San Diego, when the blaze broke out on Monday morning, said owners Carnival Cruise Lines.  US Navy helicopters are shuttling in supplies and tugboats are expected to bring the ship to the Mexican port of Ensanada by about 0300GMT on Wednesday.

Passengers will get a full refund.  They will be returned to California by bus.  The boss of Carnival Cruise Lines admitted the conditions on board were "very challenging".


The 952ft (290m) Carnival Splendor sailed from Long Beach, California, on Monday for a seven-day cruise of the Mexican Riviera.  There are 3,299 passengers on board, along with 1,167 crew.

The fire in the engine room cut off most power supplies. Toilets and cold running water were restored on Monday night.  Air conditioning, hot food service and telephones are not working.  The ship has been drifting 55 miles (90km) off the coast of Mexico.  When the fire started, passengers were initially asked to move from their cabins to the open upper deck.

Later, they were allowed to go back to their rooms.  Bottled water and cold food items were provided, the cruise company said.

The US Navy has sent the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to help. Its helicopters are in the process of ferrying supplies.

Sixteen Britons are among the passengers on board.

Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement: "We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests and we sincerely thank them for their patience.

"Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologise for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring."

Wait just a minutes, or was that two years...

Judge torpedoes move of ferry terminal
Daniel Tepfer, CT POST
Updated 12:23 a.m., Thursday, July 26, 2012

BRIDGEPORT -- The ferry boat terminal will stay docked downtown.

Superior Court Judge Richard Gilardi on Wednesday torpedoed the ferry company's proposed move to Seaview Avenue, noting the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Co.'s plan to relocate the terminal would not only blow a hole in the city's development master plan but didn't have the support of the Bridgeport Port Authority, the Harbor Management Commission and state agencies.

In his 60-page decision, Gilardi upheld the July 12, 2010, decision of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission to deny the ferry company's applications for a special permit, site plan and coastal site plan for Seaview Avenue. However, he did overturn the commission's rejection of the ferry company's proposal to subdivide the Seaview Avenue property.

The ferryboat company, which has been operating out of its terminal on the west side of Bridgeport Harbor since 1968, had been seeking to move across the harbor to a 6.5-acre plot of land on Seaview Avenue that it claimed would result in a 10- to 20-minute reduction in the time of the run, decreasing fuel consumption. The company also complained that the current site is hemmed in by the Metro-North train tracks and old, narrow city streets, making access difficult, particularly for trucks.

"The judge issued a very thorough and clear decision that there was substantial evidence to support the commission's decision to not approve the special permit, the site plan and the coastal area permit," said Assistant City Attorney Ed Schmidt.

Charles Willinger, who represented downtown merchants opposed to the move, also called the judge's decision well reasoned.

"We are confident this brings an end to the current chapter in the ferry boat saga to leave downtown Bridgeport," Willinger said. "The relocation would have severely jeopardized the rebirth and renewal of downtown."

The ferry company has said that the $30 million East End facility would have included a waterfront park, a dock for commercial ships and a small supermarket to help relieve the "food desert" conditions in that part of the city. Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the ferry company, said the ferry company would have provided either a shuttle bus or a water taxi for passengers on foot arriving from downtown.

The new dock would have been at the former Turbana Corp. banana importing dock. Turbana weighed anchor for the last time in Bridgeport in 2008; its new ships needed a deeper harbor.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the ferry company did not return calls for comment on the judge's decision.

Following the zoning commission's denial of its applications that, in essence, would have cleared the way for the move to Seaview Avenue, the company appealed to Superior Court. In its appeal, it claimed the commission failed to state valid reasons for denying the applications, the decision is an abuse of the commission's discretion and is contrary to law.

The city responded that the applications were inconsistent with the city's master plan, the harbor management plan, was opposed by state legislators and state agencies and was not compliant with the coastal area management act.

Story of Greek tragedy here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/29/world/europe/ferry-catches-fire-off-greek-coast-with-hundreds-on-board.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Story in full:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30470079

South Korea 4-16-14

India (l); Bangladesh:  MV Coco re-floated;
Sep.2009 capsized ferry, PhilippenesHK collision, 1 Oct. 2012;

Philippines suspends hunt for ferry disaster survivors; 32 dead, 170 missing
By Enrique de Castro
CEBU, Philippines | Sat Aug 17, 2013 9:14am EDT

6 Crew Members Detained in Hong Kong Ferry Disaster That Killed Dozens
October 1, 2012

HONG KONG — Six people were arrested in Hong Kong on Tuesday in connection with a ferry accident that caused at least 37 deaths in one of the worst disasters the city has seen in years.

Three crew members were arrested from each of two boats that collided just off the coast of Lamma, one of the largest of Hong Kong’s many outlying islands, at about 8:30 p.m. on Monday, as the city was gearing up for a mammoth fireworks display that marked China’s National Day.

The six were suspected of endangering passengers by operating the vessels unsafely, senior police officials said at a news conference here in Hong Kong that was widely reported on local radio. More arrests may follow, they added.

The accident happened when a boat carrying more than 120 people collided with a passenger ferry coming the other way and quickly sank.

Thirty-seven people, some of them children, were confirmed to have been killed, and more than 100 people were hospitalized, some with serious injuries.

The Hong Kong government on Tuesday convened a top-level interdepartmental meeting on the accident and pledged a thorough investigation.

The collision involved a vessel belonging to Hong Kong Electric, which operates a power station on Lamma Island and is part of the billionaire Li Ka-shing’s sprawling business empire. The vessel, the Lamma IV, had been taking staff members and their families to see the fireworks display in Victoria Harbor — for many, the highlight of a four-day holiday weekend in the city.

The Lamma IV, which according to Hong Kong Electric was built to carry 200 passengers, sank quickly after colliding with a ferry operated by Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry, which runs regular services between Lamma and Hong Kong Island. The Hong Kong & Kowloon ferry sustained some damage, but no one onboard was seriously hurt.

Witnesses said the Lamma IV sank rapidly, trapping passengers inside. “Within 10 minutes, the ship had sunk. We had to wait at least 20 minutes before we were rescued,” Reuters quoted one survivor as saying.

The collision triggered a search-and-rescue operation involving divers, helicopters and numerous police and marine department vessels that picked scores of survivors from the sea Monday night. Currents and poor visibility underwater were hampering the search, which was to continue for two more days, government officials said at the news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Photos taken Monday night showed the boat half-submerged, its bow pointing nearly straight up, not far from one of the two ferry piers on Lamma. Salvage crews were raising the vessel on Tuesday.

Connected to Hong Kong Island by regular, half-hour-long ferry services, Lamma is home to about 6,000 people, many of them expatriates. Its relaxed atmosphere, scenery and seafood restaurants make it a popular tourist destination.

“I am very shocked. This was supposed to be a happy day to see the fireworks,” said Anita Yu, who was on her way to Lamma with friends on Tuesday. “I am from Hong Kong, and I have never heard of anything like this happening here.”

Still, there appeared to be no sense of general unease about the ferry services, which were running normally Tuesday. Many people were milling around at the ferry piers on Hong Kong Island, home to the city’s financial center, soaking in the holiday atmosphere.

Asked whether the disaster had made her afraid to take the ferry, Ms. Yu replied that she had faith in the safety of the boats.

Fatal ferry accidents are common in developing Asian countries, where infrastructure development often has not kept pace with population growth and increased demand for travel. Overcrowding and poor maintenance often lead to high death tolls. At least 117 people died when a ferry capsized in Bangladesh in March, and scores were killed in a similar incident in India in May.

In Hong Kong, however, where infrastructure and weather-warning systems are highly developed, such disasters are extremely rare. A severe typhoon caused a ferry to capsize in 1971, killing 88 people.

Major disasters on land include a stampede that killed 20 in Lan Kwai Fong, a busy bar area in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district, on New Year’s Eve of 1992, and a fire that raged through an apartment building in 1996, killing dozens of people.

Hong Kong’s maritime safety standards are generally high and accidents rare, despite the fact that the waters surrounding the Asian financial and trading hub are often busy with commercial shipping traffic from regional and transcontinental cargo lines.

Hong Kong’s port and nearby mainland Chinese ports in the Pearl River Delta rank among the busiest in the world. Numerous passenger ferries, private leisure boats and fishing vessels add to the traffic.

Hong Kong ferry passenger search after Lamma collision
1 October 2012 Last updated at 13:27 ET

At least eight people have died after a ferry collided with another boat off Hong Kong, hospital officials have told the BBC.

A rescue operation is continuing for passengers still missing five hours after a boat half-sank following Monday night's collision near Lamma island.  One of the vessels was carrying 124 passengers.  Search teams had rescued more than 100 people from the water, local media reported.  More than 20 injured people had been taken to a hospital on Lamma island, a police spokesman was quoted as saying.  Lamma lies some three kilometres (two miles) south-west of Hong Kong island, and is popular with tourists and expatriates.

The crash happened around 2030 (1230 GMT) on Monday.  It came during a busy period for passenger travel in Hong Kong, at the end of a long holiday weekend to mark the mid-autumn festival that this year coincides with China's National Day on 1 October.

Power company Hong Kong Electric was reportedly using a commercial boat to take 124 staff and family to watch National Day fireworks in Victoria Harbour.  The vessel and another boat - reportedly a ferry operated by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry - collided, causing the HK Electric vessel to list, a company official was quoted as saying.

One survivor told The South China Morning Post: "After 10 minutes out a boat crashed into ours from the side at very high speed. The rear... started to sink. I suddenly found myself deep under the sea.

"I swam hard and tried to grab a life buoy," added the man. "I don't know where my two kids are."

Hong Kong is one of the world's busiest shipping channels.

Boat With 200 Aboard Capsizes Off Indonesia
June 21, 2012

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A boat carrying about 200 people capsized south of Indonesia and scores were feared drowned Thursday in an apparent attempt to reach Australia to seek asylum. Indonesian and Australian navies launched efforts to rescue survivors.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. cited the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as reporting that an Australian navy ship and a cargo ship had rescued 73 survivors. The authority's spokeswoman could not be immediately contacted for comment.

"We're doing all we can to get as many vessels and aircraft to the scene to assist as possible," AMSA spokesman Jonathan Wills told ABC.

The boat capsized about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of the Australian territory of Christmas Island — and about the same distance south of Indonesia — with "up to 200 people" on board, the Australian Customs Service said in a statement.  It was not immediately clear where the passengers were from.

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia — sometimes with deadly consequences.

"There's about 40 on the hull and the rest are in the water," Western Australia state Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said earlier. "Some of the very early reports suggest that up to 75 people may have drowned, but I do stress that they're unconfirmed at this stage."

O'Callaghan said bodies had been seen in the water. "We can't confirm that they've died, but it's likely," he said.

Western Australian police were being sent to Christmas Island to attempt to identify bodies, he said.  Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency, said two Indonesian warships have been dispatched to scene. He said Indonesia has sent notice to all cargo ships passing near the area to help, but he was not sure whether any had reached the disaster scene.

Prakoso said the boat was reportedly carrying 206 people, but added that he could not yet say their country of origin or from where they departed.

Australian aircraft and navy ships were helping with the rescue, the Customs statement said. They include a defense aircraft equipped with life rafts, a Customs surveillance aircraft and two navy patrol boats.  Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is seeking ways to stem the flow of asylum seekers to Australia, discussed the apparent tragedy with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Brazil where they are both attending a United Nations environment summit.

"At this stage, details are sketchy but what is apparent is there has been a large loss of life at sea," she said. "This is a very distressing and tragic incident."

In December 2010, an estimated 48 people died when an asylum seeker boat broke up against Christmas Island's rocky coast.  Last December, about 200 asylum seekers were feared drowned after their overcrowded ship sank off Indonesia's main island of Java.

Scores Missing in Fatal Ferry Sinking in India

May 1, 2012

NEW DELHI — Rescuers in eastern India continued to search for survivors on Tuesday after a ferry, overcrowded with more than 300 passengers, capsized during a severe storm. The authorities estimated that at least 40 people died and up to 200 were missing, suggesting that the death toll could climb.

The accident occurred on Monday afternoon, on the Brahmaputra River, as the double-decker ferry was approaching shore near Buraburi, in the state of Assam. Police officials said the passengers were plunged into the water, with some able to swim to the bank, while others were either swept downstream or perished in the wreckage.

News agencies reported that more than 100 bodies had been recovered.

But the authorities offered conflicting accounts on the circumstances of the accident. J.N. Choudhury, the state police chief in Assam, said in an interview on Tuesday that the ferry broke into three pieces during the storm. He said investigators would try to determine whether the accident was caused by the storm or structural problems with the vessel.

However, Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, said reports that the vessel had shattered were inaccurate and blamed the accident on the weather. He predicted that more than 100 people likely died in the accident and said corpses were already being discovered downstream, in Bangladesh.

“This is the most tragic incident,” Mr. Gogoi said in an interview, adding that he had already contacted officials in Bangladesh and begun making arrangements to reclaim the bodies swept across the border.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement on Monday night expressing his condolences and announcing that the government would make payments of about $3,800 to assist the families of the dead. Mr. Gogoi said the Assam government would add about $950.

Ferry accidents are a recurring problem in the border region, though the majority of fatal accidents have occurred on the Bangladeshi side. The Ganges and the Brahmaputra Rivers converge in the region, along with their myriad tributaries. Ferries are indispensable for transportation.

On Tuesday, dive teams from India’s Border Security Force were searching for bodies or survivors, while a special federal disaster team was also at the scene. A state government agency, the Inland Water Transport, operated the ferry, and Mr. Gogoi, the chief minister, said the vessel was not equipped with life jackets. He said he would convene a commission to determine whether an early-warning system should be created to warn about severe storms.

“So that such incidents don’t happen in the future,” he said.

I-BBC report

30 April 2012 Last updated at 14:43 ET
'More than 100' feared dead in Indian ferry sinking

At least 103 people have died after a ferry capsized in north-eastern India, local police say.  The vessel was reported to be carrying at least 300 passengers on the Brahmaputra river in Assam state.  Reports say more than 100 other passengers are missing, while dozens more were either rescued or made it to safety.

Police officials said the accident happened in the remote district of Dhubri during heavy winds and rain.  Dhubri is about 350km (215 miles) west of Assam's main city, Guwahati.  The vessel capsized and broke into two pieces during a powerful storm, police said.

"I could see people being swept away as the river current was very strong," a witness to the accident, Rahul Karmakar, told AFP news agency.

Assam state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told AFP: "Army, Border Security Force and other rescue teams with mechanised boats have moved to the site but nightfall and bad weather are hampering rescue efforts."

Correspondents say poor safety standards mean ferry accidents are common on the river, but that this is one of the worst disasters in recent memory.

The ferry carried no lifeboats or life jackets, and was overloaded with people and goods, with passengers sitting on the roof, according to a police officer quoted by the Reuters news agency.  In a statement, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was "shocked and grieved" by the incident.

Mr Singh has "given instructions for all possible assistance to the government of Assam in relief operations", the statement added.

Boats are a common mode of transport in the area, which is dotted with small islands and villages along the banks of the river, reports the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi. Many of the boats are overcrowded with poor or minimal safety features, our correspondent adds.

Dozens Dead After Ferry Capsizes in Bangladesh
March 13, 2012

NEW DELHI — Rescuers were searching for survivors on Tuesday after a ferry carrying as many as 200 passengers capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people with many more feared dead.

The ferry, the MV-Shariatpur-1, was traveling along the Meghna River when it sank at about 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday, roughly 30 miles south of the capital, Dhaka. At least 35 people were rescued as divers combed the waters in search of survivors, as well as the bodies of the dead.

“Rescue work is still on, and we fear that the death toll will go up,” said Saiful Islam, a police superintendent in the district of the accident.

Ferry accidents occur with a grim frequency in Bangladesh, a poor nation with an extensive network of rivers and waterways. In 2009, two separate ferry accidents claimed more than 100 lives, while at least 23 people were killed when a ferry capsized last year. Usually, the accidents are blamed on overcrowding or poor safety procedures.

But Tuesday’s accident occurred after the ferry traveling to Dhaka collided with a cargo boat, officials said.

“I was awakened with a big jolt,” Dulal Dewan, a survivor, told The Associated Press. “I jumped into the river in darkness as the ferry started going down. In minutes, there were screams all around. People were shouting for help.”

Mr. Islam, the police official, estimated that 100 to 200 passengers would have been aboard the vessel. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of passengers since tickets are sold onboard and people embark or disembark at several different ports along the route.

At least 12 dead as ferry sinks in Bangladesh storm
8 June 2010 Last updated at 10:56 ET

At least 12 people have died and five are missing after a packed ferry capsized in storms in north-east Bangladesh, officials say.  The ferry was carrying about 35 passengers including many school children, local official Mohammad Babul Mia told the BBC.  The accident took place in Sunamganj district, about 140km (85 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka.

Ferry accidents are fairly common on Bangladesh's vast river network.  Last November, 118 people were killed in two ferry accidents in Bangladesh within a week.

Mr Mia said that most of the dead in the latest disaster were school pupils.

He said that passengers on the roof of the vessel managed to swim ashore.  A rescue operation is still continuing, he said, with the help of local people and police. But it was hampered by the lack of divers in the north-east of the country who could search for those still missing.

In recent days Bangladesh has been hit by bad weather which local people say created big waves and made the boat capsize in a huge wetland.

Bangladesh ferry sinks - at least 46 are dead
4 Dec 2009

A river ferry has capsized and sunk in Bangladesh, killing at least 46 people - the second such incident in a week.  Half of the victims of the latest accident were children, and most of the rest were women.

The boat they were travelling on collided with another vessel on the Daira river, about 100km (62 miles) north of the capital Dhaka.  According to police, the boats struck each other on a bend in the river in foggy conditions.

As many as 100 people were travelling on the vessel which sank and it is feared the number of dead will rise.  Rescue operations are continuing.

The BBC correspondent in Dhaka says ferry accidents are fairly common on Bangladesh's vast river network. Last week more than 80 people drowned when an overcrowded ferry capsized.

Bangladesh ferry death roll rises to 72

Monday, 30 November 2009

The number of people dead after a ferry capsized in Bangladesh has risen to 72 with the recovery of more bodies, officials say.  Rescuers found the bodies floating on the Tetulia river where the overcrowded ferry capsized on Friday, a police official said.

Earlier, rescuers working on the capsized vessel were pelted with stones by relatives angry at delays.

There have been complaints that workers took too long to get to the scene.  More than 1,000 people were thought to be on board, many heading home for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha.  On Sunday a salvage ship managed to give rescuers access to the sunken vessel's lower deck where dozens of bodies were discovered.

Rescue officials said that "dozens of people are still missing."

Lower decks

The vessel, MV Coco-4, started to sink as it tried to anchor late on Friday, at a terminal in the south of the country.  Local residents joined divers to help search for survivors, but once access to the ferry came on Sunday, 21 bodies were discovered inside the cabins, a local police chief told AFP news agency.

The ferry - like many others in Bangladesh - did not have a detailed passenger list so it is impossible to know exactly who is missing.

On Sunday some people who had been waiting for hours for news briefly threw stones at rescuers.

No one was injured.

"The ferry sank just before midnight Friday, but rescuers did not arrive until the morning," Reuters news agency reported survivor Sohel Hossain as saying.

Local police chief Zakir Hossain told AFP: "They pelted rocks and brick pieces at the divers and rescue workers.

"They are unhappy that the divers and the rescue vessel could not complete work quickly. Some of them have yet to find their missing relatives."

Stampede theory

It was unclear exactly how the vessel came to capsize, but an investigation had been launched, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan told AFP.

"Officials had locked the ferry's exit gate as it approached the shore to find out whether anyone was travelling without a ticket," he said.

"This triggered a stampede, causing the boat to tip."

The MV Coco-4 is one of Bangladesh's largest inland vessels.

Ferry accidents occur frequently in Bangladesh, and are typically blamed on unsafe, ageing boats and overcrowding.

Bangladesh Ferry Capsizes at Dock
Filed at 8:42 a.m. ET
November 28, 2009

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- A triple-deck ferry packed with hundreds of travelers heading home for an Islamic festival capsized as they disembarked in southern Bangladesh, leaving at least 37 dead and scores missing, authorities said Saturday.

M.V. Coco, traveling from the capital Dhaka, went down late Friday as it arrived at Nazirhat town in the coastal district of Bhola, 64 miles (104 kilometers) to the south. Some survivors said the boat hit a river shoal as it approached the terminal, breaking the hull and allowing water in. As passengers scrambled to disembark, the vessel then tipped and partially sank in the Tetulia River.

''As I saw water in the lower deck I jumped through the window and swam ashore,'' said Shahidul Islam, a survivor. ''Also, many passengers were frightened after seeing water in the lower deck and started rushing out causing the boat to tilt on one side.''

The ferry was crowded with people heading home to celebrate the Eid al-Adha festival, but it is unclear how many were on board. Dhaka's private ETV television station said the ferry was carrying more than 1,500 people but many had already disembarked when the vessel went down.

The ferry had a sanctioned capacity of 1,000 passengers, police officials said. Authorities usually don't keep passenger lists to make clear how many are on board.

Gas torches were used to cut open submerged cabins, and local residents joined divers to search for survivors inside the ferry. Police and fire brigade divers pulled 37 bodies from the sunken part of the vessel before darkness halted rescue work for the night, said Saiful Islam and Showkat Hossain, local police officials supervising the effort. Many of the dead were women and children.

Officials did not say how many people were missing. ATN television station said up to 80 people were still unaccounted for.  Police said they were waiting for a rescue vessel coming from the southern city of Barisal to pull the submerged ferry from the water.

''The picture about the death toll will be clear once the ferry is salvaged,'' Islam said.

Hundreds of anxious relatives massed on the sandy river bank and searched for missing loved ones.  Some complained that rescue work was slow as officials were on holiday for Saturday's Eid celebration.

''The ferry sank just before midnight Friday, but rescuers did not arrive until the morning,'' said survivor Sohel Hossain.

Ferries are a key mode of transport in this delta nation of 150 million people. Accidents blamed on lax rules, overcrowding and faulty boats are common.

926 Rescued From Capsized Philippine Ferry

By Jim Gomez , Associated Press
Published on 9/7/2009

Manila, Philippines - Passengers leapt into the dark sea and parents dropped children into life rafts when a ferry carrying nearly 1,000 people capsized in the middle of the night in the southern Philippines.  Nine people died and more than 30 were missing though rescue efforts saved about 900 terrified victims on the Superferry 9 early Sunday after it turned on its side 9 miles (15 kilometers) off Zamboanga del Norte province.

The vessel's violent rotation roused frightened passengers from their sleep and sent many jumping in the darkness into the water, coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.  Many aboard panicked as the huge ferry listed, said passenger Reymark Belgira.  He said he saw parents tossing children to people on life rafts below, but he could not immediately jump himself.

”I held on to the ferry for hours until daybreak. I couldn't jump into the water in the dark,” Belgira said.

Rescuers transferred 926 of 968 passengers and crewmen to two nearby commercial ships, a navy gunboat and a fishing boat, Tamayo said.  A search was under way for 33 missing people.

”We really hope they're just unaccounted for due to the confusion,” Tamayo told The Associated Press.

A coast guard statement said rescue efforts were continued through the night.  Passenger Roger Cinciron said he felt the ferry tilting at about midnight but was assured by a crewman that all was well. About two hours later he was awoken by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he told DZMM radio.

”People began to panic because the ship was really tilting,” he said as he waited for rescuers to save him and a group of more than 20 other passengers.

Navy ships were deployed and three military aircraft scoured the seas, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. American troops providing counterterrorism training to Philippine soldiers in the region deployed a civilian helicopter and five boats, some carrying paramedics, to help, U.S. Col. William Coultrup said.  Teodoro said two men and a child drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. The bodies of two other passengers were later plucked from the sea by fishermen, the coast guard said, adding three people were injured.

A Canadian tourist, Jeffrey Predchuz, was among the survivors, officials said.

The cause of the listing was not clear. The ferry skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, vice president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry.  There were reports the 7,268-ton vessel listed to the right because of a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said.

Aerial photos from the navy showed survivors holding on to anything as the ferry tilted. Others climbed down a ladder on the side as a lone orange life raft waited below.  The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Iloilo city in the central Philippines on Sunday but ran into problems midway, Tamayo said.  There were no signs of possible terrorism, he said.

Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants bombed another Superferry in Manila Bay in 2004, setting off an inferno that killed 116 people in Southeast Asia's second-worst terrorist attack.  The weather was generally fair in the Zamboanga peninsula region, about 530 miles south of Manila, although a tropical storm was battering the country's mountainous north, the coast guard said.  Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

Last year, a ferry overturned after sailing toward a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines, killing more than 800 people on board.

In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.

A great book that begins with a ferry tragedy...similar to some described below.

Hundreds Missing After Indonesian Ferry Sinks
January 12, 2009

JAKARTA — More than 200 people are missing and feared dead after a passenger ferry sank in high seas off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Sunday morning, police and government officials said.

The officials said the ferry had been carrying about 250 passengers and 17 crew members, but more people could have been on board because ferries in Indonesia are often overcrowded. A fishing boat found 18 survivors, including the captain, who had been drifting on life rafts for hours in rough seas.

The captain later told officials that 100 or more people had jumped off the boat in panic before it sank but did not know what had happened to them.

A port official in Parepare, where the ferry first departed late Saturday afternoon, said that rescuers had been dispatched but were having trouble reaching the scene because of bad weather.

The last contact with the boat was made by by radio at about 2 a.m. Sunday morning, when the ship’s captain reported huge swells of more than two meters, or seven feet. Another survivor told local media that the waves reached as high as 14 feet.

“We have sent people to Majene, the closest town to where the ship sank, but we have been unable to get any more information,” said Alwi Tika, the port official. “The storm is making it difficult to get in contact with anyone in that area.”

The region had been struck by a series of storms in recent days, but another port official in Parepare said the weather was fine when the boat departed. The same storm caused flooding and mudslides in Sulawesi that killed at least six people on Sunday.

The ferry, traveling from Parepare to the city of Samarinda in East Kalimantan, got caught in the storm and sank about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from the coast.

The Indonesian archipelago has the largest area of territorial waters in the world. Ferries are a necessary form of transport but poor safety standards and overcrowding cause numerous accidents every year. The worst Indonesian ferry disaster in recent years occurred on Dec. 30, 2006, when more than 300 people died when a boat sank in the Java Sea.

Anger at Egyptian ferry verdict
26y July 2008 I-BBC
Angry relative after the court case
Relatives of the victims reacted with anger and dismay at the verdicts

There have been angry scenes at a court in Egypt after a ferry-owner was cleared of all charges over a 2006 sinking in which more than 1,000 died.

Relatives of the victims scuffled with security forces while others denounced the judges and defendants.

The ferry's owner, a rich businessman close to Egypt's political elite, and four others were acquitted.

A captain of another ship was found guilty of failing to help the stricken ferry and was jailed for six months.

"We are stunned. There can't be a ruling like this," said Asaad Heikal, a lawyer for several victims' families.

"We will not give up and will appeal the ruling," he told reporters outside the Cairo courthouse on Sunday.

'This is awful'

Dozens of relatives, many carrying photographs of their dead loved ones, were crammed into the court building, despite a heavy security presence.

The al-Salam Boccaccio (undated photo)
More than 1,000 people died when the ferry sank in February

One man told al-Jazeera TV: "The day of the accident everybody saw that the ship was in bad shape and two years later they say the boat was in good shape. It doesn't make sense.

"This is awful. My wife and children died and after two years everyone responsible is found to be innocent."

The sinking of the al-Salam was Egypt's worst maritime disaster.

A fire broke out in its vehicle bay. Most of the victims were Egyptian workers returning home.

A parliamentary inquiry blamed the ferry company for the disaster, saying it had continued to operate the boat despite serious defects.

The vessel's owner, Mamdouh Ismail, is a member of parliament's upper house, and his son Amr was a top executive in the ferry company.

They fled Egypt after the disaster and reports have claimed that senior Egyptian officials helped them escape.

Philippine Ferry Sinks, Over 700 Aboard Missing
Published: June 22, 2008
Filed at 11:16 a.m. ET

CEBU, Philippines (Reuters) - More than 700 people were missing on Sunday after a Philippine passenger ship capsized in a typhoon that has killed scores and left a trail of destruction across the archipelago. 
Only four people are so far known to have survived the ferry disaster and they said many passengers did not make it off the MV Princess of Stars in time.  Crowded life-rafts sank in the cold, storm-tossed seas.

"Many of us jumped, the waves were so huge, and the rains were heavy," a survivor identified only as Jesse told local radio. "There was just one announcement over the megaphone, about 30 minutes before the ship tilted to its side."

"Immediately after I jumped, the ship tilted, the older people were left on the ship."

Four people have been confirmed dead but most of the 620-plus passengers and 121 crew remain missing. Children's slippers and life jackets have washed ashore.  According to the ship's manifest, there were 20 children and 33 infants on board.  In the central city of Cebu, where Princess of Stars was meant to dock, dozens of relatives maintained a vigil at a small passenger terminal, waiting for news.

"The last time I heard from my son was on Friday evening when the ship left Manila. He texted to say he was coming home," said Celecia Tudtud, a mother of four.

"I really hope he's ok," she said, wiping away tears.

A spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who flew to the United States on Saturday night, said she would not cut short her eight-day state visit, which includes meeting U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House on Tuesday.


A coastguard vessel was trawling the waters around the 23,824 gross tonne ferry, which is upside down with only its bow above the waves, trying to confirm reports some passengers had made it to a small island.

"We are hoping more people will have reached the shoreline," Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, the head of the coastguard, told Reuters.

Princess of Stars ran aground on Saturday but the coastguard was unable to reach it because of huge swells and bad weather caused by Typhoon Fengshen, which crashed into the central Philippines on Friday. 
At least two other coastguard vessels were en route to help in rescue efforts and Tamayo said he hoped divers would be able to scour the submerged ship on Monday.  He said there was no sign fuel was leaking from the ferry but said an oil-spill response team would arrive with one of the two coastguard ships before dawn on Monday.

Princess of Stars sank 3 km (2 miles) from Sibuyan island in the centre of the archipelago.


Typhoon Fengshen, with maximum gusts of 195 kph (121 mph), has killed at least 155 people in central and southern Philippines, with the western Visayas region, famed for its sandy beaches and sugar plantations, the worst affected.  In Iloilo province, 101 people were reported dead after flood waters over two meters high engulfed communities, forcing tens of thousands to scramble onto the roofs of their homes.

"Iloilo is like an ocean. This is the worst disaster we have had in our history," Governor Neil Tupaz told local radio.

In neighboring Capiz, more than 2,000 houses were destroyed in the provincial capital and officials were struggling to make contact with communities further afield.

"We got hit real bad this time," said Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippines' Red Cross.

After battering Manila on Sunday, Fengshen was expected to exit the north of the country and head into the South China Sea by Monday. The storm was en route to Taiwan, where it could make landfall in the next few days, according to storm tracker website www.tropicalstormrisk.com.  More than 30,000 people were being housed in evacuation centers in the centre and south of the archipelago.

An archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year.

Indonesian passenger ferry fire kills 16
By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer
February 22, 2007

JAKARTA, Indonesia - A fire broke out on an Indonesian ferry carrying 300 passengers Thursday, killing at least 16 people and sending scores of passengers jumping into the sea, officials said. One women slipped beneath the waves while clutching her 18-month-old daughter.  More than a dozen people remained unaccounted for following the country's second major maritime disaster in as many months.

The pre-dawn fire started in a truck on the Levina 1's car deck, hours after the 2,000-ton vessel left the capital, Jakarta, for the northwestern island of Bangka, said port official Sato Bisri.  Aerial footage showed flames and heavy black smoke pouring from the 27-year-old ferry as authorities launched a massive rescue operation, plucking 275 survivors from the Java Sea and the ship's charred hull.

A cargo hand said a woman handed him her 18-month-old baby and then jumped overboard.

"I tried to scale a rope, but was knocked into the water by a falling passenger, still clutching the baby," said Heru, 29, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. "I swam to a water cooler and then spotted the mother clinging to another cooler nearby

"The baby was crying 'Mama! Mama! and she insisted I hand over the child," he said, adding that 15 minutes later, large waves pulled them both under. "Now they're gone. I still haven't seen them."

Two warships, three helicopters, a tug boat and nine cargo ships were taking part in the rescue operations, scouring surrounding waters for more survivors, said Hambar Wiyadi, another port official.

"It was terrifying," said Yas Rijal, 33, who was with his wife and son on the upper deck when the fire broke out. "Suddenly flames bust from the lower deck. The crew ordered us to put on yellow life vests and we jumped."

Transportation Minister Hatta Rajasa told el-Shinta radio 15 bodies were recovered and that at least 275 people were rescued.  Rajasa said the ferry was carrying 300 passengers, but the ship's log indicated 228 passengers, 42 trucks and eight cars were on board. Tallies are often incomplete and boats overloaded.

In the vast nation of 17,000 islands, ferries are the cheapest and most popular form of public transportation. But safety standards are poor, leading to hundreds of deaths each year.  Indonesia has been hit by a string of transportation disasters in recent months.  In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people. Days later, a Boeing 737-400 passenger plane crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board.

Thursday's accident occurred 50 miles north of Jakarta's port.

Ferry survivors found adrift 9 days after sinking
Mon Jan 8, 4:27 AM ET
MAKASSAR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Fourteen survivors of an Indonesian ferry sinking have been rescued after drifting on a life raft for nine days, a top search and rescue official said on Monday.

The ferry sank in the Java Sea with more than 600 aboard after it capsized in mountainous seas around midnight on December 29.

"They were found yesterday, 15 of them. One of them died this morning. He had been in critical condition. They were found by a ship called KM Mandiri, and they are now being transported to Makassar," Bambang Karnoyudho said, referring to the main city in the south of Sulawesi island.

It was not immediately clear what the survivors did for food and water during their ordeal, although at least some of the life rafts had rations and water aboard.

The latest survivors were found some 480 km (300 miles) from the accident site early on Sunday morning, according to Karnoyudho, who is head of the national search and rescue agency.

At least 248 survivors have been found, some clinging to wreckage or floating in life vests, and others on life rafts.

Rescuers have had difficulty reaching some survivors spotted from the air because of rough weather, and said strong winds and currents were taking survivors and the dead hundreds of kilometers from the accident site.

Indonesian rescue aircraft and helicopters also dropped food and water to some of those who were spotted but could not be immediately rescued.

12 Survive Indonesian Ferry Accident
Hartford Courant
By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer 
8:44 AM EST, January 3, 2007

SEMARANG, Indonesia -- Rescuers found a 6-year-old boy and 11 other survivors clinging to an offshore oil rig Wednesday about 120 miles from where their ferry sank during a storm four days ago in the Java Sea, navy officers said.

Lt. Col. Tony Syaiful said the weakened survivors were found on the unmanned rig after the ferry sank Friday, leaving more than 400 others dead or missing. Those rescued on Wednesday were among several groups that were air-dropped water and food in recent days. It was not clear when they reached the rig or how they managed to stay afloat.  The survivors, including a woman, said little as they arrived at a port in the coastal city of Surabaya before being taken to hospital for checkups, witnesses said.

"Even though I was weak, I never let go of my boy and held him tight," said Suyatno, the father of the 6-year-old. "In the rolling seas, I never let him out of my sight and am now grateful to be on land."

Suyatno, who gave a single name, said his wife was still missing.  Authorities say 628 people were on the ferry when it sank late Friday during a violent storm en route from Indonesia's section of Borneo island to the main island of Java.

At least 212 people have been found alive so far, most of them plucked from life rafts or clinging on to debris, but some 400 remain missing in still-heavy seas, said Navy Col. Jan Simamora, the head of the search and rescue mission.

"We are trying our utmost to find more," Simamora told The Associated Press. "We still hope that those in lifeboats are still alive."

People who have something to keep them afloat can survive for days in Indonesia's warm tropical waters.  At least two survivors said that many of the victims were trapped in the ship when it sank. Simamora said only 12 bodies have been recovered, though others have been spotted.  Survivors recalled the horror of the boat's last minutes and the struggle to stay alive afterward.

"I just prayed that God would give me life and thought about my 4-month-old baby," said Ribut, a plantation worker who arrived at Surabaya hospital Tuesday. He said he ate or drank nothing for three days, apart from one sip of sea water.  Evi Susilowati, a 23-year-old computer student, was the only woman on a raft with 30 men. She was tasked with rationing out the craft's supply of drinking water and sago palm flour, which ran out after two days. On the final day, two exhausted people fell from the raft.

"We could not save them," said Susilowati, whose mother and father are still missing. "They were young men; I just hope they survive."

Relatives of the missing have converged on hospitals and ports along Java's coast, hoping their loved ones will turn up alive.  The Senopati Nusantara was built in Japan in 1992 and had a capacity of 850 people.  Officials say bad weather was the cause of the accident, one of several deadly maritime incidents in Indonesia in recent weeks. 

Over 150 Survive Indonesia Ferry Sinking
By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer
9:13 AM EST, December 31, 2006

SEMARANG, Indonesia -- Rescue boats picked up scores of exhausted survivors Sunday from an Indonesian ferry that sank in the Java Sea, but they also recovered dozens of bodies and around 400 people remained missing.

A fleet of navy ships, fishing vessels and aircraft has been scouring a large section of the central Indonesian coastline since the Senopati Nusantara capsized around midnight Friday after being pounded by heavy waves for 10 hours.  By late afternoon Sunday, authorities had found 177 survivors, either clinging to pieces of wood, packed into life rafts or on beaches after swimming ashore, the state news agency Antara quoted a transport department official named Soeharto as saying.

At least 66 bodies also had been found, said Soeharto, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said at least 157 survivors had been found. It was not immediately possible to explain the discrepancy, though Indonesian government agencies and officials often give differing death tolls during disasters due to poor communication and coordination.  A helicopter dropped food and water to a group of around 30 survivors in three rafts to keep them alive while boats attempted to reach them, Radjasa said.

"Pictures from the air showed they were all alive and waving for help," he said.

Survivors recounted the horror of the ship's last minutes, when the crew told passengers, many of them praying or screaming, to put on life vests. Shaking violently, the vessel veered to one side before being swamped by high waves.

"The wave was so high and the ship's crew told us not to panic," Bekti Riwayati told Associated Press Television News. "But we were panicked and the ship went down. It took two hours to sink."

Indonesia's tropical waters are warm -- ranging from 72 to 84 degrees -- and people have been known to survive for days at sea.

"I don't want to speculate on how long people can survive floating on the sea, we only hope they can survive," said Karolus Sangaji, a search and rescue worker.  Budi Susilo, who survived by grasping an overturned raft, said he saw three people drown after losing their grip.

"We told them to hold on, but they ran out of energy," he said.  Dozens of relatives were gathered at Semarang seaport, desperate for news of loved ones.  Neneng, a 35-year-old homemaker, stood weeping on a street corner.

"I'm worried about my husband, there has been no word if he is safe or not," she said. "I'll wait here until I get confirmation."

Four naval ships, police boats, and commercial vessels and three helicopters have been combing the area where the ship last made radio contact with port authorities.
Officials said the car ferry, built in Japan in 1990, had a capacity of 850 passengers and had been in good condition. They said bad weather likely caused the accident.
The ship ran into trouble 24 miles off Mandalika island, about 190 miles northeast of the capital, Jakarta, while en route to Semarang in Central Java province.

Weeks of seasonal rains and high winds in Indonesia have caused deadly floods, landslides and maritime accidents. Antara reported a cargo ship carrying 11 people sank off Bali island on Sunday and two survivors swam to shore. The rest were missing.

Ferries are a main source of transportation in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with a population of 220 million. Accidents are common because of overcrowding and poorly enforced safety regulations.

In 2000, almost 500 people died when a ferry carrying Christians fleeing religious violence in the eastern Maluku islands capsized. A year later, 350 were killed when a boat carrying asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan sank after setting sail from Java to Australia.


Hundreds Missing After Ferry Sinking 
By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer 
Posted on Dec 30, 9:56 AM EST
SEMARANG, Indonesia (AP) -- A crowded Indonesian ferry broke apart and sank in the Java Sea during a violent storm that sent towering waves over its deck, and the vast majority of the nearly 640 passengers were still missing a day later, officials said Saturday.

Raging seas hampered rescue efforts and about 14 hours after the disaster, just 66 survivors had been found, many drifting in lifeboats or clinging on to driftwood, officials said. No bodies had been recovered, leaving nearly 600 passengers unaccounted for.

"We all just prayed as the waves got higher," said Cholid, a passenger who survived by clinging to some wooden planks but who lost his 18-year-old daughter.

People fought over lifejackets as the boat capsized, sending cars crashing into one another in the cargo hold, he said.

"I was going upstairs to try to help my daughter, but the ship suddenly broke up and I was thrown out. I lost her," said Cholid, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

Waves of up to 16 feet crashed over the deck of the ship around midnight Friday during the final leg of a 48-hour journey from the island of Borneo to the main island of Java, said Slamet Bustam, an official at Semarang port, the ferry's destination, where hundreds of distraught relatives and friends waited for news about their loved ones.

"We're afraid many have died," Bustam said.

Four naval ships were searching the area, but poor visibility was hindering their search.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said late Saturday after talks with rescue officials that 638 passengers and crew were on board the vessel and that 59 people had been rescued. Earlier, officials had put the number on board at more than 800.

Ships in Indonesia often carry far more passengers than recorded, making it hard for authorities to say with accuracy how many people are on board. Ferries are a main source of transportation in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with a population of 220 million.

The ferry ran into trouble off Mandalika island, some 190 miles northeast of the capital, Jakarta. In a final radio contact, the captain informed port authorities that the ship was severely damaged and capsizing, said local navy commander Col. Yan Simamora.

Worried family members gathered at the main office of ferry operator PT Prima Fista, weeping and demanding details about the fate of their loved ones.

"I am waiting for my mother, auntie, sister and nephew who were on their way to celebrate New Year's Eve at my house," said Yulis, 25.

Seasonal storms have wreaked havoc across Indonesia in recent days, unleashing flash floods and landslides that have killed more than 145 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes on Sumatra.

Earlier Friday, a different vessel carrying around 100 people capsized in bad weather off the coast of northwestern Sumatra, killing three and leaving 26 missing, Radjasa said.

1,000 feared lost on doomed Egyptian ferry
By MARIAM FAM, Associated Press Writer
Feb 4, 3:51 PM EST
SAFAGA, Egypt (AP) -- Rescue boats picked up at least 376 survivors from an Egyptian ferry that caught fire and sank in the Red Sea, apparently so fast there was no time for a distress signal. But more than 1,000 missing passengers and crew were feared drowned, officials said Saturday.

Transport Minister Mohammed Lutfy Mansour said investigators were trying to determine whether the fire, which he described as "small," led to the sinking. He also denied survivor accounts of an explosion on board.  Weather may also have been a factor. There were high winds and a sandstorm overnight on Saudi Arabia's west coast.  The ship sank in the dark hours of Friday morning while ferrying people and cars between the Saudi port of Dubah and Egypt's port of Safaga. Survivors said a fire broke out, got out of control and an explosion was heard. 
Mahfouz Taha, head of the Egyptian Red Sea Ports authority in Safaga, reported that 376 people were saved by both Egyptian and Saudi rescuers.

Hundreds of relatives desperate for news of their loved ones tried to push their way into Safaga, where survivors from "Al-Salaam Boccaccio 98" ferry were being brought ashore. Port officials were not distributing lists of survivor names to the crowd, which repeatedly tried to break through a line of helmeted police with sticks.

"No one is telling us anything," said Shaaban el-Qott, from the southern city of Qena, who waited all night for news of his cousin. "All I want to know if he's dead or alive."

Riot police with truncheons pushed the frantic crowd away from the port compound. Some police could be seen hurling stones back toward the crowd. A spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak said the ferry did not have enough lifeboats, and questions were raised about the safety of the 35-year-old, refitted ship that was weighed down with 220 cars as well as the passengers.

Many survivors said the fire began about 90 minutes after departure, but the ship kept going. Their accounts varied on the fire's location, with some saying it was in a storeroom or the engine room.

"Fire erupted in the parking bay where the cars were," said passenger Ahmed Abdel Wahab, 30, an Egyptian who works in Saudi Arabia. "We told the crew: 'Let's turn back, let's call for help,' but they refused and said everything was under control.

"We heard an explosion and five minutes later the ship sank," he added.  Wahab claimed that as passengers began to panic, "crew members locked up some women in their cabins." He did not explain if the women were confined as a matter of modesty or because they were causing a disturbance.

"After a while, the ship started to list and they couldn't control the fire. Then we heard an explosion and five minutes later the ship sank," Wahab said.  Bakr el-Rashidi, the governor of Egypt's Red Sea province, said that as the crew was fighting the fire, "the ship tipped over, the wind was very strong, and people moved to one side, so all of that caused the ship to sink. It happened so quickly."

Wahab, a martial arts trainer, said he spent 20 hours in the sea, sometimes holding onto a barrel from the ship and later taking a lifejacket from a dead body before he was hauled onto a rescue boat.  Ahmed Elew, an Egyptian in his 20s, said he went to the ship's crew to report the fire and they ordered him to help put it out. He also said there was an explosion.

When the ship began sinking, Elew said he jumped into the water and swam for several hours. He said he saw one lifeboat overturn because it was overloaded with people, but eventually got into another lifeboat.

"Around me people were dying and sinking," he said. "Who is responsible for this? Somebody did not do their job right."

Mubarak flew to the port of Hurghada, about 40 miles further north, to visit survivors in two hospitals, Egypt's semiofficial Middle East News Agency reported.  Some survivors were taken from the ferry's lifeboats, others from inflatable rescue craft dropped into the sea by helicopters, and others were pulled from the water wearing life jackets, el-Rashidi said.

Rescue efforts appeared to have been confused. Egyptian officials initially turned down a British offer to divert a warship to the scene and a U.S. offer to send a P3-Orion maritime naval patrol aircraft to the area. In the end, the Orion - which can search under water from the air - was sent, but the HMS Bulwark was not, said Lt. Cdr. Charlie Brown of the U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain.

Four Egyptian rescue ships reached the scene Friday afternoon, about 10 hours after the ferry likely went down nearly 60 miles off the Egyptian port of Hurghada.  The ship left Dubah at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on the 120-mile trip to Safaga, where it was scheduled to arrive at 3 a.m. It disappeared from radar screens between midnight and 2 a.m. and no distress signal was received.

The ferry was carrying 1,200 Egyptian and 112 other passengers as well as 96 crew members, the head of Al-Salaam Maritime Transport Company, Mamdouh Ismail, told The Associated Press. The passengers included 99 Saudis, three Syrians, two Sudanese, and a Canadian, officials said. It was not clear where the other passengers were from.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians work in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. They often travel by ship across the Red Sea, a cheaper option than flying. The Saudi port of Dubah is a major transit point for them.  But some on board the ferry were believed to be Muslim pilgrims who had overstayed their visas after last month's hajj.

The agent for the ship in Saudi Arabia, Farid al-Douadi, said the vessel had the capacity for 2,500 passengers. But the owner's Web site said the ship could carry 1,487 passengers and crew.  A ship owned by the same company collided with a cargo ship at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal in October, causing a stampede among passengers trying to escape the sinking ship. Two people were killed and 40 injured.

R O U T E    S E V E N

Selling off the right-of-way  is a bad move, just our opinion, tho'!

Route 7 expressway unrealistic, leaders say

By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/06/2009 10:23:23 PM EDT
Updated: 10/07/2009 07:12:29 AM EDT

WILTON -- State Sen. Toni Boucher and other leaders rallied Tuesday to take aim at the decades-old concept of a superhighway between Norwalk and Danbury and berate recent efforts to present the project as a viable solution to congestion in the corridor.

Tuesday morning at Wilton Town Hall, Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan said a recent public campaign by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, to revive the long-rejected concept of a four-lane expressway linking Interstate 95 in Norwalk to I-84 in Danbury as misguided and economically destructive.

"I urge Senator Duff to use his passion for roads and spending to fix I-95 first," Brennan said. "...For almost 40 years this road has been discussed, but never constructed. Why? The people most strongly impacted by it are opposed to it."

On Tuesday morning, Boucher, a Republican legislator from Wilton was joined by Brennan, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, and state Reps. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, and Peggy Reeves, D-Norwalk to promise staunch legal and community opposition to squelch consideration of the long-delayed highway.

For now, the state must focus on its investments to widen Route 7 and a $35 million project to upgrade signals on the Danbury to Norwalk rail line, officials said.

"This road would never come into being for at least a generation and the benefits would never be felt by anyone here during their working life," Hetherington said. "But unfortunately the pain would start right away."

During the 2009 legislative session, Boucher successfully sponsored legislation to lift a previous bar on selling hundreds of acres of land being held by the state for possible construction of the highway.  In July, Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie wrote Gov. M. Jodi Rell to tout the benefits of selling off some of the land to raise revenue for the state and free transportation workers from the obligation of caring for the properties.

The Department of Transportation controls more than 890 acres of vacant land along the right-of-way for the Route 7 expressway, with an estimated value of $80 million to $150 million, according to the DOT.  Boucher also said that a state-funded poll conducted by the University of Connecticut done at the request of Duff was also inaccurate and used methods that could lead to a biased result.  The poll indicated that more residents between Norwalk and Danbury support the idea of the highway than oppose it.

Yesterday Duff defended the survey of 483 residents as statistically valid.  Duff maintained that the officials are part of a minority group that has thus far successfully blocked the highway project which is vital for the state's economy.  Duff said even with rail-line improvements and the current widening; without the highway the corridor will be dead economically if it can't handle traffic smoothly.

"It is imperative to get the road built for our economic success," Duff said. "This isn't an either or, but for the residents of the affected towns it would be much better to get the through traffic onto a highway and let the regular Route 7 become a local road."

Plans hit roadblock in Silvermine
By James Lomuscio, Special Correspondent
Article Launched: 05/30/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

NORWALK - Eleanor Sasso said residents "are being hoodwinked into thinking there are only two options" when it comes to putting Merritt Parkway entrance and exit ramps in their Silvermine neighborhood.

"The third option is not to have an interchange," Sasso said. "I do not want an interchange."

The first state Department of Transportation proposal - which some residents find more acceptable - would place the interchange from Route 7 to northbound Merritt closer to the parkway.

The second option, which would cost $30 million less, is a cloverleaf design routing the interchange through Perry Avenue. The Merritt Parkway Conservancy prefers this plan; it successfully challenged the original interchange design in federal court, arguing it would hurt the Merritt's historic character.

Sasso, who lives in the Wilton portion of Silvermine, a historic neighborhood of about 1,700 homes in Norwalk, Wilton and New Canaan, was one of more than 100 people who attended a public hearing at Norwalk City Hall Concert Hall last night to hear DOT engineers describe both plans.

Most believed an interchange is needed but said the cloverleaf was unacceptable. It was the third public hearing on the matter in the last three months.

"We're looking for some form of consensus tonight," said Richard Armstrong, DOT's principal engineer on the project. "We're going to schedule more meetings with smaller groups over the next several months. We're trying to strike a balance with a lot of  competing constraints."

Armstrong said the first option, called 12A, would cost $128 million to $150 million, including a series of ramps and bridges.

The cloverleaf interchange, would cost $100 million to $120 million, he said. But residents object to the cloverleaf, which would be constructed on state-owned land but would infringe on a residential neighborhood.

"This is the third time I'll be sitting through this, only this time we have so many residents who are engaged and recognize what is at stake," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. "(The DOT) shouldn't move forward on this until there is a sign off from the Silvermine community. And, the cloverleaf plan is dead on arrival at this point."

Peter Viteretto, a Silvermine Community Association board member, called the 12A plan "the lesser of two evils, but neither one is particularly appropriate for the Merritt Parkway."

"We're anti-cloverleaf," Viteretto said. "It's an inappropriate intrusion into the Silvermine landscape, and it's far too disruptive."

The other design, he added, is too large, built more in keeping with the Route 7 connector highway than the quaint, scenic Merritt.

Keith Simpson, the conservatory's vice chairman, said that his group had favored the cloverleaf but on a much smaller scale.

"It was smaller, simpler and farther way from the Silvermine area," he said.

Simpson also criticized the 12A design because it would require more road surface and three more bridges.

Robert Larsen, who lives on Red Barn Lane, far from the proposed interchange, said he attended "because I care about Silvermine." As he studied the large DOT maps on display in the City Hall atrium, he said he favored 12A.

"This one, 12A, accomplishes the full interchange but stays essentially within the already developed area instead of creating enormous ecological damage, aesthetic damage and property-owner damage to homeowners on Perry Avenue and neighboring roads," he said. "When you look at these side-by-side, it's a no-brainer."

Douglas Vanderau of West Norwalk said he would like to see either plan. He said the lack of a Route 7 interchange to the northbound Merritt causes increased traffic thorough his neighborhood as motorists use Route 123 to get to the parkway.

"I just want them to do it as soon as possible," he said. "There would be less traffic on Route 123."

Route 7 dispute settled
By Chris Gosier, Staff Writer
Published March 17 2008

The state and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy have reached an agreement in their long-running dispute over how to redesign a busy interchange in Norwalk.

The state Department of Transportation has settled on a "cloverleaf" design for the interchange of Route 7 and the Merritt Parkway, the plan favored by the conservancy.

The conservancy, in turn, has accepted state proposals to replace the historic bridge over Main Avenue near the interchange, as long as its character is maintained.

Those are the elements of one proposal that will be aired at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Norwalk City Hall, preceded by a one-hour open house.

Five proposals for rebuilding the interchange will be offered. The DOT will present the cloverleaf design as the preferred option but will get public input before deciding, said Thomas Harley, manager of consultant design with DOT.

It has been about two years since a federal judge blocked the DOT's plans after a lawsuit by the conservancy. Since then, the two sides have been meeting, with Gov. M. Jodi Rell urging them to reach an agreement.

"This really is a collaborative effort," Harley said. "Both sides have conceded issues in this process. We are going to this meeting with an alternative that both parties can feel comfortable with."

More than 10 years ago, the state proposed reconfiguring the congestion-prone interchange. The DOT is trying to finish the interchange so it's accessible to traffic from all directions, Harley said. The redesign will let Route 7 traffic travel north on the Merritt Parkway, and drivers heading south on the Merritt will be able to exit at Route 7.

The state also wants to replace the Main Avenue Bridge to expand Main Avenue from two lanes to six lanes. The conservancy agreed to that because of assurances from state officials that they will replicate the bridge's stone construction and historic character.

"We really want to see historic character of the parkway be maintained," said Jill Smyth, director of the conservancy.

The state backed off its earlier proposal to build elevated on- and off-ramps that would loom 20 feet to 30 feet above the Merritt, although that option will be displayed tomorrow night, Harley said.

Another option is to bring the ramps down to the level of the Merritt Parkway, but they still would be imposing, Harley said.

"As you drive along the highway, you'll have more ramp on either side of you," he said.

The cloverleaf - named for its appearance from above - has one lane northbound and southbound where drivers merge on and off the parkway. The DOT generally tries to steer clear of cloverleafs because the interweaving traffic makes them harder to manage, Harley said.

Construction would not start for about four years, after permitting and environmental studies are complete, Harley said.

Senator Bob Duff announces $10,000 "study"

Super 7 interest revived
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
June 29, 2008

A committee of lawmakers, business leaders and others may launch a survey to solicit public sentiment on Super 7 and other regional transportation issues.

At issue is Super 7, the long-planned-but-never-built expressway between Norwalk and Danbury. Although the state years ago assembled swathes of land to construct the roadway, opposition from communities along its path and perhaps the sheer logistics of the project prevented it from getting off the ground.

"The idea is to do a survey of people in that corridor to see if there is any interest, or to see what the interest is on Route 7 and Super 7," said Jack Condlin, a member of the study committee and president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. "This is just purely a survey to get consumer, resident and businesses' feelings about Super 7. I'm sure it will be fairly comprehensive."

Neither Condlin nor other committee members would comment on details of the survey, which they described as in the planning phases.

The committee includes state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, majority whip; Ed Musante Jr., president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce; Tad Diesel, the city's director of marketing and business development; and Chet Valiante, publisher of The Hour Newspapers.

Valiante, citing his position as publisher, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment for this story.

Diesel spoke broadly about the purpose of the committee.

"The committee was formed to include a group of government and business people who have made clear their support for an extension of the Route 7 highway (Super 7)," Diesel said. "Members of the committee are eager to find out if the committee's support for that extension is broad in terms of the communities' support."

At present, some supporters of Super 7 say the roadway will never be built. Others, such as Duff, haven't given up. When announcing his re-election bid to fellow Democrats at Mill Hill Historic Park in May, he vowed to continue to fight for Super 7.

The survey, if conducted, would be fueled by $10,000 from Hartford. Last year, Duff sought money for a Super 7 study. And while the bonding bill passed by lawmakers last fall didn't include any dollars, Duff received confirmation from Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, afterward that $10,000 would be secured to enlist a third party to conduct a study.

Duff declined to comment about the survey.

Earlier this month, Duff said the study is not solely about Super 7. Rather, the committee is taking a broad look at transportation in the region and "what the potential solutions are out there," he said.

"I want to look at transportation in southwestern Connecticut as a whole," Duff said.

Duff is not alone in championing construction of the expressway to better move the large volumes of traffic that travel the existing Route 7. Members of Norwalk's legislative delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, have deemed the roadway necessary.

Super 7, if built, would go through Wilton, which is represented by state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143. Boucher has long opposed its construction. By 2005, she had introduced legislation seeking to permit the state Department Transportation to sell right-of-way land needed to build Super 7. Proceeds would be used to widen the existing Route 7. That project is now well under way.

Boucher said Friday that money should be spent on the Danbury line of Metro-North Railroad, which she labeled the "most important regional asset," rather than on a Super 7 survey. While promising to read the results of such a survey, she expressed doubt whether those results would be objective.

"I'm questioning whether it would be an objective study and whether it would cover just road projects. We have to look at (transportation) globally and more multi-modal," Boucher said. "I'll look at (the survey) and consider everything -- I'm am never not open to an idea -- but it should ... impartial and objective."

Political Tennis: Boucher returns Duff's serve
September 30, 2007

WILTON — During a special legislative session last week, Sen. Bob Duff [D-25] tried to revive the study of an expressway connecting Route 7 in Norwalk to Wilton, known in theory as Super 7. Intended to ease traffic between Norwalk and Danbury, the expressway has been proposed, on and off, for over four decades.

Duff inserted language on line 3,046 of a bonding package that would require the state Department of Transportation to report, using available funds, on the viability of Super 7 by the end of 2008.

The move riled Rep. Toni Boucher [R-143] who tried to introduce several amendments to the language and threatened to tie up legislation with hours of debate on the house floor. She later received a pledge from Speaker of the House Jim Amman and Transportation Committee Chairman Antonio Guerrera to remove the language if the bill passed.

"Revisiting this issue at this time is irresponsible," Boucher said in a written statement. "To have this language inserted during this special session by Senator Duff was a surprise as the concept of a Super highway was soundly defeated in committee."

Other lawmakers weighed in with their own comments. Sen. Judith Freedman [R-26] called the plan "ancient and environmentally destructive," and Rep. John Hetherington [R-125] called it "meaningless and ineffective."

In a letter to politicians, town officials and the press, Wilton First Selectman William Brennan lauded Boucher for fighting Super 7. He said the proposal was "ill timed and devious," as well as a "self serving, publicity stunt" for Duff.

In an interview, Boucher agreed with the sentiment. "It seems to me that any time the Senator likes to get publicity, all he has to do is sneeze the words Super 7, and he gets in the paper again," she said.

Duff said in an interview he wasn't surprised to face opposition from Wilton lawmakers.

"They're holding on to an old idea that their communities are against Super 7, when in fact it is a vocal minority," Duff said. He added that the widening of Route 7 from two to four lanes currently underway in Wilton is a waste of money that will harm the town in the long term. By comparison, he said an expressway would keep traffic off of Wilton's back roads.

While Duff said he simply aimed to keep the issue alive by inserting language in bonding package, Boucher disapproved of even considering it.

"What he does by doing this is, he turns peoples lives upside down, people that live right in that corridor, people who have had nothing to do but turn their stomachs over every time this issue comes up," she said.

Boucher said she wouldn't oppose a "multi-modal" study of congestion in the Route 7 corridor, including trains, boats and busses as transportation alternatives. In fact, she'd be willing to work with Duff on those options.

"If you want to talk about smart growth, have people live and work and transport themselves on public transportation," Boucher said. "That's where the focus should be."

The Super 7 language may be ill-fated anyway, as Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to veto the bonding package for unrelated reasons, but Duff isn't removing the expressway from his agenda.

"I'm going to keep bringing it up as long as I'm elected," he said.

Merritt-Route 7 interchange may be delayed another year
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published April 2 2007

Construction of the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk likely will not restart this month as projected and could be delayed for the rest of the year or longer, state officials said.

Merritt Parkway preservationists, who blocked construction last year through litigation, and state Department of Transportation officials will meet again next month to discuss design proposals, DOT officials said.  If both sides agree on a radically different design for the interchange, construction could be delayed for months or another year, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

"The goal is to get something done as soon as possible," Nursick said. "But I hesitate to say we can roll something out this year. There are some big variables to consider."

Last year, a federal judge halted construction on the $98 million project to connect both directions of the parkway to Route 7 in Norwalk.  The Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other preservation and community groups sued the Federal Highway Administration, saying the agency did not consider plans that would cause less damage to the parkway's historical features.  The state's two-phase project would have destroyed parkway bridges and landscape features.  The Merritt Parkway is federally protected on the National Register of Historic Places.

When construction was stopped last year, DOT officials said they were aiming to restart in April.  Now, depending on the final design, the state may have to open the project up to new bidders, hold another public hearing and get new environmental permits, Nursick said.  He would not estimate how long that could take.  Both sides believe an agreement will be settled.

"We're sharing ideas as to how to do it," said Keith Simpson, the conservancy's vice chairman and a landscape architect in New Canaan. "We both talked about where the problems are. They've been good people to work with."

Simpson would not say how far they are from agreement. The conservancy submitted an alternative design drawn up by engineers, but it has not been made public.  State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said more pressure must be put on the state and the conservancy to agree.

"I really wish the DOT and the conservancy would meet more often and treat this like the priority it should be," Duff said. "We should really hold everyone's feet to the fire to get them to sit in a room and reach a solution."

Other Norwalk officials are less concerned by the delays and hope that, when there is an agreement, construction can restart without further interruption.

"It's better they take the time to make sure it's done right and to everyone's satisfaction," said Ed Musante, president and chief executive officer of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. "A longer delay is not necessarily a bad thing."

Sen. Duff to hold rally for 'Super' Route 7 plan
By PATRICK R. LINSEY, Hour Staff Writer
February7, 2007

NORWALK — Despite criticism north of Norwalk's border, state Sen. Bob Duff is continuing his drive for a four-lane, limited-access highway to link Norwalk with Danbury. 
Duff is organizing a rally in Norwalk Sunday to energize supporters of the long-stalled "Super" Route 7 plan.

"Wherever I go, people are so positive in talking about this and asking what they can do," said Duff, D-25. "It's an opportunity for people to come together and we can strategize a little bit."

The one-hour event will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Norwalk-Wilton border — a line that divides not only a city and a town, but also views on whether Super 7 is needed.   Norwalk officials argue the highway is vital for the region's economy, while officials in Wilton call it unnecessary given a widening project on the existing Route 7. Most of Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury runs as a two-lane thoroughfare, though portions are being widened to four lanes.

Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia said he will try to make an appearance at Duff's rally, as will Ed Musante, president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.

"One of our chief problems here in keeping a prosperous economy is bringing people into Norwalk," Musante said. "There are more jobs in Norwalk than there are people. We have to import labor. We need better connectivity to the north. The completion of Route 7 would make it much easier for people to travel to Norwalk."

But Wilton officials have dismissed Duff's efforts as pointless, noting that while Super 7 has been on the books for decades, there is neither money nor a plan to build it at the state Department of Transportation. The highway is also opposed by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. The HVCEO is a regional coordinating body including Ridgefield and Redding, through which Route 7 also runs.

"I think that Bob Duff is totally unrealistic on this whole matter," said Wilton First Selectman William Brennan. "He's proposing a road before we've even given a chance to finish the widening of the current Route 7. We've only got about 25 percent of that completed and it's coming along just fine."

Last month, Duff proposed legislation that would direct the DOT to produce a timeline for completing Super 7.  Meanwhile, state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, is pushing legislation to upgrade the Danbury Branch rail line, which runs roughly parallel to Route 7.  Boucher, who represents Wilton, said expanded rail service will help ease congestion from Danbury to Norwalk. An electrified Danbury line is preferable to Super 7, she said, deeming the highway "an absolutely bizarre proposal."

Boucher cited "a folder full of letters" from her own constituents, who, she said, are voicing their opposition to Super 7.

Duff has been uncowed by criticism from the north, calling Super 7 "what's best for the region."

On Sunday, Duff hopes to demonstrate "how citizens can help out and how they can lobby the state legislature," he said. "If people can spare an hour on an issue that is very important, that's a good thing."

DOT, Merritt group meet to jump-start interchange
Stamford ADVOCATE   
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 29 2006

For the first time since a federal judge's ruling halted construction at the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk, state officials and parkway preservationists met yesterday to discuss possible solutions so the project can resume next year.

Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Merritt Parkway Conservancy described the meeting as productive and amicable, and they plan to get together again next month to discuss design proposals for the site.

"The commissioner (Ralph Carpenter) thought hearing the concerns of the conservancy was very enlightening," DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said. "It was encouraging that all parties agreed that the project is a necessity."

Carpenter, newly appointed Deputy Commissioner James Boice and DOT's chief engineer Art Gruhn represented the agency at the meeting, which was ordered by Gov. M. Jodi Rell last month.  Conservancy executive director Laurie Heiss was optimistic after the meeting, and said she was encouraged that DOT representatives are willing to show "some flexibility for change," she said.

The conservancy, and other local and national preservation groups blocked the state's interchange construction plans earlier this year with a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven.

The two-phase, $98 million project would have connected the parkway to Route 7 to and from the east in Norwalk. The first phase was supposed to widen the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and the Glover Avenue bridge. The second phase would construct cloverleaf ramps, fully connecting the two roads.  The conservancy said the design violated federal preservation law because it would destroy historic bridges and landscaping on the Merritt and install tall lighting fixtures that would harm the parkway's aesthetics.

The Merritt Parkway is on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

In April, a federal judge ruled the state and Federal Highway Administration did not fully explore alternative construction plans before agreeing on the contested design. He suggested both sides work together before the DOT restarts the project next year, but there had been no meeting until yesterday.  The DOT told the conservancy yesterday it would not be able to radically change the design because it must abide by the "purpose and need" statement that is attached to the project during the application for federal funding.

This statement, which was not available yesterday, details features of the project that can not be changed or federal funds would be lost, Cooper said.

Despite having no updated design in place, the state is optimistic that construction can restart in Norwalk this April, he said.  The interchange has remained a priority for the DOT and was recently included in the engineering and highway operations bureau's Top 10 initiatives presentation, given to the state Transportation Strategy Board.

U.S. Route 7 widening project begins
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
September 13, 2006

NORWALK — The long-awaited widening of U.S. Route 7 through Wilton will begin today with surveying work, followed by tree removal, according to state Transportation Commissioner Ralph J. Carpenter.

An engineer close to the project outlined the work schedule.

"They're going to be starting at the southern end, surveying the area, staking the work limits," said Paul Breen, assistant district engineer for the state Department of Transportation. "We're going to be following that up with tree meetings. We meet with local tree warden and make a determination as to which trees really have to go."

Actual road reconstruction will begin by year's end, according to Breen.

The $35 million widening project, awarded in August to Tilcon Connecticut Inc. of New Britain, will reconstruct and widen Route 7, from two lanes to four lanes, from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road. Completion is slated for December 2009, according to the transportation department.

Over the next several weeks, contractors will survey and stake work areas. Following that, erosion and sedimentation controls will be installed in preparation for a new water main, sewer and drainage installations and ultimately the widening itself.

The construction work will require lane closures (see below). The transportation department is asking motorists to use caution when driving through the work zone. Breen asks motorists to be patient, pay attention to the signs and police officers' direction, and obey the posted speed limits.

"First and foremost, watch where you're driving. Don't watch what we're doing," Breen said. "There might be some (lane) shifts, depending on the particular operation, but they should be minimal."

The Wilton project is part of a larger $140 million project that will widen and reconstruct Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury.

The widening emerged in 1999 as an alternative to Super 7, a proposed four-lane expressway that would have connected Norwalk and Danbury, said state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, in whose district the project lies.

"This was a compromise reached in 1999," Boucher said. "Instead of Super 7, the town and the state agreed to — and the citizens supported — a widening that would not only help to improve the flow of the traffic, it would help improve safety."

Boucher, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, credited Carpenter for today's start date.

"I am very heartened to know that we have a new DOT commissioner, who is working extremely hard to get DOT back on track," Boucher said. "I give him all the credit for moving forward, after many projects have been on the books for a number of years."

Construction work requiring lane closures:

*Danbury Road (U.S. 7, Routes 7, 33, 106)
Monday - Friday 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

* Route 33, Ridgefield Road
Monday - Friday 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday 8 p.m. to 10 a.m.

Source: Connecticut Department of Transportation

No chance Route Seven will ever become Super Seven now (the opinion of this website)!
Merritt Parkway Work Is Stopped: Redesign Planned For Interchange
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
April 11, 2006

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to rethink construction plans for the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange in Norwalk, delaying the project indefinitely and handing a victory to preservationists who said the work would ruin the parkway's historical character.

The agency terminated its contract with O&G Industries Inc. of Torrington for the $98 million project that would have connected the parkway to Route 7, DOT officials told a federal judge yesterday, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
Last week, the judge ruled that the Federal Highway Administration and the state did not provide sufficient evidence that they explored all options for minimizing harm to the parkway in building the interchange and the DOT decided it would be wasting taxpayers' money if it continued to pay the contractor, officials said.

The DOT "made this decision because the delays the contractor has experienced to date and may experience due to the severe restrictions placed upon the contractor's construction activities would expose the (DOT) and the state taxpayers to delay damage claims of approximately 5 million to 10 million dollars," according to court documents.

The state's original plan was challenged last year in U.S. District Court in New Haven by parkway preservationists who claimed construction would violate federal law by irreversibly damaging the historical character of the parkway, including four historic bridges and landscaping.

The Merritt Parkway is on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The plaintiffs, which included the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other preservation groups and landowners, sought an alternate construction plan.

The groups filed suit last year after appealing to the DOT and Gov. M. Jodi Rell during public hearings.

Conservancy officials said yesterday they hope the state's decision to terminate the contract will give preservationists a chance to weigh in on the plan.  The state and Federal Highway Administration will work together to design an interchange that complies with federal preservation law, court papers said.

"Hopefully, this will result in a project that is good for commuters and respectful of the Merritt," said Laurie Heiss, executive director of the conservancy. "We would love to be a part of the process and will be happily standing by."

Conservancy Co-chairman Peter Malkin of Greenwich said "we tried our best to persuade (the DOT) that an efficient interchange could be achieved without the design they had been contemplating."

With construction stopped indefinitely, conservancy members want the state to restore some of the landscaping that was destroyed during early stages of construction, Malkin said.  DOT officials said their goal is to start construction as early as possible, perhaps after next year's construction season begins in April.

Last summer, DOT voluntary stopped construction on the interchange until a judge ruled on the civil case.

The state's plan has been under development for more than a decade. During court proceedings, DOT officials said the designs were approved by other state and environmental agencies, and public hearings were held in 1998 and 1999. 

DOT Must Design And Include
Hartford Courant editorial
April 7, 2006

If nothing else, you have to applaud the state Department of Transportation's tenacity. Department officials are continually criticized for over-designing highway projects, but they keep doing it anyway. A recent federal court decision about a DOT project on the historic Merritt Parkway in Norwalk is illustrative.

The DOT and Federal Highway Administration plan to build a massive $100 million interchange where the Merritt meets Main Avenue and the nearby Route 7 connector. When community groups got a look at the final plans, they were aghast.

The proposal would take out four historic bridges and nearly a mile of mature landscaping along the parkway, and run ramps alongside and 30 feet higher than the road, obliterating the view of the attractive 1930s parkway.

The interchange was once part of a plan to continue the major "Super 7" highway from Norwalk, where part of it is built, north to Danbury. Although the project was canceled in the late 1990s, the huge interchange remained, apparently still designed to accommodate the nonexistent expressway.

Last year, seven community and historic preservation groups sued to scale down the project.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Mark R. Kravitz ruled in their favor. Because the 37.5-mile parkway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, state and federal authorities had to show there were no "feasible or prudent alternatives" and that "all possible planning to minimize harm" to the scenic thoroughfare had taken place.

Kravitz said state and federal officials failed to show they complied with the law. He sent the project back to them for corrective action.

The plaintiffs, like most others in the Norwalk area, agree that the intersection is congested and needs work. The issue was the size of the project, a recurrent theme in other DOT highway projects. Time and again, the department comes in with big, complex designs, even for relatively minor road projects, and then sometimes backs off in the face of local opposition.

This "design and defend" approach, as the Norwalk case illustrates, is a huge waste of time and money. The DOT brass must realize that their constituents are not the road builders but the citizens of the state, and when their constituents are suing them, at considerable expense for nonprofits, there is a problem.

Now state and federal officials must work with the plaintiffs in good faith on a compromise design. The plaintiffs' requests, which mostly involve keeping historic stone bridges and getting rid of seemingly unnecessary ramps, are reasonable, and the DOT's own goals include preservation of the Merritt Parkway.

More broadly, the DOT has to change its planning process and involve the public from the beginning. Judge Kravitz criticized the department for moving ahead with the Norwalk project although it knew community opposition could lead to a lawsuit and delay. The nonprofit Merritt Parkway Conservancy, one of the plaintiffs, actually had to purchase a copy of the final plans for the project in 2004 to see them, said executive director Laurie Heiss. That's not quite the collegial spirit we'd like to see. 

State, feds lose Merritt Parkway ruling
Stamford ADVOCATE    
By Lisa Chamoff
Published April 4 2006

NORWALK -- Preservationists are claiming victory after a judge ruled the Federal Highway Administration did not provide sufficient evidence that it had explored all options for minimizing harm to the Merritt Parkway in building a Route 7 interchange.

Work on the federally funded project was halted voluntarily by the state Department of Transportation last year after preservationists filed the lawsuit, arguing that the project as proposed violated national preservation law.  Construction of the parkway's interchange with Route 7 would destroy four historic bridges, preservationists say, including a distinctive overpass on Main Avenue.

"This is exactly what we were looking for," said Andrea Ferster, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing the plaintiffs -- the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other preservation groups and landowners.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz in New Haven determined in his ruling, issued late Friday, that the information he has did not show that the Federal Highway Administration had complied with a federal regulation that requires all planning in a project that uses land in a historic site to minimize harm to the land.

Federal transportation officials must "cure the defects in its compliance" with the regulation, Kravitz said.  The judge ordered the defendants, the DOT and the FHA, to report to the court by Monday on whether they will continue the voluntary moratorium on construction.

In a statement yesterday, state lawyers did not say whether the judge's ruling would cause any further delays to the project.

Chris Hoffman, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said, "we are working with the Department of Transportation in putting together a plan to conform with the judge's order. We expect that we'll have something to file with the court by next Monday."

Federal Highway Administration officials must also give the court a deadline for showing compliance with the regulation.  In his ruling, Kravitz expressed concern about the increased costs caused by the delay to the $98 million project.  Preservationists said they viewed the ruling as an opportunity for federal and state transportation officials to work with the public on the interchange project.

Leigh Grant, a Norwalk resident and board member of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, said the group did not want to prevent the project, just ensure that it caused minimal harm to the historic roadway.

"We feel that (the ruling is) an opportunity for the DOT to move ahead and come up with some other decisions," Grant said. "We do feel that the interchange is necessary. We're against the size of the interchange, the construction of the interchange."

The two-phase project would widen the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and the Glover Avenue bridge and connect Route 7 to the parkway northbound.  Ferster said a large concern is 32-foot-high elevated ramps that would require the destruction of landscaping and are "really incompatible with the historic scale of the parkway."


New scrutiny for Merritt overhaul

By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
April 4, 2006

NORWALK — U.S. District Court in New Haven has directed the Federal Highway Administration to review the state's Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange overhaul, which ground to a halt last fall in the face of a lawsuit.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy, one of seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit, welcomed the decision as an opportunity for the state Department of Transportation to redesign the roughly $100-million project.

"We and our co-plaintiffs are delighted with Judge Kravitz's decision and will continue to work to reduce the unrestrained and destructive Department of Transportation interchange design," said Laurie Heiss, conservancy executive director. "We are hopeful that an alternative design will not harm the historic integrity of the Merritt and will provide a more site-sensitive design."

Heiss described the court decision as a small legal victory. "We'll consider it a victory only when we get a road that works for everyone," she said.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz has given the transportation department until Monday to tell the court whether its will continue its voluntary construction moratorium, or tailor work in a manner that is acceptable as the Federal Highway Administration conducts its review.

In the 53-page decision, reached late Friday and made available Monday, Kravitz has asked the Federal Highway Administration to review the administrative record leading up to the overhaul being launched last year.

"The court concludes that the Federal Highway Administration has not met its (legal) obligation to ensure that all possible planning was done to minimize harm prior to approving the interchange project," Kravitz wrote. "The court wishes to emphasize once again that it expresses no view one way or the other on whether the final design for the interchange project in fact minimizes harm to the Merritt Parkway or complies to the extent feasible with the Merritt Parkway guidelines."

"The court holds only that the administrative record before it does not show that the FHA made such a determination or on what basis the FHA did so," Kravitz wrote.

Chris Cooper, transportation department spokesman, said Monday that he did not know whether the department will redesign the overhaul.

"My understanding would be (the court) did not question the decision we made on the final design, but they did find defects in the administrative record," Cooper said. "By Monday we'll know if we're going to continue (work) as the administrative record is being corrected, or whether we'll go forward with aspects of the project."

Seven preservationist groups — including the Parkway Conservancy, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Norwalk Land Trust — sued the transportation department and Federal Highway Administration in June 2004, barely a month after the state launched Phase One of the overhaul, which is designed to fully connect the parkway and Route 7 Connector.

Last October, a day before Kravitz was to rule on the lawsuit, the transportation department voluntarily halted work on Phase One, which entails rebuilding the Main Avenue interchange and the Glover Avenue Bridge, as the court delved deeper into the matter. By then, trees near the interchange already had been felled.

Local elected officials and business groups, including the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, have endorsed the overhaul — more than a decade in planning — as needed to seamlessly connect the parkway with Interstate 95, reduce accidents on Main Avenue, and retain and attract employers to Norwalk.

"To my knowledge this did not deviate one iota from the public hearing process, the approval process, the time for public comment and input," said House Deputy Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-142. "This is a clear case of a protest as an afterthought. There were certain people who were disgruntled because they did not get their way. This is a shame that this project will be delayed."

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, said he believes that the state transportation department and plaintiffs in the lawsuit will come to an agreement that will improve traffic flow and preserve the historic character of the parkway. Built in the 1930s, the parkway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I want to see this project move forward. I'm optimistic that an agreement can be worked out," Duff said.

Mayor Richard A. Moccia, like his predecessor Alex Knopp, supports the overhaul. Moccia said Monday that the court decision leaves Norwalk "sitting there with that exposed scab" in the wake of the tree removal and construction work started last year. He suggested that fault lay with the transportation department.

"I was in favor the interchange (overhaul), but for a judge to come in and say (the transportation department) didn't do anything right, after they put that rock pile there and cut down the trees, reinforces my opinion of the Department of Transportation," Moccia said.

Andrea C. Ferster, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Kravitz' decision will allow the highway agencies to "go back and look at a way to balance the values of preservation with the needs of the modern transportation system."

In the court decision, Kravitz wrote that "the longer any injunction or work stoppage is in place, the greater the burden on the citizens of Connecticut."

DOT to halt Merritt work as court case continues (items in red below added by webmaster)
By Tobin A. Coleman
Published October 8 2005

Groups trying to downsize a planned Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange yesterday won a partial victory when the state Department of Transportation formally agreed to halt work until a federal judge rules on whether the project can move forward.  The self-imposed injunction came a day before U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz in New Haven was to have ruled on whether to impose a court-ordered injunction preventing the DOT from moving forward on the interchange connecting Route 7 in Norwalk to the parkway northbound.

"This is a significant victory for those who want to preserve the Merritt Parkway (and) who want to reduce the cost of the solution," said Peter Malkin, co-chairman of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy.  Malkin said the suspension of work will force the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, which is footing the bill for the $98 million project, "to consider other feasible alternatives that could permit the interchange between the Merritt Parkway, coming from the east, and the Route 7 connector, without the massive and excessively expensive and tremendously-destructive-to-the-Merritt-Parkway plan that they have been pursuing."

The DOT had already informally agreed to halt construction and blasting while the case brought by the seven organizations against the Federal Highway Administration and the DOT continued.  As a result of the agreement, Kravitz issued no ruling. Instead, he told the parties he would rule sometime next week on the DOT's motion to dismiss the case entirely, according to ("what's in a name?") Elizabeth Merritt (they have to be joking--small world coincidence???), deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of the plaintiffs.

At the same time, the rest of the case would move forward, including the release of newly discovered documents by the DOT that it claims will shed more light on why it chose the design for the interchange.  Merritt said the plaintiffs will get the documents on Friday. The court will receive them Nov. 7. The plaintiffs will then argue Nov. 28 whether the documents should or should not be included in the case.  After that, Kravitz is expected to make a final ruling, perhaps by the end of the year or early January.

The plaintiffs claim that the "Los Angeles freeway" style design, with 36-foot-high ramps, is much too large and will damage the aesthetic nature of the parkway and its surrounding landscape.  The parkway earned the 1938 motorway a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  The historic Glover and Main avenue bridges on the parkway would be demolished during the project as now designed.

According to the plaintiffs, DOT plans -- which would also destroy some parkway landscape -- violate sections of the federal Department of Transportation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.  The Transportation Act says construction that would deface or destroy a nationally recognized historic place is prohibited unless all other options have been explored.  State DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said the department will re-examine its stance on Jan. 2 if there still has not been a final determination by the court.

"We decided to voluntarily place a moratorium on any work," he said. "Now we understand the court should have a final decision in early January,"  Cooper said the DOT has reduced an earlier estimate that halting work on the project could cost the state $500,000 or more a month in extra costs. Contractor O&G Industries has been cooperative and extra costs will be much lower, although how much had not been estimated as of yesterday, Cooper said.

As part of the agreement, the DOT will be performing remedial work to stabilize areas that have been excavated and to pave and restore some of the existing roadway that has been affected.

The conservancy, a nonprofit group that wants to preserve parkway history, filed the suit in May with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Norwalk Land Trust, the Norwalk River Watershed Association Inc., the Norwalk Preservation Trust Inc., the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the Sierra Club.

Merritt lawsuit in court today
Hour Staff Writer
September 27, 2005
NORWALK -- U.S. District Court in New Haven is scheduled to hear arguments today in a lawsuit aimed at downsizing the state's $98 million overhaul of the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange.

"The court will decide the merit of our complaint, that (the state design) violated federal environmental and historic preservation laws," said Andrea Ferster, attorney for a coalition of preservationist groups that sued the state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration in early June.

"Also, we'll be asking for an injunction against the ongoing blasting work in the northeast quadrant of the Main Avenue. We're asking for work on this interchange to be halted, because the more investment of taxpayer money ... the more taxpayer dollars will be wasted when the highway agencies have to go back and consider a less obtrusive and less massive design," Ferster added.

At issue is the state Department of Transportation's redesign of the Main Avenue-Merritt Parkway and Route 7 Connector-Merritt Parkway interchanges.

"We have still voluntarily restricted certain work. Some other preliminary work, such as some ledge blasting and some other site-preparation work, have gone forward," said Chris Cooper, spokesman for the transportation department. Cooper said Deputy Transportation Commissioner Carl F. Bard and lawyers from the state attorney general's office have declined to comment on the lawsuit until after today's hearing.

The preservationist groups filed the lawsuit a month after the state signed a $34 million construction contract with O&G Industries launching Phase I, which involves rebuilding the Main Avenue interchange and Glover Avenue bridge. The Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit maintain the design is overbuilt, too costly and damaging to the parkway, a roadway built during the 1930s and known for its scenic landscaping and historic bridges.

Local elected officials and business leaders say the overhaul -- a decade in planning -- has been properly aired to the public and is critical to retaining jobs, reducing traffic accidents on Main Avenue, and making the Route 7 Connector-Merritt Parkway interchange immediately west of Main Avenue fully directional.

"It is a major transportation issue. The majority of people coming to work in Norwalk and even further down in Fairfield County come from the north and east. Right now there is no good connection between the Merritt Parkway and Route 7 Connector," said Edward J. Musante Jr., president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. "They connect from the west, but they do not connect from the east."

That disconnect channels traffic onto local roads, particularly Main Avenue. Police have counted 2,082 traffic accidents over the last five years on Main Avenue, between Route 123 and Grist Mill Road. Of those, 22 involved life-threatening injuries and another 71 were serious, according to Norwalk Police Chief Harry W. Rilling, who spoke in favor of the overhaul during a public information meeting called by the state transportation department in April.

This month, the transportation department began daytime lane closures and temporary traffic stops on the north and southbound lanes of the parkway. The departments says the closures and stops are necessary for drilling and blasting work related to the reconstruction of Exit 40 at Main Avenue. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today at U.S. District Court in New Haven, 141 Church St.

Engineer faces few detours in rebuilding Route 7 bridge
By Mark Ginocchio
Published July 25 2005

It was a disaster all too familiar to Art Gruhn.

When a tanker truck carrying thousands of gallons of heating oil overturned on Route 7 in Ridgefield two weeks ago, it ignited a fireball, melted pavement and closed the busy state road.  A year ago, Gruhn, the chief engineer who oversees highway construction for the state Department of Transportation, handled a fiery tanker crash at the Howard Avenue overpass on Interstate 95 in Bridgeport.

"Not again," Gruhn said to himself when he heard about the Ridgefield crash.

"After we finished our work in Bridgeport, I thought that was it, I was done. I had finished taking care of the one disaster I would face in my career," Gruhn said Friday. "To face two of them? I don't think any other engineer in the country has had to deal with two of these within a year of each other."

The March 25, 2004, Bridgeport crash was a dubious landmark in Gruhn's career. At first, state officials predicted the highway could be closed for weeks, snarling traffic on Connecticut's main thoroughfare. The overpass was charred and sagging, and the southbound lanes were destroyed.  But the less-damaged northbound lanes were reopened within days, and a temporary bridge on the southbound side was built within a week.  Gruhn said it was a valuable learning experience for him and the DOT. They just didn't think they would have reason to use what they learned.
Within a few hours of the Route 7 crash, in which the truck driver was killed, state officials wanted to know how long the road would be closed.

"Because we had the experience responding to Bridgeport, in some ways it was easier for us because we had been under fire before," Gruhn said. "When we got to the site, we were not as shocked."  And they knew what to do. A temporary bridge was assembled and Route 7, northbound and southbound lanes, was reopened within days.

There were differences between the Route 7 and I-95 damage, Gruhn said.

The span in Ridgefield was not made with steel, so it did not completely melt like the Howard Avenue overpass. And the damaged road in Ridgefield was 45 feet long, compared with 80 feet in Bridgeport, he said.  As for the traffic volume, the damaged stretch of I-95 carries about four times as many cars each day as the damaged stretch of Route 7. I-95 between Greenwich and Bridgeport carries more than 120,000 cars, according to DOT statistics. Route 7 between Danbury and Norwalk carries about 30,000.

Both closures were crippling for motorists, but that would be true anywhere, Gruhn said.

"Just like other states, the diversionary routes around these main roads are limited," he said. "We know how detours are an inconvenience, but that's why we tried to work quickly so they would only be set up for a short period of time."  A few days after Route 7 reopened, he got calls from other engineers in the region, Gruhn said. He had earned a reputation.

"A lot of them asked me why I'm always burning my bridges behind me," he said. "It was all in good nature. Somehow, I think that's how we were all able to get through this again. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, we all tried to remain good-natured." 

Environmental impact 'minimal'
By NOELLE FRAMPTON Hour Staff Writer
July 25, 2005
RIDGEFIELD -- Emergency responses to a recent tanker truck explosion that damaged a Route 7 bridge over the Norwalk River and spilled gasoline into the water are over, and a more long-term repair and cleanup effort is progressing that involves both rebuilding parts of the bridge and dealing with water and soil contamination.

The truck was filled with 8,800 gallons of gasoline, but it appears that most of its contents were consumed in the fire, and the incident probably didn't cause much long-term environmental harm, said Matthew Fritz, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "Overall implications, actually, to the environment have been minimal," he said.

"We don't believe that there was a lot of gasoline that fell into the river. This will probably not be a long cleanup. We're not talking decades. Probably no more than a couple of months." Fritz said the department is taking steps to absorb the gasoline in the water, which created a sheen on the river for the first several days, by placing absorbant booms -- made of a foam product -- downstream to clean the water as it travels through them. A system of "recovery wells" -- pumping water out, treating it and returning it to the river -- is also being used to remove pollution from the water table, he said, adding that department officials haven't seen any fish dying or other wildlife adversely affected by the spill, concentrated specifically around the bridge abutments and river bank, where some soil is "saturated."

The department will continue to monitor the area in the long-term, to ensure that everything is done to improve the conditions that can be, Fritz said. Norwalker Diane Lauricella, an environmental consultant and member of the Norwalk River Watershed Association's board of directors, said the association is planning to cooperate with the state to schedule short- and long-range soil and sediment samples, determine the extent of pollution and assess if soil replacement is needed.

Lauricella said the assocation also hopes to work with Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Carl Bard regarding restoration of the site's landscaping to attract native wildlife. "We would like them to plant as much vegetated buffer as possible," she said. "It's a very special spot. We really do not want to see them just putting a hard rip-rap everywhere along -- extending 20, 30, 100 feet downstream and upstream."

The spill site is very close to a "river study site," where school children have come for 15 to 20 years to study the river and its habitat, Lauricella said. Fritz did not know what the environmental cleanup would cost, saying that immediate concerns come first and the department will address money issues later. Perhaps the more substantial task will be fixing the bridge, which will be restored to its original condition.

The Federal Highway Administration's emergency funding program has pledged to cover the repair costs, estimated at about $3 million. During the reconstruction, drivers can expect lane closures between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and possibly at night too, said District Engineer Daniel Foley of the state Department of Transportation.

"The morning and evening commutes will be left alone," he said, explaining that a northbound one-lane temporary bridge will be constructed, and one southbound lane will remain open on the existing bridge during peak travel hours. Traffic patterns will have to be moved a few times before the project is finished with paving. The project, which will occur almost completely above the water, will include replacing the bridge's concrete deck, railings and pavement, Foley said, adding that the steel rods within the concrete beams that support the deck were probably compromised by the intense heat of the explosion and fire.

"These actually held up quite well, but not well enough to span the entire river," he said, adding that it was not strong enough to hold heavy trucks or oversized loads, either. Foley was optimistic that the project will be completed by winter, while adding that one can never be sure. "We want to get the thing done before the snow flies," he said.

Tragedy refreshes 'Super 7' thoughts
By Mark Ginocchio
Published July 14 2005

The fiery fatal truck crash that has closed down Route 7 until at least tomorrow is another reminder that Fairfield County's transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of better north-south passageways, elected officials and transportation advocates said yesterday.

The state needs to improve Metro-North Railroad's little-used Danbury branch line and the time may be right to rekindle talks of the long-stalled, controversial "Super 7" highway between Norwalk and Danbury, some officials said.

"We really don't have a north-south thoroughfare until you get to Route 8," connecting Bridgeport to Waterbury, said Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, chairwoman of the South Western Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "The disabling of Route 7 may be a wake-up call. I hope the state takes a closer look at ways to improve" the transportation infrastructure.

Route 7 was closed Tuesday between Route 102 in Branchville and Route 35 in Ridgefield after a tanker truck overturned and burst into flames, killing the driver and damaging a bridge overlooking the Norwalk River in Ridgefield.

State Department of Transportation officials said the bridge was weakened from the fire and a temporary structure will have to be built. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said yesterday she hopes the road could be reopened by tomorrow.

More than 30,000 people a day use Route 7 between Norwalk and Danbury, according to the DOT. The limited transportation alternatives in a region that is experiencing population growth in the north and business growth in the south could make Fairfield County a cul-de-sac, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said.

"We need to be cautious drawing lessons out of a tragic death on this highway, but there is an obvious inadequacy of north-south routes in our region," he said.

Growth means new jobs and new employees, he said. "That's why we've always been supportive of a Norwalk to Danbury 'Super 7' and the electrification of the Danbury branch line."

One of those options may not materialize. The "Super 7," a superhighway that would run from Norwalk to Danbury and link to Interstate 84, has been an idea on the table for nearly 50 years, but some municipalities and environmental groups oppose the plan, keeping it in limbo.

The highway would be between four and six lanes in different sections.

Despite the opposition, the South Western Regional Planning Agency has always proposed a better north-south road as part of its long-term plans, said executive director Robert Wilson.

Route 7 is "clearly inadequate for the volumes it carries," he said. "This is the risk you run when you maintain an inadequate facility."

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, one of the "Super 7's" most vocal legislative opponents, who proposed a bill this year to sell the land and invest it in the Danbury branch line, said lamenting the superhighway is not the answer.

"I don't think it changes the issues because (an accident closing the highway) could have happened on a 'Super 7,'" Boucher said. "But it does draw attention to the Danbury branch line."

The single-track Danbury branch line carries about 200 passengers a day between Danbury and South Norwalk and is being reviewed by the DOT for possible improvements.

To encourage commuters to take mass transit during the road closure, Rell said rail commuters would have their fares refunded until the road reopens and bus fares will not be collected on Norwalk Transit's Route 7 link. Additional trains on the branch line also will be put into service.

More has to be done with the branch line in the long-term, Boucher said.

"The Danbury branch line is an underutilized resource and it needs to be upgraded," she said.

But some transportation advocates said rail line expansion can't come at the expense of the proposed highway.

"We've always supported the 'Super 7' and it's ridiculous that it hasn't been done over the years," said Michael Riley, president of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association. "Our highway network is critical. I don't care how many barges (the state) uses or if they use rail traffic. There's going to be more trucks" to contend with.

State Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, said the state is "past the time to have a debate on whether the Super 7 should be finished," but improving the transportation system should never be simplified as roads vs. rails.

"It should never be either/or because every part is integral to our system," Duff said. "We have to get more people moving north-south, that's why we should be spending more money on transportation in this state." 


Merritt Pkwy
By ROBERT KOCH Hour Staff Writer
June 1, 2005
NORWALK -- The Merritt Parkway Conservancy announced Tuesday that it and four other organizations were filing a complaint in U.S. District Court in Hartford to halt the state-designed overhaul of the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange. "It is a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief," said Peter Malkin, conservancy vice chairman.

The plaintiffs "came together because of their concern over the failure of the Federal Highway Administration and the Connecticut Department of Transportation to comply with several federal laws that restrict projects that damage or interfere with designated historic properties." The conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the roadway's landscape and historic bridges, considers the estimated $98 million project too costly, too large and too disruptive to the historic roadway.

Named as defendants, he said, are Norman Mineta, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation; Mary Peters, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; and Bradley Keazer, Connecticut Division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States; The Norwalk Land Trust; Norwalk River Watershed Association Inc.; and The Norwalk Preservation Trust Inc. are co-plaintiffs in the complaint, Malkin said.

The plaintiffs hope that the court will grant a temporary restraining order followed by a permanent injunction against the project, Malkin said. The announced lawsuit comes a month after the state transportation department signed a $34 million contract with O&G Industries of Torrington to start the overhaul, which will fully connect the parkway and Route 7.

Phase I -- reconstruction of the Main Avenue interchange and Glover Avenue bridge -- began last month with the removal of trees. Supporters of the overhaul, including Mayor Alex Knopp and Norwalk legislators, say the project is needed to fully connect the parkway with Route 7 and Interstate 95, take traffic off Main Avenue, and safeguard economic growth. They describe the overhaul as well-planned, thoroughly vetted with the public and long overdue.

Still, Knopp said he is not surprised by the conservancy's action. "The opponents had threatened to go to court, so I'm not surprised at all, especially when (the complaint) is funded by the deep pockets of one of the adjacent landowners," Knopp said.

"It's a transportation project that serves the region and Norwalk well, and I hope that the judge does not hold it up for to long." State Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, another supporter of the state-designed overhaul, described the complaint as a post-"11th-hour" attempt to halt work.

"The DOT has made their decision after many years of delays," Duff said. "Those in the community have spoken and said they would like to have this project move forward. What are (the plaintiffs') motivations? Are they looking to scrap the project? Are they looking to make modifications? Obviously, it's way past the 11th-hour, and these concerns should have been brought up over the last five to six years."

William Wrenn, Norwalk Land Trust president, said the group's board of directors voted unanimously to join in the lawsuit. Of concern, among other things, is the removal of trees that recently began along the parkway near Main Avenue. "Beautiful trees are being destroyed for a project that's beyond the scope of what it needs to be to help solve the transportation problem," Wrenn said.

"This project is resulting in a tragic loss of open space for the people of Norwalk. We agree with the conservancy that the alternatives that were presented are better for the environment and the aesthetic beauty of the parkway."

The conservancy, at an informational meeting held by the DOT at Norwalk City Hall in early April, pitched two alternatives. One called for roundabout traffic circles to be built where the parkway meets with the Route 7 Connector.

"We would like to see the FHA and the Connecticut DOT to give serious consideration to alternatives that would not so seriously adversely affect the parkway, and these basically involve the substitution of alternative designs to connect the Merritt Parkway with (Route) 7," Malkin said Tuesday.

Some believe Super 7 may be just down the road
By Mark Ginocchio
Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
April 25, 2005

As the state Department of Transportation announced last week that it will build the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk, some lawmakers and transportation advocates wondered whether it's an indication that the controversial Super 7 highway will happen, too.

One part of the DOT's design for the interchange project was especially scrutinized: the parkway ramp that connects with Route 7 north. Critics say the ramp is a mile-long "road to nowhere" because of opposition to construction of a Super 7 highway to Danbury.

Most agree Super 7 will not be built in their lifetimes but want to know whether the DOT is keeping its options open.

"My sense has been (the DOT) kept this design just in case in the future the debate for a Super 7 starts all over again," said Laurie Heiss, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group that opposed the interchange project. "Just because that project is off the books now doesn't mean it can't come back in 10 years."

DOT officials have said the interchange connection to Route 7 north has nothing to do with the Super 7. Its purpose is to link the parkway to Route 7 in all directions. Super 7, which would run a highway from Norwalk to Danbury and connect with Interstate 84, is not in the state's plans, they have said.

At a recent public meeting, critics of the interchange project reminded the DOT that, when it designed the connectors 10 years ago, Super 7 was in its plans. If that is no longer true, Phase 2 of the $98 million interchange project -- which includes the Route 7 north connection -- should be redesigned, said state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton.

"I think in some people's heart of hearts, they're hoping for" Super 7, said Boucher, who in February proposed a bill that would sell the highway right of way and use the money for Metro-North Railroad's Danbury line. "But it's not going to happen. There is an overwhelming opposition to it and it's a death knell for any politician who supports it in that corridor."

Others said it's misleading to compare today's interchange project with the Super 7 plans from 10 years ago.

"I think people were just using the Super 7 argument as part of their arsenal against the interchange itself," said Robert Wilson, executive direction of the South Western Regional Planning Association. "It stirs up concerns that this may be a precursor to Super 7 and it throws other people into the mix."

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said the interchange and Super 7 are "two separate issues."

Although the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Business Council of Fairfield County endorse a north-south highway connection between Norwalk and Danbury, Farrell said she doubts the Super 7 debate will be revitalized.

"I don't think the political will ever will be there," Farrell said. "It's an unpopular issue. The idea that (DOT) will breach its agreement is the stuff of urban legend."

Even those who oppose the interchange connection to Route 7 north believe the Super 7 has no future.

The DOT "had the authority and the money to do the project they had designed," said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. "The permits were in place and the money was there, so (DOT) was ready to push the button. But the Super 7 is not going to be built because of the number of legal and financial obstacles. I'm not basing this on speculation, I'm basing it on fact."

One Super 7 advocacy group, however, sees hope.

"It keeps the avenue open," said Barbara Quincy, a Wilton resident and member of the nonprofit Committee for the Extension of Route 7. "I don't anticipate they're going to build the Super 7 any time soon . . . but DOT is not going to let that land go."

The DOT made a telling announcement last week, Quincy said.

"This decision was critical," she said.

One of the biggest proponents of the interchange, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, did not return calls last week.

State to sign pact for Merritt-Route 7 work
April 18, 2005 Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio

The state Department of Transportation plans to move forward with construction of the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange and will sign a contract today, sources close to the project told The Advocate.

DOT's design will remain unchanged, sources said, despite recent pressure from preservationists and legislators who claimed the interchange will be too costly and disruptive.

The $98 million project will connect the parkway to Route 7 to and from the east in Norwalk. The first phase will widen the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and the Glover Avenue bridge, starting this spring and lasting until 2007. The second phase will begin shortly afterward and connect Route 7 to the parkway, taking another four years.

During construction, one lane of the Merritt will be shut down around peak commuting hours in the morning and evening.  The DOT said designs have been in place for more than 10 years and were properly approved by other state and environmental agencies. Public hearings were held in 1998 and 1999.

Opposition to the project has been led by the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a nonprofit group that works to preserve the parkway's historic character.  The group said it backed the interchange but questioned DOT's designs. Members are concerned that construction will destroy some parkway bridges and landscape and back up traffic because of lane closures.

They question the cost and the parkway connection to Route 7 north, a road that continues for only a half-mile because of stalled plans for the "Super 7" highway to Danbury.  At a recent news conference, conservancy officials introduced two alternate interchange designs they said could be done with half the time and money, but DOT officials another design could delay the project.

Norwalk legislators, business leaders and Mayor Alex Knopp support the project because they say it will help the city financially and remove traffic from local roads.  The DOT was ready to award the contract in March, but it was blocked by Rell, who, after pressure from the conservancy and legislators, called for one more public meeting earlier this month.

More than 75 people signed up to speak for more than four hours at the meeting at Norwalk City Hall. Many opposed the DOT plan.  The conservancy said it hoped Rell would step in and overrule the DOT, but her spokesmen said it was the DOT's decision.

Saturday March 12, 2005 Norwalk HOUR:
NORWALK -- Business leaders and elected officials gathered at Hewitt Associates at Merritt Corporate Park Friday afternoon and urged Hartford lawmakers not to bow to last-minute pressure to halt completion of the Route7-Merritt Parkway interchange.  The state Department of Transportation could sign as early as next week a contract to get the long-delayed $75 million project started, they said.

"On behalf of the Business Council of Fairfield County, I want to express our support for this project. Transportation is a critical issue facing the county," said Tanya Court, Public Policy & Programs director with the Business Council.

"This project is important to the business community, to the county. We need to ensure that the project moves forward, that we do complete the interchange and provide that connectivity." Court, former executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, named completing the interchange as one priority upon which its member communities agree upon.

The Merritt Parkway, built during the Great Depression, is praised for its landscaping, stone bridges and unique design. That same design, however, did not anticipate cars traveling 55 mph -- or faster -- and accelerating and decelerating on tight entrance and exits ramps.

Southbound traffic on the parkway cannot exit onto the Route 7 Connector for lack of ramps. Connector traffic cannot move onto the northbound parkway. Such traffic now uses Exit 40, clogging Main Avenue. Some individuals and organizations, however, believe the fix is worse than the problem. They have stepped forward in recent weeks and asked the state to re-examine the project after more public input.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy says the project, as designed, will unnecessarily disrupt traffic. Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said the state made a terrible mistake by not completing the exchange decades ago. Doing so now, he said, will safen travel on Main Avenue; modernize Exit 40 and protect economic growth.

"This is the most important improvement to mobility in the Southwestern region that is likely come along in our lifetime," Knopp said. "This is not about expanding capacity. This is connecting up existing highways so that there will be better traffic mobility in our region."

Joining Knopp in an eighth-floor conference room at Hewitt Associates was company location Manager Tim Roof; Albert D. Phelps Inc. General Counsel Steve Warren; Business Council Public Policy & Programs Vice President Joseph McGee; state Reps. Joseph Mann, D-140, and John Ryan, R-141; and Edward J. Musante Jr., president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. Three decades ago, transportation and completing Route 7 to Danbury topped the priorities of the Chamber, according to Musante Jr.

"We at the Greater Chamber and business community of Norwalk strongly support moving forward with this project immediately," Musante Jr. said. Hewitt Associates, a human-resources consulting firm, relocated from Rowayton to the Merritt Corporate Park four years ago, based on the state's commitment to replace the two-lane bridge on Glover Avenue with a four-lane bridge.

The replacement is part of the interchange upgrade. "The state of Connecticut has not backed away from its commitment," said Thomas A. Flaherty, the Norwalk attorney representing Hewitt Associates. "We hope that the state will go ahead and sign this contract and move the project along."

The first phase of the project will cost $30 million and improve the ramps at Exit 40 and Main Avenue. Vertical clearance would be increased to allow more truck and emergency-vehicle traffic. At $45 million, the second phase would complete the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange to allow travel in all directions.

Deputy Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-142, acknowledged that opposition to the project exists. But he described support for the project as broad based and bipartisan. And Cafero Jr. indicated that protocol has been followed.

"This project has been well designed and well thought out. It's had input from the public. It's had input from people who are very concerned about keeping the integrity and the historical significance of the Merritt Parkway," Cafero Jr. said.

Knopp described the project as permitted and ready to go. He pointed to the Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact permits issued by the Federal Highway Administration in December 2000.

DOT vows to complete Route 7-Merritt plans
By Mark Ginocchio, Stamford ADVOCATE
March 4, 2005

DARIEN -- The state Department of Transportation is plowing ahead with plans to complete the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange despite opposition from preservationists.  Delaying construction could set the $75 million project back years, DOT Deputy Commissioner Carl Bard said yesterday at a quarterly meeting of the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee.

The state-appointed group that consists of DOT and federal highway officials, and other historians and preservationists.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy -- a nonprofit group formed to maintain the character of the historic roadway -- is trying to block the project, saying it is too expensive, disruptive and damaging to the highway's aesthetics.

"If we were to revisit the questions that were brought up today, that would cause another five-year delay," Bard said to conservancy members at a meeting in Darien Town Hall. "Our decisions were not made in a void. . . . These plans are very definitive."

Plans for the interchange have been in place for nearly 10 years and public hearings were held in 1998 and 1999, DOT officials said yesterday.
But conservancy chairman Peter Malkin said much has changed in five years and no contract should be awarded until the public has another chance to review the project.

"All of the planning and appeals were made at a time when the 'Super 7' (expressway plan) was still going to Danbury," Malkin said. "People are going about this plan backwards."  Malkin's New York real estate firm owns the 250,000-square-foot MerrittView office building on Main Avenue in Norwalk, which lies next to the interchange.

DOT officials expects it will award the interchange work contract to O&G Industries as soon as next week. A public information hearing couldn't be scheduled until next month, Bard said.

Phase one of the project will focus on the Main Avenue approach to the interchange and should take until 2007. Phase two would start soon after and take an additional three to four years, said DOT project manager Thomas Harley. During construction, lanes would be closed in the afternoon and at night, after rush-hour.

If the DOT reduced the scope of its plan, the project could be done quicker and cost less, said Laurie Heiss, co-chairwoman of the conservancy. She suggested removing proposed ramps that would run to Super 7 north, because the Route 7 superhighway has been stalled for decades.

Some forest land should be preserved, real stone facing should be used while restoring the parkway's bridges and the DOT should find an attractive alternative to the 40-foot, high-powered lights they want to use, Heiss said.

"We just want you to take a pause," she said. "We know we're not being illogical."

Once the contract is awarded, DOT is open to working out some of these differences, Bard said. Issues with landscaping and other aesthetics could be negotiated, but the general scope of the project must remain in tact, he added.  When Malkin pressed why a public hearing couldn't be held before a contract is signed, Bard threw his hands in the air.

Malkin questioned if federal funds for the second phase had been accounted for. When Bard said it had not, Malkin suggested it would be dangerous to start a major construction project and then stop halfway because of funding issues.  There shouldn't be any major delays securing federal funds, Bard responded.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, a proponent of the interchange project and Super 7, said he can't justify delaying construction any longer and he applauded Bard for being frank with the conservancy.

"The process has been open," Knopp said. "If we have another five-year delay, we'll just watch other cities raid our funds."

Others in attendance were still concerned about the impact the project will have on Merritt Parkway traffic.  State Rep. Jim Shapiro, D-Stamford, said after the meeting that construction could have such an impact on traffic, a public hearing must be held before a contract is signed.

"We have to be extremely careful of lane closures on the Merritt," Shapiro said. "Lane closures on the Merritt at any time of day always cause problems." 

Study aims to boost region's bus service
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published January 13 2007

NORWALK - Bus advocates said yesterday that they will launch a study to see how area service can be improved and attract a larger sector of the labor force.

The eight-week, $50,000 study will look at the needs of bus service, required capital improvements and the potential for new routes and intercity services geared at attracting more of the corporate work force, said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County, one of the groups funding the study.

It also will examine how more bus service could benefit Fairfield County's economy and environment.

"We're trying to build political support for bus service," McGee said. "It's long overdue. It's an undervalued resource because people have a poor image of bus service."

The Business Council will provide $10,000 for the study, and another $10,000 will be provided by Norwalk Transit, the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority and CTTransit.
The remaining funds will be provided by private business groups, McGee said.  New Haven-based Urbitran Associates will conduct the study. Once complete, it will be turned over to the legislature, McGee said.

Louis Schulman, administrator of Norwalk Transit, said he hoped the report will help the legislature understand bus operators' needs.

"New investments still need to be made," Schulman said. "They have been disproportionately made for rails and highways, but the one leg that has not been adequately funded is bus transit."

Local bus routes will be examined in the study, but the group also is interested in expanding intercity and express bus service to serve corporate areas that are too far from train stations, McGee said.  The study also will look at the potential for bus rapid transit - a system that mirrors a commuter railroad, providing frequent express service over long distances.

Bus service comes cheaper than the rail and offers more flexible routes and schedules.

Norwalk Transit operates many intercity services, including the Coastal Link service between Norwalk and Milford; the Merritt 7-Glover Avenue shuttle between the South Norwalk rail station and the Merritt 7 business complex; and the Westport Road shuttle between the South Norwalk station and Wilton.

About 400,000 riders a year use these services, which shows corporate employees will ride the bus if it takes them where they need to go, McGee said.

Aug 2, 2004 - 4:40 PM EDT

Transit workers in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford authorize strike

Associated Press Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- Transit workers in Hartford, New Haven and Stamford have authorized a strike if a new contract is not reached for about 700 bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers.

No strike date was set. The Amalgamated Transit Union and Connecticut Transit, the state agency that runs the bus lines, said Monday they would work hard to reach a deal before their latest contract extension expires Aug. 31.

Members of the three local unions said they did not want to vote for a strike, but they felt the company's offer left them no choice.

"We're going to cool off for about a week and then start talking again," said Alvin B. Douglas, business agent for Local 425 in Hartford...

N.Y.C. looks into congestion pricing...story here.
Lawmakers to get federal input on tolls for highways
Stamford ADVOCATE 
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published March 19 2007

Lawmakers unsure about the feasibility of installing electronic highway tolls this week may question some of the nation's experts.

Federal highway officials will be in lower Fairfield County tomorrow to discuss how "value" or "congestion pricing" toll systems work elsewhere.

The goal of the 8 a.m. meeting at the Westport Police Department is to teach lawmakers and other elected officials the differences between the old toll booths - which were taken off state highways more than 20 years ago - and the new electronic tolls designed to manage traffic and generate revenue for transportation projects, said the meeting organizer, Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

"Before we can intelligently discuss the subject, we need to understand it better," Lapp said.

Value pricing charges motorists different rates based on peak and off-peak hours. The system can be used to designate special express lanes on highways that drivers use at a price.

Tolls can be collected with "boothless technology," including transponder tags such as E-ZPass, officials have said. Some areas use cameras to take pictures of license plates then bill motorists later.  The state Department of Transportation is seeking federal money to study value pricing. The DOT expects an answer about funding later this month.

Last week, the legislature's Transportation Commitee approved $4.5 million for a study if the federal money falls through.

Federal highway officials tomorrow are expected to discuss value pricing success stories in states such as New Jersey and international cities such as London, Lapp said.  All legislators and elected officials from the SWRPA region - Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Wilton, Weston, Westport, New Canaan and Darien - are invited, as are member of the legislature's Transportation Committee.

As of Friday, Lapp did not know how many will attend. Those who plan to attend said they have reservations about value pricing but are willing to listen.

"It's going to be a hard sell, but I want to learn everything I can about it," said state Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton. "Everyone is using our roads and we are paying to maintain them. But I am reluctant to add another cost."

State Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said he wants to find out whether value pricing can be applied only to truckers during peak hours.

"For me, that's a specific idea worth pursuing," Tong said.  But Tong said he wants to hear about all aspects of value pricing.

"It would be a disservice to our constituents to not have complete information about something before we make a decision," he said.

Legislators should listen to everything federal highway officials have to say, said Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, chairman of the South Western Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"We need to educate people because they think we're trying to bring tolls back," said Bliss, who spent five years in Singapore, where value pricing is used. "People have this . . . reaction because they think it's the 't' word."

Officials weigh fee to discourage rush hour traffic
By JEREMY SOULLIERE, Hour Staff Writer
March 19, 2007

WESTPORT — Class will be in session at the Westport police station Tuesday morning, with a number of area officials and legislators gathering inside the station's training classroom to learn and talk about "congestion pricing," a computerized method of charging highway motorists varying rates at different times of the day to reduce rush hour traffic.

The meeting — which is co-hosted by the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) and the region's first selectmen and mayors that makeup the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (SWRMPO) — will offer a presentation by U.S. Department of Transportation Program Manager Patrick DeCorla-Souza, who will be discussing both the nuts and bolts of congestion pricing and the impact it has had on areas that have tried it, said Weston First Selectman and Woody Bliss.

Bliss, the chairman of SWRMPO, said the intent of congestion pricing is to discourage motorists from driving on major roadways during rush hour periods by charging a maximum fee at those peak times.

"People say, 'I don't want to pay it,' and they go to work a half hour earlier," said Bliss, who noted that, while living and working in Singapore and Los Angeles, he saw congestion pricing working successfully. "Not everyone could do that, but it does take away the peak."

Congestion pricing works like EZ Pass, he said, electronically recording a fee when a vehicle passes a certain location. Motorists with vehicles that don't have the transponder that records the fee, he said, are still charged because their license plate number is recorded by a camera. Unlike EZ Pass, however, congestion pricing takes the electronic signaling concept away from the toll booth setting, Bliss said, shifting it anywhere the decision-makers want the fee to be assessed, be it on-ramps, off-ramps or even just certain lanes.

Currently, he said, there is proposed legislation before the state Senate to initiate a study that would assess the feasibility of implementing congestion pricing on Connecticut roadways. SWRMPO is "very much willing to move forward with the study," Bliss said, and it has invited area legislators to Tuesday's meeting to both educate them about congestion pricing and hopefully encourage them to support the study.

"Once people understand what it is," Bliss said about congestion pricing, "they get more enthusiastic about it."

Something simply needs to be done about Connecticut's congested highways, he added.

"I-95 and the Merritt Parkway are not going to get better (with us) sitting on our bums," Bliss said.

SWRPA Executive Director Floyd Lapp said there are a number of congestion pricing "success stories" in the U.S. and abroad, with the areas that have implemented the system reporting "cleaner air" and yielding additional revenue for capital projects.

"It's a method that says we can't build our way out of congestion by adding more lanes," he said.

Tuesday's meeting will have two identical sessions, one starting at 7:30 a.m. and the other beginning at 10 a.m. Both sessions are open to the public, Bliss said, but, with a limited number of seats in the police training classroom, residents are asked to call SWRPA at (203) 316-5190 to reserve a seat.

DOT plans study to see if highway tolls pay
By Mark Ginocchio
Published February 19 2006
©The Advocate

More than 20 years after tolls were removed from the highways, the state Department of Transportation hopes to obtain federal funds to study bringing them back to Connecticut.  DOT officials told The Advocate last week they are in the initial stages of preparing an application to submit to the Federal Highway Administration that could enroll the state in a toll study.

The review would examine a method of tolling known as "congestion" or "value pricing" -- an electronic system that charges motorists varying rates depending on when they're traveling. Other variations include charging motorists by the mile or charging drivers for designated express lanes during rush hour.

The study would look at toll feasibility statewide, officials said.

"We think it was important to look at it statewide and get input from all of the regional planning agencies," said James Boice, chief of the DOT's bureau of policy and planning.  The DOT must submit its application to the highway administration by August to be considered for the 2007 program, Boice said.

Tolls have been taboo since they were removed from state highways in 1985 -- two years after a runaway truck with a sleeping driver at the wheel plowed into three cars lined up at the Interstate 95 toll plaza in Stratford, killing four women and three children.  Even before the deadly accident, drivers objected to long lines at toll booths.

But political will may be shifting. Although many still object to tolls, some state leaders and transportation advocates have said a study could be a way to determine whether they could generate more revenue for road and rail improvements.

Earlier this month, Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, said his group had submitted an application to study tolls in lower Fairfield County, three years after losing out on federal money for a similar proposal because they lacked support from the DOT.  The DOT's statewide study may kill the chances of SWRPA getting money for its regional look, but Wilson said it's more important that the state examines tolls.

"The study has to be done," Wilson said. "I'm happy to see (DOT) has come around and they've recognized that this is something that should be on the table."

Legislators agree the technology that eliminates the need for booths could make tolls a less volatile topic politically than they have been in the past.

"There's still haunting memories of tolls from the '70s and '80s and those memories loom large in many people's minds," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, a member of the legislature's transportation committee. "There's a very serious, healthy skepticism, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't examine what new technology might mean for those old conceptions."

It is smart for the DOT to focus its study on the entire state, and not specific regions such as lower Fairfield County, said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich.

"We're a small corridor state with a lot of gateway traffic between two larger states," said Nickerson, also a member of the transportation committee.  Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy of the Business Council of Fairfield County, another group that has called for a study, said the state must focus on "gateway tolls" at the borders.

"We need to look at both congestion pricing and gateway tolls and give people options," McGee said. "Just congestion pricing may be a hard sell for people in-state" because interstate traffic may not be tolled as heavily.

But all toll talk may be premature since the state will ultimately make its decision based on the study, Boice said.

"Our hope is that this study will provide us with information to answer all of these questions," Boice said. "We have to look at the information before we decide anything."

Tolls Back On Radar:  As gasoline taxes fail to keep pace with costs, the state may be driven to reinstating highway tolls
By Paul Choiniere
Published on 2/12/2006
Connecticut lawmakers are speaking A five-letter word once considered political profanity. And it's all because of growing congestion on the highways, a gasoline tax that falls far short of providing needed revenues, and the realization that Connecticut is losing out in a money-raising bonanza enjoyed by neighboring states.
That word is TOLLS.

It cropped up just last week when Democratic legislators presented a $6 billion-plus plan to avoid what they called a looming “transportation crisis.” House Speaker Jim Amann of Milford boldly ventured that, yes, tolls on the highways are a realistic option for a cash-strapped state looking for ways to fund transportation improvements. 
Connecticut hasn't had tolls for almost 20 years. On Oct. 10, 1986, eight toll plazas on Interstates 95 and 395 and the three on the Merritt Parkway were closed, ending a 26-year operation that generated $810 million during the years they were in use.

Drivers had grown angry about long lines and frequent accidents at toll plazas. Pressure to remove them peaked after a horrific accident in 1983, when a tractor-trailer rig plowed into the Branford toll plaza, killing seven people.  Over the last two decades, state politicians have generally been loathe to bring up the topic, mindful of how unpopular they had become. But in 2003 the state Transportation

Strategy Board, charged with taking a hard look at transportation, produced a report saying an investment of at least $5 billion was needed for highways, mass transit and deep-water ports.  The bipartisan group concluded that revenues from tolls would almost certainly be needed, as would increases in taxes and transportation-related fees, such as rail and bus fares.

Last Tuesday, Amann's announcement of the Democrats' plan to introduce transportation legislation signaled an endorsement of the strategy board's recommendations. The price tag, he said, has grown from $5 billion in 2003 to between $6 billion and $7 billion today. The projects would have to be implemented over a decade, he added.

“I absolutely hate tolls,” Amann said in response to reporters' questions. “But everything is on the table. As much as I dislike the idea, we have to consider it.”

John C. Markowicz, who represented southeastern Connecticut on the strategy board, said it is hard to envision how the state could address its transportation needs without including toll revenues.  New technologies that allow drivers to avoid plazas should make the idea of tolls more palatable, Markowicz said.

“These are not the tolls everyone remembers,” he said.  No assurances, however, seem to dissuade some people from their opposition to tolls.  House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, a Republican from Northford, said using tolls to pay for road improvements would be “a mistake of public policy.”

“They're not practical, they're not safe, and they're not environmentally sound,” Ward said.


Tolls are growing more common across the country and are ubiquitous on the interstates in the Northeast.  In 1993, there were a bit more than 4,000 miles of toll roads in the United States, and today there are about 5,000, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

With the exception of Connecticut and Rhode Island — a state that has never had highway tolls — drivers traveling on Interstate 95 from Maine to Maryland encounter tolls, but they can use the E-ZPass system to try to avoid long waits at the plazas. Transponders, which are cigarette box-sized devices that attach to the inside of windshields with Velcro, are read electronically as they pass under scanning towers, and the tolls are deducted from the owners' pre-paid accounts.

Tolls generate billions of dollars annually. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates tolls on bridges and tunnels, collected $1.1 billion last year, and seven of 10 drivers used the E-ZPass system.  The problems that spurred drivers' complaints about the tolls back in the late 1980s — delays and safety concerns — have been mostly solved by the modern technology, said Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Cooper.

The DOT has done preliminary research on different toll systems for policymakers' study, Cooper said.

In some parts of the country, including Minneapolis, San Diego, and Orange County, Calif., drivers pay a toll to drive on express lanes, where there is less traffic and where the tolls are constantly adjusted by a computer program. Rates go higher as demand builds, sometimes to several dollars during rush hours, but drivers can opt to stay on the regular freeways. The lanes can be designed to allow free passage for high-occupancy vehicles carrying at least three, or sometimes as few as two, passengers.

The “dynamic value pricing” keeps the express lanes from getting too crowded, said Edward J. Regan III, senior vice president at Wilbur Smith Associates. The engineering and planning firm, based in New Haven, is considered a world leader in the designing and managing of toll systems.

The special toll lanes, which were originally dubbed “Lexus lanes” by critics to suggest they would be used only by the wealthy, have generally been well accepted, Regan said. Research has shown most drivers, regardless of their incomes, only use them occasionally, typically when they are pressed for time, he said, adding that they have been effective in easing congestion on the free lanes.

If Connecticut were to bring back tolls, Regan said, all sorts of choices for the toll system are available, including one without booths.

Highway tolls in Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto are completely electronic. The few cars that do not have transponders get their license plates photographed, and the car owners are billed later at a higher rate, which encourages them to get transponders.  Any decision to reintroduce tolls would almost certainly require extensive study of all options, say lawmakers.

The trucking industry, already reeling from high diesel prices, is poised to oppose mandatory tolls, said Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. The association represents about 1,000 companies that operate trucks in the state.  Riley said, however, that his association would consider supporting optional toll lanes that give drivers the choice of paying to get off congested freeways.


Gas taxes, long used as a source of revenue for highway maintenance, have not kept up with inflation.

In 1963, the average state tax on a gallon of gas was 7.5 cents. Today it is 21.6 cents, but, when adjusted for inflation, the tax amounts to 4.8 cents, according to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics.  With the improved mileage of today's cars, states are generating about 2.4 cents per gallon in taxes in 1963 dollars, according to commerce statistics.

To get the kind of revenues produced from gas taxes in the early 1960s, states would have to triple or quadruple the fees, which is a strategy Europeans have followed for years, in part to encourage conservation.  There is evidence that American drivers prefer paying tolls to paying higher gas taxes, according to surveys in Illinois and Minnesota.

In 2002, Illinois was considering elimination of its tolls. When the Chicago Tribune did a survey asking citizens if they were willing to pay a higher gas tax to turn toll roads into freeways, 74 percent opposed the idea. Asked what they did not like about tolls, 66 percent cited delays, but only 13 percent cited the cost. (Eight percent cited cost and delays, while 13 percent pointed to neither issue.)

Illinois ended up installing an E-ZPass system to complement its tolls.

In 2003, Minnesota residents were surveyed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune on how added lanes on congested highways should be paid for — by special tolls on the new lanes or by a higher gas tax. Special tolls were preferred by 69 percent of respondents, with 23 percent opting for an increased gas tax. Eight percent had no opinion.

Interstate 394 in Minnesota now has stretches of highway where drivers pay a toll to drive in the express lane.  Knowing that states are hard-pressed to pay for transportation improvements, Congress has greatly eased the restrictions on introducing tolls on interstates, though some regulations remain. Cooper said the DOT does not anticipate that federal approval would be difficult to get.

Two local lawmakers on the legislature's Transportation Committee — Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, and Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold — support the massive transportation project promoted by the Democratic leadership. The plan calls for completing Route 11, widening Interstate 95 and extending to southeastern Connecticut the commuter rail service to New York.

To pay for those projects and others, neither lawmaker rules out tolls. 

“If technology is there, with no bottlenecks, then I would give it some thought,” Mikutel said.

“I'm not ready to call myself a proponent of putting tolls back on the highways, but everything needs to be on the table,” Jutila said. “If we were to use tolls, the money would have to go directly for the road projects, not get lost in the General Fund. If people can see their money going directly to work to address the problems, they are much more likely to be receptive to the idea.”


Are tolls back on the table? Funds sought to study 'volume pricing' system
By Mark Ginocchio
Published February 6 2006

The South Western Regional Planning Association is revisiting its plan to study whether tolls should be installed on highways in lower Fairfield County.

Executive Director Robert Wilson said SWRPA last week filed a letter with the Federal Highway Administration, seeking money for the study.  The study would examine electronic tolls that vary fees throughout the day based on traffic volume. In a volume pricing system, tolls are costliest during rush hour -- an incentive to get motorists off the road during peak travel times, Wilson said.

Revenues could be allocated to a dedicated transportation fund, he said.

SWRPA wanted to conduct a similar study in 2002, but federal officials refused the request because the state Department of Transportation did not support it, he said.  Although the DOT remains noncommittal about backing SWRPA's latest application, Wilson hopes there is political will.

"Things seem to be different now and we believe (the DOT) is likely to be more open-minded," he said. "We haven't been given any reason to believe they wouldn't support it, so we're cautiously optimistic."

In the past two years, state leaders have been more focused on transportation improvement and investment, Wilson said. Last year, the legislature passed a $1.3 billion transportation initiative to add train cars to Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line and repair Interstates 95, 91 and 84.

In her budget address Wednesday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to recommend building a New Haven to Hartford rail service.  Tolls however, have been taboo since they were removed from state highways more than 20 years ago -- two years after a runaway truck with a sleeping driver at the wheel plowed into three cars lined up at the I-95 toll plaza in Stratford, killing four women and three children.

Besides the danger, drivers objected to long lines at toll booths.

But concern is growing in Connecticut over how the billions of dollars needed to improve transportation will be raised.

DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said the administration looks at tolls as a "possible revenue source" and the concept "is worth a look." But the DOT cannot endorse SWRPA's application until agency officials review it, he said.

"That doesn't mean we won't support it," Cooper said.

Karen Burnaska, co-chairwoman of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory group to the Transportation Strategy Board, said her group will back SWRPA's application.

"It's an opportunity to reduce congestion and generate revenue," Burnaska said. "But we have to make it clear that just because we conduct a study, it doesn't mean we have to (institute) tolls. That's the point of the study -- to look at everything before we say yes or no."

The full TSB endorsed a toll study in its latest list of recommendations to the governor.

Opponents said residents would expect something in return if the state reinstates tolls.

"It makes no sense unless you provided additional capacity or alternative speed lanes," said Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association, a lobbying group for the state's trucking industry. "There's absolutely no way people in this state will pay tolls without getting more in return."

Now that it has filed a letter of interest, SWRPA must prepare an application, Wilson said. The Federal Highway Administration already allocated money for studies to 14 state agencies and only one slot remains, stacking the odds against Connecticut, he said.

TSB mulls bringing back tolls
By ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com
May 17, 2005

While Congress remains conflicted over whether to allow tolls on existing highways, the state Transportation Strategy Board will discuss today technology that can be used to put tolls on Connecticut roads.

The TSB, a panel appointed by the state's legislative leadership and former Gov. John G. Rowland, will discuss technologies that might be used to help control traffic while raising money. The meeting will be at 8 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Mike Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, pledged to be there to discuss the issue. Riley's group, along with national trucking organizations, lobbied Congress to prevent states from tolling existing highways. The House of Representatives recently passed a transportation bill that allows state tolls but the Senate's version of the bill does not. That will have to be reconciled, Riley said, so the TSB's conversation may be in vain.

Under current law, if a state places tolls on an existing highway it could lose federal funds.

Riley said truckers aren't necessarily opposed to tolls but that they won't support them unless Connecticut uses the money to expand highways.

Supporters of tolls, particularly a TSB advisory group called the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area from Fairfield and New Haven counties, prefer the term "value-pricing," because they say the goal is to charge motorists more money during peak travel times to discourage people from using roads during those periods. They also support using the money from tolls to pay for train and bus service in the state.

The CCTIA and the TSB have expressed interest in using an EZ Pass-type system similar to that in Massachusetts. Drivers would not have to stop and pay at tollbooths under the envisioned system. Instead, drivers would have transponders in their cars that are tracked electronically when they use the highways. The state then bills the person through a credit card or from bank accounts. For motorists without transponders, the state would take photos of cars' license plates and send bills to their owners.

  While the TSB is meeting to discuss innovation, the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council will meet Wednesday in Stamford to discuss new trains for the Metro-North Railroad New Haven Line.

The state is considering a $1 billion investment in the New Haven Line, including the purchase of 342 new cars. The railroad recently hired a consultant to design the new cars, but the Legislature has not acted on the bill to authorize their purchase.

The council will meet with Metro-North President Peter   Cannito at 7 p.m. at 1 Landmark Square, Stamford.

Bill could take toll on roads;  Congress moves toward removal of financial roadblocks
April 4, 2005 CT POST:
PETER URBAN purban@ctpost.com

WASHINGTON — Congress nudged the door ajar for "gateway tolls" on Connecticut's borders.
Tucked into the 1,075-page transportation bill that recently cleared the House of Representatives are provisions that remove, under some circumstances, federal financial roadblocks that have stopped states like Connecticut from imposing new highway tolls.

"It is highway robbery," Michael Riley, a lobbyist for the state's trucking industry, said of the prospect of tolls.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed an ambitious transportation agenda that would be funded by an increase in the gas tax — currently the only viable funding option on the table because of restrictions on tolls along federally subsidized highways.

Rell had not envisioned using tolls as a revenue source because gaining federal approval would have likely delayed the construction program.

"She has proposed a method of financing this plan, and we are ready to move forward," said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the governor.

But the House bill would authorize a "congestion pricing pilot program" for 25 projects, and six more pilot programs — three for highway "reconstruction and rehabilitation" projects and three for new construction projects.

The Business Council of Fairfield County (SACIA), which led the fight 20 years ago to rid Connecticut of highway tolls following a tragic accident at the Stratford toll plaza on Interstate 95, now sees them as a possible option.

"We think the issue of tolling needs to be looked at," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy at SACIA.

A bill seeking such a study is before the General Assembly's transportation committee. McGee said it should be approved so that the issue can be examined in depth.

"We've been talking about gateway tolls as an option but we are not endorsing them yet," he said.

The gateway tolls, which would be installed on the New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island borders, could net about $150 million a year, McGee said based on a cursory analysis.

Before the state jumps in, it would also have to consider the broader impact tolls would have on traffic congestion and safety.

In January 1983, a tractor-trailer   collided with three cars at the Stratford toll plaza, killing seven people. The eight toll plazas along I-95 were removed in October 1985. Four years later, tolls were abolished statewide.

McGee said that "EZPass" technology could be used to keep traffic moving through the automated tolls and allow for variable pricing to encourage travel at off-peak hours.

Connecticut's 20-year strategic plan for coastal-corridor transportation recommended a "value-pricing pilot program" on one or more of the limited-access highways in southwestern Connecticut.

"Connecticut can no longer rely largely on federal funding for the vast majority of its transportation capital and operating needs," the 2001 report said. "Implementing a new transportation strategy will require substantial financial investment in addition to current sources of support and greater flexibility in the use of current funding sources..."

Friday, December 17, 2004 Stamford ADVOCATE:
DOT pushes plan for new I-95 lanes
By Mark Ginocchio

NORWALK -- The state Department of Transportation is giving a plan to expand on and off ramps on Interstate 95 from Greenwich to Bridgeport top priority.  The so-called operational lanes are being looked at to reduce congestion and improve safety.

The lanes would extend the distance from one on-ramp to the next, giving motorists hundreds more feet to merge into traffic, thereby reducing congestion, said Jim Mora, a DOT engineer, at the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization's monthly meeting yesterday at the Norwalk Transit district.

The four-phase project would construct operational lanes from exit 2 in Greenwich to exit 24 in Bridgeport, Mora said.  Currently, an operational lane is in use on the southbound side of I-95 between exits 10 and 8 in Stamford, he said.

"We want to give other lanes a similar type of treatment," Mora said. "We want to build one continuous lane that runs into the next exit ramp."

A DOT study found that accidents in the Stamford operational lane were down nearly 20 percent compared with other interchanges on the highway. Expansion of these lanes could equal about 160 fewer accidents a year, Mora said.

Mora said the operational lanes would be used as an alternative to opening the shoulder lanes on I-95. Four years ago, former Gov. John Rowland recommended the state study using the shoulders during rush hour. The DOT issued its final report on that study in September and said using the shoulders would be unsafe and would only cause more accidents. In the conclusion of the report, the DOT recommended looking into operational lanes.

The new study is a DOT priority and so far, about $1.5 million has been allocated for designing and planning, Mora said. Construction on phase one, which would span from exits 10 to 15, could be finished in 2006 and cost the state about $10 million he added.

"This could all help control congestion on the highway for another 15 years," Mora said. "Right now at many on-ramps motorists have to slow down 5 to 10 miles per hour because space is closing. This would give people more time to merge."

Phase two, which includes work on exits 16 to 18, would be more difficult because it would extend an on-ramp lane for almost a mile and a half, Mora said. Because of the complexity of the work, the state didn't know how much the project would cost.

Additional operational lanes in Greenwich and Stamford would be part of phases three and four, Mora said. It was unknown when that work would start and how much it would cost.

MPO chairwoman, and Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said she was pleased with the progress made so far.

"This should be on every agenda and my request is that someone from (the DOT) be here to give us an update every month," Farrell said. "I am delighted to hear that this is on the fast track and that there are members of the DOT willing to roll up their sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty."

Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah warned the state about getting residents too excited about the project.

"There were some people who told us that work on Route 7 was supposed to be done years ago, so it's a tremendous frustration when people just throw out dates and don't follow through," Hannah said.

A 15-page report would be prepared and reviewed in January, and the state would start designing the project early next year, Mora countered.  Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said no matter the timeline, the MPO has to keep pushing the state to pursue the project.

"We have been very supportive of this approach because primarily this is a safety issue," Knopp said. "We have to work on reducing the congestion." 

Panel: Put I-95 on top of 'to do' list (click here for "About Town" point of emphasis)
By Mark Ginocchio, Greenwich TIME
December 3, 2004
STAMFORD -- The state will not be able to pursue the dramatic multibillion-dollar changes needed for transportation until legislators get serious about designing ways to generate more funding, a panel of business and transportation officials said yesterday.

Interstate 95's effect on lower Fairfield County business was the topic at a breakout session of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's all-day conference at the Westin Stamford hotel.  Panelists told about 30 business leaders that the state is aware of what needs to be done to fix the congested highways and aging trains, but things will remain at a standstill until more funding is found.

"It's all about money, money and money," said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, president and chief executive officer of the MetroHartford Alliance and chairman of the state Transportation Strategy Board.

The TSB has suggested ways to generate more transportation funds by raising the state sales and gas taxes, and instituting tolls on highways, but Griebel said not enough has been done to push those initiatives ahead.

"We continue to fight with where our dollars should go," he said. "We have not been able to execute on our study. Things are actually gaining momentum in this area, but I don't see anything meaningful happening" this year.  The funding issues go beyond the state. Arthur Gruhn, chief for
the state Department of Transportation's Bureau of Engineering and Highways, said because of issues with federal funds, the state will only be able to "keep the highways in good repair," and won't be able to improve them significantly.

"There's basically no funding for any of these issues we've been talking about," Gruhn said.  Suggested solutions for I-95 include widening the highway and adding more operational lanes at entrance ramps such as the one between southbound exits 10 and 8 in Stamford.

"But the money we might get from the federal government is the same amount we got six years ago," Gruhn said. "And with inflation and other costs increasing, that means, in essence, we're getting less."

Congested highways could scare people away from working in lower Fairfield County, said Mark Bridges, executive director of UBS Investment Bank.  Bridges said UBS hopes to expand its facility to house another 4,000 employees, but as commute times increase and the Metro-North Railroad fleet keeps getting older, those numbers may not be achieved.

"Traffic is starting to have an impact on morale and productivity," Bridges said. "We have people who are here at 7:30 in the morning and stay until 6 or 7 at night because they don't want to face the rush-hour traffic."  For solving the congestion, "I haven't heard an original idea yet," Bridges added.

To get funding initiatives pushed forward, the business leaders need to be more aggressive with their demands, said Michael DeVine, president of DeVine Brothers Inc. in Norwalk.  "It's not for business leaders to analyze these solutions and not leave things in the hands of agencies and legislators," DeVine said.  Every option should be on the table, but there should be an emphasis on highway improvements, he added.
Commuters who opt to take their cars instead of trains should not be fiscally penalized, he said.  There also needs to be a closer look at increasing barge traffic to get more trucks off the road, DeVine said.

Business leaders in attendance reacted strongly to the panel's pessimistic outlook on transportation improvements.

"As a user of the highway, I ask you to find a way to do all these things sooner," said Randy Soloman, an account executive from Village Office Supply in Norwalk who commutes from New Rochelle, N.Y. "If you want tolls, I'll give you tolls. I don't care. I just want things to get done soon."

Robert Karp, president of Business Environments in Stamford and a member of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee said the state is lacking a "sincere look" as to how to fix I-95 and that all debate has been exhausted.

"Just looking at rails won't get us out of it," Karp said. "We need to start looking at the highways. It's almost too late to do it as it is. We need to find those solutions, and the money will come later." 

Highway bridge finished;  Reconstructed lanes span Howard Ave.
By AARON LEO aleo@ctpost.com
Labor Day, September 6, 2004


Interstate 95 travel lanes in both directions on the reconstructed Howard Avenue overpass heavily damaged in a March oil tanker explosion
are to re-open after the weekend holiday.

"Traffic is going to find marked improvement after Labor Day," said Paul Breen, an assistant district engineer with the state Department of Transportation.  "The contractor beat the [DOT's] deadline by a week," Breen said. "They've done an admirable job out there. They've worked a lot of hours."

He said an estimate of the total costs to repair the crippled span is being tabulated. But $13 million in federal funds helped pay for overtime for police and construction crews.  Traffic will switch back to the rebuilt southbound lanes destroyed by the fireball and replaced by a temporary span
on Tuesday, according to the DOT.

The temporary bridge was installed six days after the crash.

Also, the exit 26 southbound off-ramp to Wordin Avenue will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. that day. The interchange's on-ramp for southbound I-95 will close Tuesday and remained closed indefinitely.  In case of inclement weather, this switch will take effect Wednesday, the DOT said.

On Thursday, northbound I-95 traffic will switch to the newly constructed roadway. The northbound exit 26 off-ramp to Wordin Avenue will be closed until December. The rain date for this northbound traffic switch is Sept. 13.  The ramp closures are due to continuing reconstruction of portions of the highway, according to the DOT.

The repairs are expected to end early next year with realignment of the highway's lanes in both directions, Breen said.  Motorists are urged to obey the 45-mph speed limit in effect for the highway construction zone between exits 24 and 30 on both sides of the highway.  The March 25 highway fire started when a truck carrying 9,000 gallons of heating oil was struck by a 1987 Toyota Corolla near the exit 26 off-ramp on southbound I-95.

The accident forced the tanker into the highway's Jersey barrier and it burst into flames.  The car's driver, Sarah Waddle, 18, of Bank Street in Derby, was charged with failure to drive in the established lane, and faced a $128 fine.  Art Gruhn, chief engineer at the DOT, has said the state will try to recoup damages from Waddle's insurance company.

State Approves Funding For I-95 Study:  Panel to look into addition of a third lane
By Susan Haigh - Published on 11/03/2001
A state panel approved funding Friday to study the feasibility of adding a third lane along Interstate 95 from Branford to the Rhode Island border.  While the possibility of widening the thoroughfare could be years away, the action taken by the state's new Transportation Strategy Board marks the first step toward perhaps embarking on the project.

“Nobody has yet made the decision (that) we need to absolutely, positively build a third lane,” said John Markowicz of Groton, the only southeastern Connecticut member of the board. But if the state does not embark on any interim solutions to I-95 traffic, such as public transit, Markowicz said widening will have to be seriously considered.

“We're going to have to do something with 95,” he said. “But you really can't seriously discuss widening if you don't know if it's feasible.”  The board set aside $1.5 million for the study, projected earlier this year to cost $3 million. The funding comes from the pot of state surplus the General Assembly earmarked for immediate
transportation improvement projects, hoping to alleviate traffic on Connecticut's clogged roads.  The state Department of Transportation will spend the next four to six months hiring consultants to perform the feasibility and environmental study. The actual analysis could take 18 to 20 months, said Markowicz.

Although the I-95 study has consistently appeared on a list of projects to receive the immediate funding, it wasn't official until Friday. It is uncertain whether another southeastern Connecticut project, which calls for an “intermodal tourism service” that provides transportation to visitors in the region, will be funded right away. The $50 million approved by the legislature will likely be pared to $35 million, as lawmakers look to cut programs to balance the state budget.

On Friday, the board doled out only $13.5 million of the first $15 million.  Markowicz said he is still hopeful that the tourism service, once referred to as the Uni-Ticket system, could receive about $100,000 to study whether such a transportation project is feasible. The project, proposed by the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the South East Area Transit Authority, would expand local and regional bus services and coordinate with rail and ferry schedules.

Visitors would be able to purchase one ticket for all transportation needs, linking them to everything from the Mystic Seaport Museum to the casinos and local hotels.  The statewide transportation board meets again in December. At that time, funding for the tourism transportation system might be released, Markowicz said.

Amtrak train strikes man near Fairfield station
Oct 27, 11:33 PM EDT

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- A man was struck and injured Friday night by an Amtrak train just east of the Fairfield station.

The train was bound for Boston when police said a man ran out in front of it just after 7 p.m. The man was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital. His name and condition were not available.

Train service along the New Haven Line was suspended for nearly an hour after the incident, said Dan Brucker, a spokesman for Metro-North Railroad, which operates the New Haven commuter line on the same tracks.

11 Minutes To Hartford, No Gridlock
Tom Condon, Hartford Courant
April 16, 2006

My appreciation for Windsor Center goes back to the late 1970s when I was playing in the Windsor Men's Softball League and then stopping at the Windsor House or some other venue for important postgame conferences.

I thought the center was a comfortable, attractive, walkable place with a nice mix of stuff. It declined a bit in the 1980s, then came back in the 1990s after becoming one of the state's first participants in the National Main Street Program, which helps revive older downtown business districts.

Now the center is poised to demonstrate what should be the next wave to hit the state, and that is transit-oriented development. A historic factory building, located right next to the railroad tracks, as so many historic factory buildings were, is being converted into 50 market-rate condos.

When these are finished beginning this summer, a resident will be able to roll out of bed, walk a minute or two to the station, hop on Amtrak and be in downtown Hartford in 11 minutes. Call me madcap, but this might just work.

The project involves the old Spencer Arms Co., an 86,000-square-foot factory built in three stages between 1873 and 1920. Christopher Spencer, who got his start working for Sam Colt and the Cheney Brothers, was yet another of Hartford's 19th-century mechanical wizards.

Spencer invented a repeating rifle that was used in the later years of the Civil War. He took over the factory in Windsor in 1883 to manufacture the country's first successful pump-action repeating shotgun.  Spencer Arms shut down in 1907. The factory buildings later housed businesses ranging from Eddy Electric to the Vintage Radio and TV Museum. By the early years of the 21st century, it was ready for restoration.

Enter the Corporation for Independent Living. The nonprofit agency is a developer of housing for people with disabilities and, in recent years, affordable housing. With public funds for such work increasingly difficult to come by, the agency decided to form a for-profit subsidiary, CIL Development of Windsor, to help support its nonprofit work.

The Windsor project, called First Town Square, will have 49 two-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit, with the high ceilings, exposed brick, hardwood floors and other amenities found in good factory conversions. Prices start at $189,900; most units are in the low twos and the most expensive is $305,000, said Martin Legault, president and chief executive officer of CIL.

The complex is between the tracks and a two-mile trail along the Farmington River. Across the tracks is Windsor Center, with the town hall, the library, some historic homes, and stores and restaurants, including the Windsor Donut Shop and the Whistle Stop Cafe. In other words, it's a good place to live.

The added attraction is the train.

The antidote to the wasteful sprawl development that is devouring many of Connecticut's towns is to carefully increase density in existing town centers and transit corridors. It's happened around the country; each suburban Washington, D.C., Metro stop, for example, has become a hub of shops, offices and condos.

Look at the benefits. People who can walk to the station are keeping their cars in the garage (or selling one of them), saving fuel and decreasing air pollution. If the growth is around the station, there's less development pressure on forests and farms.

First Town Square wasn't specifically planned as transit-oriented development - it just happened to lay out that way. But it nonetheless offers a chance to see how it might work.

Amtrak instituted commuter fares in the Hartford area a few years ago, though it isn't widely known. A First Town Square resident will be able to buy a $90 monthly pass for to commute back and forth. At present there are only three trains in the morning and four in the evening commuting hours, which is not optimal frequency.

But if Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal for commuter rail on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line becomes a reality, as it should, there will be many more options.

There are a smattering of new transit-oriented projects along the shoreline, but Connecticut isn't overtly promoting them.

We should be. Along with the commuter service, Rell could encourage more construction near train and busway stations by tying the state's $100 million affordable housing fund to transit-oriented development.

Windsor Center could easily absorb many more units of housing, and so could most other town centers along the rail line. By building them there, Connecticut would get growth without sprawl and livelier towns. This should be the plan, no?

Shore Line East rail service catching on, DOT reports
By Mark Ginocchio, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published February 20 2006

After discovering a sharp increase in ridership on a train line that runs from Stamford to Old Saybrook, state Department of Transportation officials said there may be more demand for longer-distance intrastate rail service.

Ridership on the Shore Line East commuter rail's Stamford to Old Saybrook express increased 32 percent from 2003 to 2005, including a 19 percent hike in the past year, according to the DOT.

But what's most appealing to state officials are statistics that show that more commuters who get on in Stamford use the train to travel longer distances, rather than using the service as if it's another Metro-North Railroad train to Bridgeport or New Haven.

"The one-seat ride is proving to be very attractive," said Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for the DOT. "The fact that (commuters) can get on and off at their home station without changing trains is helping people migrate" to the service.

The state started the service as a trial in 2002 after the Transportation Strategy Board recommended it. Each day, four trains stop at Stamford, Bridgeport and New Haven before making all local Shore Line East stops from Branford to Old Saybrook.

Shore Line East riders previously would have to take a train to Union Station in New Haven, where they could transfer to Metro-North's New Haven Line into Fairfield County.

Initially, DOT officials observed that most riders used the special trains only as an additional Metro-North train between Stamford and New Haven.

They would not stay aboard into Shore Line East territory.

Statistics show most riders still end their trips in New Haven. But the number of riders starting in Stamford and traveling between Branford and New Haven is growing strong.

Of the train's 1,000 daily riders, about 300 are going beyond New Haven -- a 65 percent increase from 2003, Colonese said.

Ridership growth on the express trains also looked strong compared with overall increases on Shore Line East. In a strong ridership year for the state, there was 4.5 percent overall growth on Shore Line East.

Continued growth on the express trains is vital to reducing highway traffic, Transportation Strategy Board member Karen Burnaska said.

"This is what we're trying to do -- help relieve congestion on 95," she said. "We didn't want to have a train where there wasn't a market. People are coming from all over to go to work in Stamford."

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, about 265 people commute from Stamford to the Shore Line East region.

Despite some scares about funding -- including last year, when the Shore Line trains and other rail and bus services recommended by the strategy board initially were left out of the state budget -- commuters should expect the service to grow, Colonese said.

With construction improvements on I-95 and the "Q Bridge" in New Haven, "these trains will serve a purpose," Colonese said. "They should continue to be successful."

Danbury rail line doesn’t work for reverse commuters
By Mark Ginocchio, ADVOCATE Staff Writer
Published September 5 2005

Bruce Murray said
he is willing to take a car off lower Fairfield County's overcrowded roads by riding the train to work.

But no train is available that could get him to work on time.

"I would rather take the train every day then take an hour minimum to drive 20 miles," said Murray, a Stratford resident who works for a nonprofit firm in Wilton that's blocks from the town's stop on Metro-North Railroad's Danbury branch.

"But the earliest I could get to work is 9:30 a.m.," he said. "And I need to be there at least an hour earlier." The Danbury branch is a single-track line that can operate trains in only one direction at a time. Metro-North officials said they must first meet the demands of customers headed toward lower Fairfield County and New York City in the mornings.

So until the state comes up with the funding to improve the line, potential "reverse commuters," those headed toward Danbury, such as Murray, have to wait until the first train heading north leaves South Norwalk at 9:16 a.m., meaning they won't get to work until after the standard 9-to-5 day begins, railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

"We would run more northbound service if we had the capacity to do it," Anders said. "But at that time in the morning, most of our trains are only going south."

The Danbury branch carries only 44 reverse commuters each weekday, Anders said. Overall, the branch has about 1,000 riders on a weekday.

The scheduling issue epitomizes the limitations of the Danbury branch and major multimillion-dollar improvements are necessary, said state Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton. "I want people to start thinking more progressively about mass transit," Boucher said. "Improving the line provides flexibility for the whole region and for cities like Norwalk and Stamford." State Department of Transportation officials estimated it could take "hundreds of millions" of dollars to increase capacity on the Danbury branch, but Boucher said it's worth it.

"We were willing to spend billions of dollars on UConn, and I think this would have a bigger impact for the region and the economy," she said. "It gives people a better access to jobs and with what it can do in the long-term, it's not as expensive as people think."

The DOT is evaluating the final pieces of the first phase of a Danbury branch study, said Carmine Trotta, assistant director of intermodal planning for the agency. Possibilities include electrifying the tracks, double tracking or extending the line to New Milford. At a fraction of the cost, the DOT could add "passing lanes" at certain areas that could add some capacity in both directions, Trotta added.

"There's all kinds of things that we can do that we still need to whittle down," he said. "There are more than 100 options."

Challenges the DOT faces, besides financial, have to do with property acquisitions, Trotta said. Widening of the old Route 7 between Norwalk and New Milford is taking away land that could be used for adding more tracks, he added.

Rail advocates hope a decision is made soon on which direction the state favors.

"If they had budgeted this five years ago instead of spending money on studies, they could have done the job by now," said Rodney Chabot, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. "Service on the Danbury branch is pathetic, but if they increased service on the line, there would be potential for more riders and reverse commuters, too. (The state) needs to get on with it."

Officials look into rail upgrades for Danbury line
By Matthew Strozier, ADVOCATE Staff Writer
October 3, 2003

NORWALK -- Elected officials and residents said last night that upgrades to Metro-North Railroad's Danbury branch are vital to combat traffic congestion.  "I've been wanting this for years," said Republican state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, who represents parts of Wilton and Norwalk and attended a forum about the Danbury branch at Norwalk City Hall last night.

Boucher said the state turned its back on the Danbury branch and, as a result, "it's a constant struggle" for branch riders to get needed trains.     A state consultant, Washington Group International, is studying projects to enhance Danbury branch service. Possibilities include track changes, longer passing lanes and replacing diesel engines with electric-powered trains.  The study started recently and the forum was to get public comment. The first phase is expected to be finished in the spring.

Those who attended last night said the state is right to consider infrastructure upgrades, but riders' needs and demographic changes demand a closer look.  "I don't believe that simply improving the travel times with existing service is going to increase ridership," said Martin Overton, Norwalk's assistant director of public works. "What will increase ridership is meeting the needs of those who are not currently on the train."

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said the Danbury branch is particularly important, given population and job growth projections.  The Stamford-Norwalk area expects to have job growth while the Danbury area should get population growth, he said, which will increase demand on the Danbury branch.  Washington Group's study will examine the cost of the upgrades. Engineers last night said "electrification" projects for other train lines have cost $1 million a mile or more.  After the cost is clear, the state will have to decide whether increased ridership is worth the money.

"For the people we are going to get, are we willing to make the investment?"  asked Len Lapsis, a supervising planner for the state Department of Transportation.  The Danbury branch stretches from Norwalk into Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding,  Bethel and Danbury on a curvy route that keeps trains at a top speed of 50 mph.  Usual travel time is 47 minutes from Norwalk to Danbury.

Projects are being considered by the Washington Group that could cut the time by five to 15 minutes.  By improving time or frequency, state officials want to attract riders who now take Metro-North's Harlem Line trains.  In a 1992 study, for example, more than 15 percent of the cars parked at the surveyed Harlem Line stations had Connecticut license plates. The largest  percentage of Connecticut license plates were found at stations in Dover Plains,  Harlem Valley-Wingdale, Brewster, Purdy's and Brewster North.

Electric-power train service ended on the Danbury branch in 1961 during a time of decline for passenger rail service in the state and nationally. When it was electrified in 1925, travel time from Danbury to South Norwalk fell from 55 minutes to 42 minutes. 

Commuters Facing Longer, Lonelier Rides
Published October 16 2006, 8:56 AM EDT

WASHINGTON -- More and more commuters are leaving home earlier, traveling farther and driving alone, says an analysis of commuting trends reported Monday.

The "Commuting in America" study by the Transportation Research Board also found that more commuters are traveling from suburb to suburb -- rather than the traditional commute from suburb to city.

"As more employers move out of cities to be closer to skilled suburban workers, the suburbs now account for the majority of job destinations," the report noted.

The board, part of the National Academies, has analyzed commuting trends since 1986, largely using Census data.

According to the latest analysis, the number of new solo drivers grew by almost 13 million from 1990 to 2000. The number of workers with commutes lasting more than 60 minutes grew by almost 50 percent over that period. And, compared with the previous decade, more Americans are leaving for work between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.

More than 4 million people now work from home, and a growing number of those over age 55 are doing so, the report said, a trend that is expected to continue.

May 9, 10:46 AM EDT
Study: Traffic Jams Just Keep Spreading
By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- If getting stuck in traffic makes you want to roll down your car window and scream, look no further than another of those studies to find the bad news: Gridlock is getting worse. Congestion delayed travelers 79 million more hours and wasted 69 million more gallons of fuel in 2003 than in 2002, the Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Report found.

Overall in 2003, there were 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel for a total cost of more than $63 billion.

"Urban areas are not adding enough capacity, improving operations or managing demand well enough to keep congestion from growing," the report concluded.

Honolulu became the 51st city in which rush-hour traffic delayed the average motorist at least 20 hours a year. The Hawaiian capital joins such congested areas as Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago - and Virginia Beach, Va., Omaha, Neb., and Colorado Springs, Colo.  The report was released Monday, the same day the Senate resumes debate on a bill that would spend $284 billion on highways over the next six years.

But that's not enough money to solve traffic problems, according to highway and transit advocates.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimated it would take as much as $400 billion in federal spending over the next six years to solve traffic problems, based on a 2002 study.  Roads aren't being built fast enough to carry all the people who now drive on them, according to the Transportation Development Foundation, a group that advocates transportation construction.

The number of vehicle miles traveled has increased 74 percent since 1982, but road lane mileage only increased 6 percent, the foundation said.

Tim Lomax, a co-author of the Urban Mobility Report, said the soft economy and slow job growth in 2003 meant that congestion got worse more slowly than it would have during better times.

"The upside of a slowdown in the economy is the congestion didn't get worse very quickly," Lomax said.

In seven of the 13 major cities, the annual delay per rush-hour traveler actually went down slightly: Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York, Houston and Philadelphia.  Lomax said that didn't mean congestion improved throughout each area. It probably just spread out to the suburbs.

"In most of those places, delay actually went up, it just didn't go up as fast as the number of people moving in went up," Lomax said.  Only job loss or major commitments to expand capacity will decrease congestion dramatically, he said.  Refusing to build more roads and transit systems won't discourage population growth, Lomax said.

Take fast-growing Austin, Texas, for example. In 1982, the average peak-hour traveler was delayed by 11 hours a year. That delay increased to 51 hours in 2003, the report said.

"Austin didn't add transportation capacity in the '80s or '90s," Lomax said. "The 'If you don't build it, they won't come' philosophy didn't work."

Congestion can also be reduced by managing traffic better. The report said such techniques as coordinating traffic signals, smoothing traffic flow on major roads and creating teams to respond quickly to accidents reduced delay by 336 million hours in 2003.

Robert Dunphy, senior resident fellow for transportation at the Urban Land Institute, said that half of all traffic delays are caused by car crashes.

"There are huge benefits to getting in there and clearing accidents quickly," Dunphy said.

Commuters also adapt, said Alan Pisarski, author of "Commuting in America" and a transportation consultant.

"People give up and go somewhere else," he said. "Or else they're leaving home at 6 a.m. or 9 a.m."

Commuters agree traffic is a worsening problem

By Mark Ginocchio
Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
December 27, 2004

Traffic is a big problem -- Stamford, Greenwich and Norwalk residents have differing opinions, but they agree on one thing--and it's only getting worse.

Of all of the topics discussed in The Advocate/Greenwich Time How's Life? Poll, nothing brought the three communities together more than the aggravation they experience on the roads.

"The public has been conditioned to believe that congestion is the worst in Fairfield County," said Joe McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County.

"But the truth is, the whole tri-state area has a congestion problem," he added.  According to the survey, which polled 167 people by telephone in each community, 68 percent said transportation was a major problem.

While it's true that traffic problems extend beyond lower Fairfield County, perhaps many residents think there's no light at the end of the tunnel. When asked whether they anticipate traffic getting better or worse in the next five years, 72 percent said it would get worse and 17 percent thought it would stay the same.

Most commutes last 10 to 15 minutes, the survey said, but 54 percent of all respondents said they get caught in traffic several times a week.

Even in Greenwich, where responses to questions about public safety, aesthetics, education and housing were overwhelmingly positive, transportation was identified as a serious problem.

"It's the one bugaboo," said Tom Ragland, Greenwich first selectman from 1995 to 1999.

However, far fewer Greenwich residents cited traffic as "a crisis" than in Norwalk and Stamford. Eleven percent of Greenwich respondents said traffic was a crisis compared with 27 percent in Norwalk and 23 percent in Stamford.  The poll also showed more Greenwich residents take public transportation and work out of their homes. Eighty-one percent of Norwalk residents said they drive to work compared with 78 percent in Stamford and 62 percent in Greenwich.

That also may explain why more than a quarter of Norwalk residents said they get stuck in traffic every day. Twenty-one percent of Greenwich respondents and 16 percent of Stamford residents said they got stuck every day.  The lack of progress in addressing transportation problems may explain why the issue draws universal negativity from all three communities, critics said.

"We don't need anymore studies," outgoing House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, said at a recent Transportation Strategy Board meeting "We know what work needs to be done."

First, there's the highways. More than 130,000 cars a day travel on Interstate 95 between Greenwich and Westport -- and that number is projected to increase by 30 percent over the next 25 years. When I-95 was built more than 50 years ago, it was meant to accommodate 90,000 cars a day.

Several ideas have been considered regarding how to fix the congestion. Former Gov. John Rowland commissioned a study to see how driving in the highway's shoulder would help, but that was deemed hazardous by the state Department of Transportation. There's also been discussion of widening the highway, but the expense and the negative environmental impact has created some skeptics.

Then there's public transportation. Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line carries about 75,000 passengers a day on a 30-year-old antiquated rail fleet that's about 10 years past its life expectancy.  Last winter, rail cars were breaking down faster than they could be repaired, exposing the vulnerability of the system. The state is trying to finance new rail cars for $1.3 billion. The plan is expected to be debated in the upcoming session of the state General Assembly.

"We have people here who are not dealing with this issue effectively," McGee said. "If you deal with it effectively, then some of these things are not impossible."

It's not that the DOT is not trying to come up with solutions, said Jim Boice, interim bureau chief for the Bureau of Public Transportation.

"We're looking to address many of these issues," Boice said. "And we should see some improvements."

To help with I-95, the DOT is moving ahead on adding more auxiliary lanes, which are extensions of on-ramps, to help reduce congestion. One is now in use between exits 10 and 8 on the southbound side of I-95, and a DOT report said accidents have been reduced there by 30 percent.

For the rails, the state recently purchased 26 used rail cars from Virginia Railway Express for $14 million. Those 26 cars will be placed on the Shore Line East Railroad and Shore Line cars will be transferred to the New Haven Line, adding 2,000 more seats.

But transit advocates say these are only short-term solutions.

"It's unrealistic to think there will ever be a complete elimination of traffic," said Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency. "We have to keep working on identifying where there are deficiencies."

The biggest problem seems to be funding. All of the long-term improvements costs billions of dollars the state doesn't have. The TSB outlined a range of options, including raising the gas tax or sales tax and a more controversial plan to reinstate tolls, but nothing is eminent.

There is also a divide on prioritizing transportation improvements. While Wilson said, "the biggest need must be utilizing the railroad," others, such as members of the Greenwich, Stamford and Greater Norwalk Chambers of Commerce, are pushing for widening I-95 because more people use it.

According to the poll, 75 percent of all respondents drive to work while only 11 percent use public transportation.  Rail advocates defended the reasons for sending more funds to the smaller group.

"It's a relatively small percentage, but those are the bread winners of the state," said Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. "They have the most taxable income."  At a TSB meeting held this month in Stamford, about 70 politicians, commuters and business leaders showed up to make the case for better transportation.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, who also serves on the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, said this kind of outcry could be a sign for the days ahead in Hartford.

"If this issues doesn't get resolved soon, it may become the single biggest issue of the 2006 gubernatorial election," he said.

Wednesday, September 9, 2004 Hartford Courant:
Traffic Problems Outpacing Solutions
By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The nation's traffic problems are getting worse faster than they can be fixed even in small cities, according to a new study that calls Connecticut's traffic problems comparable to those of the rest of the United States.

In the 85 biggest U.S. cities, snarled traffic is costing travelers 3.5 billion hours a year, up from 700 million two decades ago, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's annual Urban Mobility Report released Tuesday.

In Connecticut, the traffic tie-ups around Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven were considered of "average" length by the study. Motorists in the Bridgeport-Stamford area experienced about 31 hours annually in delays, in New Haven it was about 22 hours and in the Hartford area it was 17 hours.

A solution to ever-growing traffic jams isn't likely to come soon, transit and highway advocates say...

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates it would take federal spending as great as $400 billion over the next six years to solve traffic problems, according to a 2002 study.

"We just aren't keeping pace," said John Horsley, AASHTO's executive director. "Our capacity improvements - new highways or transit - are growing at 10 percent the rate needed."

Congress, though, is likely to approve billions less than what highway and transit advocates say is required.

The House has agreed to $299 billion over the next six years. The Senate approved $318 billion, but Senate sponsors say President Bush probably will approve a more recent proposal of $301 billion.

While lawmakers wrangle, federal spending remains stuck at the rate it has been for the past six years - $218 billion.

"We need action now," said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. "Congestion is only getting worse."

Using data from 1982 to 2002, the Texas Transportation Institute, part of Texas A&M University, measured just how much worse it is getting.

Over that period, the study recorded the greatest leap in congestion in Dallas, from 13 hours annually in 1982 for the average peak-period traveler to 61 hours annually in 2002, and in Riverside, Calif., from nine hours annually per rush-hour traveler in 1982 to 57 hours on average in 2002.

The average urban commuter was stuck in traffic 46 hours a year in 2002, a 187 percent increase over the 16 hours lost in 1982.

In 54 cities, traffic jams increased 30 percent faster than roads could be built to alleviate them.

Federal Highway Administration chief Mary Peters said part of the problem is that the main source of road money - the federal gasoline tax - was designed to create the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Under that system, every state gets part of the federal dollars collected.

"We're not necessarily applying money where we need to relieve congestion," Peters said. "We can't say to the Montanas and the Wyomings of the world, You're not important.'"

Peters said new ways of paying for roads and transit systems need to be found. The Bush administration is promoting user fees, such as those that would charge motorists to drive in less-congested lanes during rush hours.

Another proposal to solve traffic problems in the short-term is to manage traffic flow better, Peters said.

Tim Lomax, the report's author, said Tampa, Fla., is a good example of a city that has eased traffic in ways other than building roads. Like many cities, it has coordinated its traffic signals, smoothed traffic flow on major roads and created teams to respond quickly to accidents. Such programs have reduced traffic delays in Tampa by 7 percent.

The report is based on data from the states and the Transportation Department.

Regional agency rethinks way to tackle road woes

By Tobin A. Coleman, Staff Writer (ADVOCATE, Monday, November 10, 2003)
In a bid to better coordinate transportation and land-use planning, lower Fairfield County's regional planning agency is considering replacing its appointed board with eight mayors and first selectmen.  Proponents say the change could save communities money and help rein in suburban sprawl that chokes highways and threatens quality of life.

Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell last week made a presentation to the South Western Regional Planning Agency, explaining what she believes are the positive aspects of consolidating the agency with another and having the chief elected officials run the
combined body. It could be organized as a council of governments or elected officials.

The idea has been discussed for several months.  Farrell said her presentation was meant to "get the ball rolling." The topic will come up again at the end of this month at a meeting of the Southwestern Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, the other
agency involved, said Farrell, chairwoman of that group.  A decision is several months away, she said. Most municipalities would have to pass ordinances to make the change possible.

SWRPA, which covers eight towns in lower Fairfield County, is one of 15 regional planning organizations in Connecticut that draws up plans of conservation and development and can be consulted on local land-use applications. Of the 15, five are organized as agencies such as SWRPA. The others are councils of government or elected officials, the two other forms of regional planning
organizations permitted by state law.

The state also has 15 Metropolitan Planning Organizations that work with the regional planning groups. The MPOs comprise the top elected official in each municipality, work as separate bodies and act only on transportation issues.  Farrell is spearheading the effort to merge the MPO and SWRPA, replacing the appointed SWRPA board with the top elected officials that comprise the MPO.  The southwestern MPO covers the same eight towns as SWRPA -- Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Weston and Wilton.

If the groups consolidate, one agency would decide transportation and land-use planning issues. One advantage is that chief elected officials who act as a group carry more clout at the state Capitol, using other councils as an example.  "We already face adversity because we're outside of the Hartford beltway, and we really need every best advantage to make sure we have a presence in Hartford," Farrell said.

Communities in lower Fairfield County must coordinate land-use planning to tackle such common problems as traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing, she said.  The plan has opponents, including outgoing New Canaan First Selectman Richard Bond, who has said it flies in the face of the "Connecticut Yankee" tradition of home rule.

Discussion at a SWRPA meeting last week raised concerns, including whether local officials might have goals that don't make the sense for the region. For example, Farrell said, local officials like to see grand list growth, especially in the commercial sector, to increase property tax revenues.  "They might compromise by putting a big-box retail store in an area that really can't support it," she said, but said such decisions could be checked by other elected officials.

SWRPA Executive Director Robert Wilson said some decisions likely would take a political bent, but with little negative impact.  "I don't think there's any doubt that politics could ultimately play some role in these decisions," Wilson said. "But that's just the fact of life with elected officials.  I don't think it's something they can be faulted for. There still would be eight members making those decisions."

Having the top elected officials work together on land-use planning could strengthen the region's master plan of conservation and development, Wilson said.  "You can't look at transportation and land use separately," he said. "Having a unified policy board looking at land use and transportation would probably be a benefit. It would also to a large degree be more efficient."

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, which covers 20 municipalities including Groton and New London, changed from a regional planning group such as SWRPA to a council of governments about 10 years ago.  Executive Director James Butler worked as a staff planner in the predecessor organization and returned several years ago as director of the new council. He said the change has increased the group's effectiveness.

"It has broadened the scope of what we're looking at," Butler said. "We're no longer just dealing with local land-use issues. Now, we have the chief elected officials coming together, and they look at a whole lot more than just preparing and adopting a plan of development."  For example, the Southeastern Council of Governments is considering a joint purchasing plan, offering professional training for municipalities and forming a citizen's council to train people to respond to emergencies and terrorist attacks, Butler said.

The state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Initiatives released a report last month encouraging the regional planning agencies to move to the council of government model.

State ends surcharge for cab rides at Stamford train station
By Tobin A. Coleman, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
August 6, 2004

HARTFORD -- The state Department of Transportation yesterday ended the $2 surcharge on cab rides at the Stamford train station and set an Aug. 30 public hearing to help come up with a new way to pay for organizing taxis.

The DOT began the surcharge in March to pay for a "starter" to direct cabs and riders at the train station.  But riders complained the charge was too high and cabbies said they lost tips because of it. Officials said the system created too many problems and made little sense, considering the DOT's mission to encourage mass transit.

The state will lose about $150,000 maintaining the system this fiscal year, a DOT official has said.

Last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell issued an order to end the surcharge, but starters continued to collect it this week, angering commuters. Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, and Speaker of the House Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, said they received complaints.

Yesterday, Malloy sent an intern to the train station to verify that the fee was being collected. The DOT did not tell him anything about when it would be lifted, Malloy said.

Rell said yesterday she thought her July 26 order ended the surcharge. She also gave the DOT 15 days to come up with a new system.

It was not clear yesterday why the $2 fee was being charged.

But late yesterday afternoon, DOT Commissioner Stephen Korta announced that it would end last night and will not be re-instated until further notice.

The Aug. 30 hearing will give taxi riders a chance to offer suggestions for a new system, Korta said.

"We want to make sure the new system is supported by our commuters as well as the taxi operators," he said.

Lyons said she doesn't think there will be a replacement system because the Legislature won't put up with it. The DOT has not demonstrated that it needs to pay for a starter to coordinate cabs and customers plus an off-duty Stamford police officer to direct traffic. The surcharge pays for both.

"Do we need a starter? Of course we do, but I don't know why we have to have a police officer," Lyons said. "If there's a problem, fine, then you can bring in enforcement. But I don't think we have a problem."

The state Transportation Fund should pay for the starter because DOT and state Transportation Strategy Board policies are to boost mass transit, she said.

"That's part of encouraging people to take the train," Lyons said.

She spoke with DOT Public Transportation Bureau Chief Harry Harris on Wednesday to relay complaints of commuters who thought the surcharge was supposed to end with Rell's order, Lyons said.

DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said the surcharge is ending within the 15-day window Rell allowed for a new system to begin.

Some Metro-North Railroad riders said they will show up at the hearing with plenty to say.

One, Carmine Passero, said he usually avoided the taxi surcharge.

"I walk down to Washington Boulevard and flag one down," Passero said. "I refuse to pay. But what about those day laborers who come to clean someone's home? For them, $2 is a lot of money...For those who don't have a choice, it's awful."

He will bring a sign to the hearing that reads "The public wants this to end," Passero said.

The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, in the first-floor conference room of the University of Connecticut Stamford campus at Washington Boulevard and Broad Street.

It's about time for the state to act, said McDonald, who months ago lobbied to stop the surcharge.

"The system was inherently flawed and hopelessly confused from the outset, and it's just regrettable that it took the state so long to acknowledge that fact and discontinue its use," he said.

Rail cars added to fleet
By Mark Ginocchio, Greenwich TIME Staff Writer
October 7, 2004
NEW HAVEN -- Despite growing up in Virginia, Gov. M. Jodi Rell says the new rail cars coming to Connecticut this month are not meant to promote her home state.

"I'm sorry they say Virginia on the front," she said. "But the fact is, they're in Connecticut now."

At Union Station in New Haven yesterday, the state unveiled three of the 26 used rail cars purchased last month from Virginia Railway Express. Those cars allow the state to meet its goal of adding 2,000 more seats to its rail systems.
After taking a guided tour, Rell had glowing praise for the new $14 million acquisition.

"They look great," she said while passing by the rows of red and blue seats. "These things are in tip-top shape."

The most noticeable difference is the "Virginia Railway Express" logo tattooed along the top and sides of cars. Inside the train car, the seats are brighter, the floors are cleaner and the overall conditions appear newer than what Connecticut commuters are used to with Metro-North Railroad.

But Metro-North will not benefit directly from these cars. After being reconfigured to run on the state's rail systems, the cars will be placed on Shore Line East Railroad, and 26 Shore Line cars will be switched to Metro-North. The cars from Virginia are 12 years old; the Shore Line cars are a decade old.  Because the Virginia rail cars are diesel engines, they are not compatible with Metro-North.

The state Department of Transportation initially wanted to refurbish all the Virginia cars and remove the logos, but when the governor found out that process could last until February, she demanded the cars be ready to go by the end of this month -- Virginia logos and all.

"We couldn't wait for next year," Rell said. "I told them they had to move it up."

DOT Commissioner Stephen Korta said the cars were only going to be delayed for the refurbishing, and they will be safe to use once they are put into use.  About 15 cars should be ready by the end of the month and the other nine will be here by the end of the year, said DOT spokesman Chris Cooper. The cars are being stored at the New Haven rail yard for routine maintenance.

Rail advocates and legislators praised the governor for aggressively pursuing the Virginia cars, but wanted to remind commuters the new acquisition is not going to solve all of Metro-North's problems.

"It's encouraging that the governor is fulfilling her promise . . . but at the same time my level of joy is tempered," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford. "We're still going inherit old cars from the Shore Line East and I hope what we inherit isn't as decrepit as what we already got."

Last winter, almost one-third of the Metro-North fleet was knocked out of commission because of the cold weather. Many of the cars are 30 years old -- 10 years past their life expectancy.  McDonald said he hopes Rell makes the proposed $1 billion long-term plan to buy new rail cars for Metro-North her top priority when the legislature meets in January.

"People will now have a place to sit because of these cars, but they need to understand that this is nothing more than a stop-gap," McDonald said.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council said commuters should expect a repeat of last winter if the weather gets bad.  "I'm just warning commuters," Cameron said. Until the state gets new cars, "it's no one's faults but the legislators. Not Metro-North. Not DOT. But (Rell) can turn that around."

Poll proposed to take pulse on transit issues
By Mark Ginocchio, Stamford ADVOCATE
September 27, 2004
HARTFORD -- State residents soon could be participating in a new kind of poll asking how willing they are to pay for transportation improvements.
Instead of conducting a phone survey or asking residents to fill out a questionnaire, officials at last week's Transportation Strategy Board meeting proposed a "deliberate poll."

It would ask randomly selected residents to spend a day learning about revenue-generating methods such as a higher gas tax or additional tolls on state highways.  At the end of the session, which could take place in the spring, residents would be broken up into groups and their feedback recorded. The results would be used in the board's funding recommendations to the state Department of Transportation.

Such a poll has never been used for policy making but should be reliable, said board Chairman R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel.  "It gets right down to the level of time and substance," Griebel said. "It will get the opposition to understand the problem and help them propose a solution."

The board is shying away from a traditional poll because the issues are too complicated for "yes" and "no" questions, Griebel said. The goal is to get residents to understand that if they want better roads and mass transit systems, there has to be a trade-off.

"The polling process does not allow you to get into what a 'yes' means and what a 'no' means," he said. "People can hear the word 'tolls' and think, 'Over my dead body" . . . but this will make them think about it."

Past studies show a significant shift in how people think about the issues after they meet, said board member Michael Meotti, president of the Connecticut Policy and Economic Council.  Critics questioned whether public opinion is being manipulated.  "If the survey shifts people's opinions and makes them more moderate, I'm still skeptical how you can take that information to the Legislature," said board member George Giguere, president of Giguere Associates.

There was debate about the selection of participants. Meotti said as many as 400 participants could be paid a small stipend, but one board member questioned whether that would elicit an unbiased response.  "It's not a random sample because you're selecting people who are willing to sell their Saturday," said board member Carl Stephani, executive director of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency.  Stephani wanted to know what the survey would cost. Griebel said the state would have to hire a consultant to conduct the poll.

"If this costs more than a standard survey, I will not support this motion," Stephani said.

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, did not attend the meeting but said he is skeptical.

"I hope the survey is done in a way that is sensitive to the geographic disparities that exist in our transportation problems," McDonald said. "Hartford and New Haven pale in comparison to the kind of problems we have."

While state officials may "find out what's palatable to citizens," they still haven't "defined what they want to achieve," he said.

At their next meeting in October, board members will discuss how much they would be willing to spend on the study and which firms to contact, Griebel said. If the plan is approved, they could start planning the survey by the end of the year.

Northeast sucking wind for $$ to run commuter trains...
Feds bail out city waterline problem
Whidbey Island WA News-Times
December 11, 2004
By Jessie Stensland

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen wrangled $200,000 into the federal spending bill to help Oak Harbor fund a project to move a pair of waterlines near Deception Pass.  Mary Owens, assistant to Mayor Patty Cohen, said the mayor keeps in close contact with state and national legislators, and discussed the waterline project with Larsen.

“The city is very appreciative of the funding received through Rep. Rick Larsen’s office,” Cohen said. “This will have a direct benefit for Oak Harbor citizens and the Navy. Without funding assistance on this highway safety project, the city would have to rely on bonding for the cost difference and passing those costs onto the rate payers.”

Still, Oak Harbor engineer Eric Johnston said the city must come up with a lot of money on its own to fund the entire $1.2 million project. Luckily, the state Public Works Board has recommended that Oak Harbor receive an $850,000 loan at a interest rate of 0.5 percent over 20 years...

Could tolls be resurrected on Interstate 95?  Group suggests higher rates for rush-hour trips
Dec. 1, 2004  CT POST
By ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com

Two years ago former Gov. John G. Rowland killed all discussion of resurrecting tolls on Interstate 95, but now a state transportation advisory board wants to study the viability of just such a plan.

The Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory board made up of Fairfield and New Haven county representatives, endorsed a study of how tolls on I-95 would affect congestion.

The toll idea isn't just a revenue-raising venture, according to Franklin Bloomer, the CCTIA co-chairman. The system envisioned would include an adjustable rate for traveling I-95 depending on the time of day. The idea, Bloomer said, is to raise the cost of tolls during rush hour.

This is called value- or congestion-pricing and is designed to encourage people to stay off the roads unless it's absolutely necessary, he said. "When you have a scarce commodity, you price it appropriately," he said.  Bloomer said the TIA's goal is to get people to take the idea seriously more than two years after it was first suggested.

Back then, the South Western Regional Planning Agency suggested a multi-year study of tolls under a new federal program aimed at reducing congestion.  But Rowland and the state Department of Transportation would not sign a letter of support for the project, which killed it, Bloomer said.  At the time, the study was expected to cost about $300,000, with the state paying $50,000 and the federal government paying for the remainder.

Bloomer said because Rowland resigned and there has been a shakeup at the DOT, the CCTIA felt it was time to move forward with the study.  The CCTIA is one of five advisory boards to the Transportation Strategy Board, which is charged with directing transportation policies for Connecticut.

Melissa Leigh, assistant director of SWRPA, said the original study would have gauged public support for the proposal, explored what kind of technology could be used, how to implement the system and how long it would take before the system paid for itself.

Supporters of tolls have said that the state could set up a purely electronic system that would not require people to stop at tollbooths and pay with cash. These systems use a transponder in the car to communicate with equipment at tolling stations. Most of these types of systems require people to have a credit card that is billed when they travel through tollbooths, but not everyone has a credit card, which could present a problem. Another problem is how to charge out-of-state travelers who are just passing through and don't have the Connecticut transponders.

Leigh said there are a number of new technologies that might allow people without credit cards to receive bills via mail. She also said the system would have to be compatible with surrounding states' systems to allow for easy travel in the region.  Leigh, however, said a lot has changed since 2002. She said Congress still has not passed a new six-year transportation authorization act, which presumably could create funding for the study.

There also are questions about how congestion pricing will be overseen at the federal level, she said.  Ultimately, even if the state embarks on a study, the review process would take at least two years and Bloomer admits that it would probably be several more years before tolls could be on the highways.

Friday, Nov. 26, 2004 Stamford ADVOCATE:
Transit group wants funds for toll study
By Mark Ginocchio

The Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, a sub-group of the Transportation Strategy Board, is looking for state funding to study ways to create a statewide tolling system to help subsidize transportation initiatives.

The study, which is similar to a project endorsed by the South Western Regional Planning Agency two years ago but rejected by former Gov. John Rowland, would examine the feasibility of different types of tolls from the New York state border to the interchange of Interstates 95 and 91 in New Haven.

One possible toll system would charge trucks and passenger vehicles increased rates during peak hours; another option is "gateway tolls," which would charge motorists entering the state in Greenwich and at the 95/91 interchange.

Both systems would use an EZ Pass-type automated system that won't affect traffic flow, TIA members said.

Revenues would go directly into a state transportation fund and be used to purchase new rail cars and for highway improvements.

TIA members would not endorse any specific kind of tolls, but said they hoped the state would provide funding to study possible solutions.

"This is an option that has always needed to be considered," TIA co-chairman Franklin Bloomer said. "Governor Rowland refused to allow DOT to fund this a few years ago but our feeling is now, at this time, without his opposition, the state would be more open to different solutions."

The study could cost as much as $250,000, Bloomer said. Instating tolls to raise money for a transportation fund has long been championed by the Transportation Strategy Board, which has also suggested raising the state's gas and sales tax to generate more revenue.

The TIA will pitch its resolution to the full Transportation Strategy Board when the board meets next month.

In addition to raising more funds, tolls also could deter motorists from cramming the state's over-congested roads, Bloomer said. The state also could pursue lowering fares on Metro-North Railroad during peak hours to offset tolls to serve as an added incentive for commuters to use mass transit, he added.

"That way there will be a real economic difference of one over another," Bloomer said.

TIA members are divided as to what kind of tolls should be used. While Bloomer said gateway tolls are probably not an option, Joseph McGee, vice president of The Business Council of Fairfield County, supports them.

McGee envisions a gateway toll that would charge about $2 for cars and $4 for trucks. With the latest technology, there shouldn't be backups at toll plazas, he said, noting that states such as New Jersey and Delaware have used this system successfully.

"The highway is only getting worse and it's turning into a national embarrassment," McGee said.

He also said The Business Council's support of this initiative proves how critical the traffic problem is: The council was one of the main opponents of tolls 20 years ago.

Legislators said a toll study may not useful because the funding needed for new rail cars has to be found immediately.

"The governor will be introducing her budget in the next two months and the administration said there's going to be a prepared funding mechanism in place" for new rail cars, state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said. "With that in mind, I'm not sure what's the relative worth of studying how to generate revenue this way."

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, said the study is a "distraction," and bonds should be issued to get the rail cars on the tracks as quickly as possible.

TIA members admitted that because a tolling system would probably not go into effect until a few years from now, the money collected wouldn't necessarily go to the next generation of rail cars.

But TIA Co-chairwoman Karen Burnaska said the tolls could still be a vital part of the state's future.

"These other ideas are only looking in the short-term and it's critical that we keep thinking about the long-term transportation plans in this state," she said. "This is all part of a 20-year plan for the transportation in this state. We need to keep that in mind."

Rell OKs DOT contracts reform:
Changes to centralize awarding process
By ROB VARNON, CT POST, Nov. 30, 2004

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has approved the changes the beleaguered Department of Transportation is offering as it attempts to clean up its contracting process.

Rell told the Connecticut Post Monday that the DOT will phase in a slew of changes that will centralize the awarding of contracts for department work to create safeguards against fraud and abuse.

New procedures will include:

Establishing a committee to review and approve the specifications used for commodities and contractual services;

Developing a manual of uniform contract and bidding processes for all divisions and provide training to staff to oversee these processes;

And creating an internal audit process for contract awards and bids among several other procedures.

"This plan lays out uniform steps for every contract, so red flags ought to go up whenever an inconsistency is noted, Rell said.  The governor said that she also wants to ensure that projects will not be slowed down and "every dollar is spent appropriately and for its intended purpose.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said on Friday that he had reviewed the DOT's changes and agreed that they made sense and would help create a better system.  A rail advocacy group heralded the changes.

James Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said because DOT projects are so costly, "anything [the state government] can do to prevent waste is a great idea.  Cameron said he is hopeful that the new system won't slow projects, especially plans to buy new railcars.

Rell has publicly committed to trying to purchase $1 billion worth of railcars to replace the state's aging, breakdown-prone fleet.  But after a decade of putting off the purchase in favor of other transportation projects, the state may now find it hard to come up with the money because it's swamped in debt, according to the Office of Policy and Management.

The genesis for these changes at the DOT actually comes from its commissioner.

Stephen Korta II took over as DOT commissioner in April and his investigation of procedures uncovered several problems. He referred them to Rell while starting to draw up plans to revamp the DOT's operations, according to the DOT and Rell's office.  Rell ordered the state Auditors of Public Accounts to investigate the DOT and has also recommended that the U.S. District Attorney and the State's Chief Attorney investigate the department.

In an October report, the auditors uncovered several cases of contracts being awarded without bids and questioned the DOT's oversight of parking revenues at the Bridgeport and Stamford train stations.  In November, the DOT's highway office was also rocked by allegations of unfair bidding practices and possible corruption.

Investigations into the incidents are ongoing.

Transportation chief suspended
Stamford ADVOCATE, October 23, 2004
By Mark Ginocchio

HARTFORD -- Four longtime state Department of Transportation supervisors, including a bureau chief, were placed on paid administrative leave after an audit found serious irregularities with the handling of state contracts, bank accounts, invoices and bidding procedures, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said yesterday.

In addition, state officials said they asked the U.S. attorney's office last month to conduct a full investigation of activities in the Bureau of Public Transportation, which oversees rail and bus operation, because it receives state and federal funding.

Harry Harris, bureau chief; Raymond Cox, public transit assistant administrator; Carl Rosa, director of concessions operations and revenue; and Robert Sereno, supervising rail officer, all face disciplinary actions.

All have the right to appeal their suspensions, Rell said.

"Findings of the audit indicate a pattern of deception and repeated circumvention of the state's contracting procedures," she said at a news conference in Hartford. "These actions did not occur on my watch, but I will tell you, they will not continue on my watch," she added.

None of the four men could be reached for comment last night. Auditors identified 10 matters of concern from 2000 to this year, including falsified invoices and an unexplained drop in parking revenues at the Stamford train station from October 2002 to February 2003.

The bureau used Bridgeport company Unicco Services Co. on an emergency basis to act as a property manager at the Bridgeport Transportation Center and later at the Stamford station.

The company was later used to manage capital projects at those facilities and at New Haven's Union Station, even though it did not have the expertise in managing capital projects, the audit said.

The audit uncovered falsified invoices for work charged at the Stamford station that was done at the New Haven station, where Harris' office is located. During the period when parking revenues dropped at the station, there was also a significant increase in "no charge" tickets.

The state took over control of the Stamford station from the city in 2000 and made $79 million worth of renovations and security upgrades that were finished earlier this year. The state also expanded the station's parking garage to 2,000 spaces to eliminate waiting lists. That project was finished in February.

A review of 13 projects administered by Unicco, each exceeding $100,000, found a documented bid process was evident in only two instances. For capital projects related to office renovations at the New Haven station, the property manager did not advertise for proposals, the audit said.

Unicco officials said in a statement last night they had cooperated with the Bureau of Public Transportation's audit, including voluntarily providing officials with information. But because the state and the U.S. attorney are investigating, they would not comment further.

The audit also revealed that the bureau did not set lease rates according to the established guidelines. The bureau leases certain DOT-owned properties, such as retail space within its facilities. According to the audit, 19 of 23 leases did not have sufficient support to justify the lease amounts that were determined.

The bureau has an annual operating budget of about $120 million and a $100 million capital budget.

Because the investigation is ongoing, DOT Commissioner Stephen Korta would not say if any of the four employees had financially gained anything during the period examined.

It was revealed earlier this year that a company given $546,000 last year to renovate the New Haven station installed a $20,000 bathroom in Harris' Fairfield home. Harris has said he fully paid for the work.

Sereno is the longest tenured employee, starting in 1966.

James Boice, bureau chief of policy and planning at the DOT, has been named interim bureau chief for public transportation, Korta said.

Local legislators praised Rell yesterday for her actions and said they support her as the investigation continues.

"I think this is a critical interim step, pending the conclusion of these administrative inquiries," state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said in a phone interview yesterday.

McDonald said he was particularly stung by the allegations that revenues were missing from the Stamford parking garage, especially because the state initially refused to shoulder costs of a taxi starter system at the train station.

"We were consistently told that a taxi starter system would be a financial drain on the state. . . . Meanwhile, the money was allegedly being sent backdoored for unauthorized purchases," McDonald said.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, said he was concerned that the allegations would further damage commuter confidence in the railroad.

"It's particularly ironic that the faked invoices, bid rigging and missing funds all seem to involve rail parking, which is precisely the area which needs expansion," Nickerson said. "Their confidence is shaken, but I'm sure their confidence will be restored."

Nickerson, a member of the Legislature's Transportation Committee, said the audit shows the committee needs to extend its oversight of the Department of Transportation and impose its policies, "rather than have the DOT dole out its policy to the committee."

Christopher Bruhl, president and chief executive officer of SACIA, The Business Council of Southwestern Connecticut, applauded the governor's actions. But Bruhl, a longtime friend of Harris -- who was a SACIA member for 20 years before joining the DOT in 1995 -- remained supportive of his former colleague.

"Harry is a good man and has a reputation for his generosity," Bruhl said. "This is a troubling and sad day. If any errors were made, they were errors of judgment and not for personal gain."

Rell, a Republican, called for the audit of the DOT this summer just after she took over from Gov. John G. Rowland, who resigned July 1 amid a legislative impeachment inquiry and a federal corruption investigation into his administration. Rell said she was troubled by the findings of an internal review conducted by Korta that came after allegations of misconduct involving DOT employees.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has been requested to conduct a civil investigation court action if necessary, Rell said.

This goes for other ideas, such as alternative energy for Weston's "superblock" municipal center!
A Fast Train Wins the Mayor’s Support
By David W. Dunlap
May 30, 2008,  5:29 pm

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Friday that he strongly supported the idea of two-hour train service between New York and Washington contained in a bill cosponsored by Rep. John L. Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The mayor made his statement after meeting with Mr. Mica.

The legislation would require the secretary of transportation to solicit proposals for the financing, design, construction and operation of a high-speed rail system between the two cities, with the goal of “achieving less than two-hour express service.” The proposal was described in The New York Sun today. Amtrak’s Acela express trains currently make the trip in 2 hours 45 minutes.

“Soliciting and considering proposals is an important and necessary first step toward determining the feasibility of this initiative,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

“No idea should be ignored or dismissed simply because it is ambitious,” the mayor continued. “That is not how America’s greatest infrastructure marvels — from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Grand Coulee Dam — got built.”

Amtrak Is Offering A New Kind Of Luxury Rail Travel
By SARAH KARUSH | Associated Press
July 15, 2007

WASHINGTON - Mahogany interiors, five-course meals and personal butler service will be available on several Amtrak routes starting this fall, as the national passenger railroad embarks on a new partnership with GrandLuxe Rail Journeys.

The companies have teamed up to attach seven special GrandLuxe cars to regularly scheduled Amtrak trains. More than 90 departures are scheduled from November to early January.

The new service, dubbed GrandLuxe Limited, will be available between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area; Chicago and Los Angeles; and Washington and Miami. Limited trips are also scheduled between Washington and Chicago; from Denver to San Francisco; from Denver to Chicago; and from Chicago to Albuquerque.

For Amtrak, the partnership will be a moneymaker, company spokesman Cliff Black said. He declined to say how much privately held GrandLuxe is paying the government-owned corporation.

The project marks the first time Amtrak is providing regularly scheduled private rail services.

The arrangement allows Evergreen, Colo.-based GrandLuxe, formerly known as American Orient Express, to bring its brand of luxury to a wider group of potential customers.

Tickets for the two- and three-day GrandLuxe Limited trips will range from $789 to $2,499. In contrast, GrandLuxe's regular tours take seven to 10 days and range from about $4,000 to $8,000 per person.

For its longer trips, GrandLuxe operates one 21-car train that consists of old passenger cars from the 1940s and 1950s - a time when train travel had not yet been overshadowed by the interstate highway system and commercial aviation. For the Amtrak partnership, GrandLuxe will split its train in three. Each segment will have a dining car and a lounge car and have room for 47 passengers, Messa said. It will operate completely separately from the Amtrak portion of the train.

The companies said they could continue and expand the partnership if it is successful.

GrandLuxe trains tend to appeal to older travelers, and Messa said she expected the new Amtrak routes to do the same.

Tom Weakley, 64, has ridden GrandLuxe trains 16 times since retiring from a job in the drug wholesaling industry. He said he relishes being pampered on board the train. A butler brings coffee in the morning. In the afternoon, there are cocktails in the lounge car.

The lounge cars themselves vary: One features a baby grand piano; another, used for particularly scenic routes, is surrounded by glass.

Dinners are long and unhurried - an opportunity to make friends with fellow passengers, said Weakley, of Indianapolis.

"Did I mention the complimentary wine?" he added. "And they don't limit you to one glass."

If you go: Make reservations through GrandLuxe at 800-320-4206 or through Amtrak Vacations, 800-USA-RAIL. A $500 deposit is required within seven days of reservation. Websites: Grandluxe Rail Journeys: http://www.grandluxerail.com; Amtrak: http://www.amtrak.com.

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.


Photo  by Tim Cook  •A Providence & Worcester Railroad freight train crosses the Thames River recently. The timetable for repairs to the bridge has been pushed back at least six months.

Major Delay Announced In Railroad Bridge Repair;  Shifting River Bottom Poses Complications For Project
By Katie Warchut
Published on 12/2/2006        
The biggest step in the Thames River railroad bridge replacement project, in which a vertical lift weighing 1,250 tons will be floated into place on barges, will be delayed at least six months because construction has put the bridge out of alignment.  The shifting of the piers beneath the 1918 bridge between Groton and New London is limiting the number of times a day the bridge opens and requiring extra work to stabilize the piers for the new span.

Amtrak and its contractors are replacing the bridge's movable span, now a drawbridge, with a new lift span that will rise like an elevator. The 222-foot towers will rise to about the height of the light posts on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.  A harbor safety working group, made up of representatives from the Coast Guard, Navy, state Department of Environmental Protection and businesses, met in November to monitor the bridge progress.

Because of the wear on the bridge, Coast Guard officials have limited openings to four or five a day, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Alan Blume, though it can still open on demand for government and commercial vessels.  The new date for the bridge span switch is now April 2008. It is planned to take 12 days, with the bridge closing to train service for four days.

Construction has caused unstable sand and gravel under the bridge piers to shift slightly, according to Amtrak officials.  The new bridge requires the building of two towers onto the piers. Crews drove pilings into bedrock and must now complete the task of connecting and stabilizing the piers.

“We have to stop it from moving before we go ahead,” said Peter Finch, Amtrak project manager. “We don't want to set the towers in perfect alignment, only to have it move.”

Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers of New York City took soil samples over the summer, and workers are now pressure-grouting about 150 feet down with a cement-type product to fortify the area around the piers. Another contractor, The Judy Company Inc. of Kansas City, which specializes in structure stabilization, was also brought in this month.

In the meanwhile, limits on the number of openings are in effect.  John Markowicz, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region and a member of the harbor safety group, asked “What happens if the bridge is stuck shut? What are the alternatives?”

Coast Guard and Navy officials did not provide details on any formal contingency plans.  Navy spokesman Lt. Mark Jones said that if the bridge were closed for an extended period of time, it “would have a minimal impact on the majority of submarines” because they can fit underneath.  For security reasons, Jones said he could not comment on whether submarines could be stationed elsewhere south of the bridge, if necessary.

Blume pointed out that Amtrak has been successful in keeping the bridge functioning, using hydraulic jacks to resituate it. He said the Coast Guard is “in the process of developing” a worst-case scenario plan.He said the Coast Guard may need to establish a way to coordinate commercial and, next summer, recreational traffic.

“We recognize there is some potential that ... there may be some impact on the ability for unlimited openings,” Blume said.

Union Station's Future Murky, Say Owners Letter to regional council cites landmark's financial and operational challenges
By Elaine Stoll
Published on 5/10/2006

New London — The financial burdens and operational challenges of running the privately owned Union Station threaten its future as a regional transportation center, say the building's owners.  Co-owner Todd O'Donnell outlined the problems he and co-owner Barbara Timken face in a four-page letter to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments dated April 17.

The letter was discussed at a Council of Governments meeting Monday.

The owners are seeking regional and state partnerships in an effort to maintain Union Station and surrounding property as a transportation hub used by Amtrak, Greyhound Bus Line, Southeast Area Transit, shuttle buses and taxis. The building is also positioned near ferry services.

Most of the concerns detailed by O'Donnell are financial. Unlike other rail stations and transportation centers in the state, Union Station “is not a public entity or quasi-public agency that can raise revenues through taxes or federal transportation grants,” O'Donnell wrote in the letter.

That leaves rent from tenants as the only source of income generated by the 27,000-square-foot building. But leasing to transportation-related tenants has been costly, according to O'Donnell's letter.

Amtrak and Greyhound lease a total of 4,500 square feet in Union Station. But cash-strapped Amtrak failed to pay rent for 10 months in 2004, O'Donnell said. When Amtrak considered moving into a waiting-room trailer along South Water Street, its rent was reduced. Amtrak is now on a month-to-month lease and may downsize in New London, O'Donnell said, calling the rail service provider “a high-risk, high-cost tenant.”

“We cannot underwrite Amtrak's presence anymore. There is a strong likelihood Amtrak will move out of the station lobby,” O'Donnell said.

Greyhound leases less than 1,500 square feet, but its buses use more than 7,000 square feet of space outside that generates no rent, space that could otherwise be used for parking to accommodate other tenants, O'Donnell said.

The Union Station owners want the Council of Governments' help in preserving the building as a transportation center, he wrote in the letter. A public-private partnership could “create an effective, safe and vibrant transportation center that simultaneously accommodates public transportation users and rent-paying tenants.”

“I'm going to do some investigating and see if we can't resolve some of these issues,” said Council of Governments Chairman Keith J. Robbins.  City Manager Richard M. Brown, New London's representative on the Council of Governments, said Tuesday, “I understand some of the concerns that Mr. O'Donnell has raised. As a representative of COG and New London, I'm willing to work with him and anybody else who has concerns about the cost of doing business.”

Local and regional officials emphasized the building's importance to regional transportation.

“I can't imagine that the regional transportation center could exist without Union Station,” said Mayor Beth A. Sabilia, who called O'Donnell's letter to the Council of Governments “the right approach.”

“Union Station has historically served as the region's multimodal station,” said James Butler, COG executive director, who declined to comment on the specifics of the letter. “We've got high-speed ferries, conventional ferries, Amtrak, buses — they're all coming together in New London.”

“Amtrak is reviewing the matter,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said of the letter.

Other transportation entities use Union Station property without paying rent, and their presence costs money, O'Donnell said. SEAT stops on Union Station property and has a kiosk and benches there. “We receive no compensation, yet we pay property taxes on the land that provides a public service and our liability insurance must cover claims for SEAT incidents. We are currently being sued by a SEAT passenger,” O'Donnell stated in the letter.

The cost of insurance for Union Station has risen 350 percent since 2001, O'Donnell said. Most companies don't insure train stations, he said, and the previous insurance carrier for the building canceled the policy last year after train-station bombings in London.

Bathroom security, maintenance and repair constitute “one of our biggest operating expenses,” O'Donnell said. Meant for Amtrak passengers, the bathrooms are also used by SEAT passengers and employees, ferry passengers, taxi drivers and members of the public.

An ongoing, three-year lawsuit the Union Station owners fought against the City of New London as a result of an eminent domain taking in May 2003 in anticipation of a since-abandoned project to build a pedestrian bridge “has been, and continues to be, extraordinarily expensive,” O'Donnell said in the letter.

O'Donnell also has safety concerns, he said in the letter. “As an urban center, New London supports more than its share of the region's indigent population. And Union Station supports more than its share of New London's indigent population. It is an expensive and unsafe situation that calls for a more sophisticated response than hiring a security guard or calling the police, which is all we can do,” O'Donnell said.

He stops short in the letter of listing specific alternatives to operating Union Station as a transportation center, though, “On a net revenue basis retail, office, or commercial tenants are more valuable than transportation tenants to a landlord,” he said.

O'Donnell did not say in the letter how such a partnership might be structured. He asked for assistance with coordination and location of the taxis and buses that use the Union Station property; accessing public-sector funds for maintaining the portion of the building used by the public; developing a business relationship with SEAT; and planning and accessing federal funds for long-term maintenance and improvements.

The Council of Governments could also oversee proposals that could affect Union Station, such as ideas for Thames River shuttle boats, cruise ships, increased Shoreline East traffic or passenger rail service to Norwich, O'Donnell said. “While we welcome all transportation ideas that increase economic activity we cannot be expected to subsidize them,” he said.

“Our primary objective is to work with COG and the state to hopefully keep this 120-year-old train station as a train station and transportation center,” O'Donnell said Tuesday.

Union Station was commissioned in 1885, designed by famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1888 after his death.  Preservationists saved the historic building in the early 1970s from a popular plan by the New London Redevelopment Agency to raze it.

Union Station has been under private ownership since October 1975, when architectural firm Anderson Notter Associates bought it with the help of nonprofit Union Railroad Station Trust.

Amtrak Infrastructure On Brink, DOT Warns;  Rail Service Risks ‘major Failure' If Needs Not Addressed
Published on 11/22/2004

Washington — The national passenger rail service risks a “major point of failure” if infrastructure needs remain unaddressed, the U.S. Department of Transportation warned in a scathing report made public today.

Infrastructure throughout Amtrak's rail system has reached “critical levels,” the report concluded, and “no one knows when such a failure will occur.”

Inspector General Kenneth Mead, who drafted the report, said Amtrak must focus its limited resources on addressing pressing problems rather than spreading dollars across its nationwide network. He chastised Amtrak management for spending millions of dollars to improve its sleeper cars while neglecting deteriorating bridges and tunnels.

Mead urged Amtrak to consider the “unsustainably large operating losses and poor on-time performance” as a “clarion call” for immediate attention.

The report was released shortly after Congress finished work on a major catchall appropriations bill that included $1.22 billion for Amtrak for fiscal 2005. The federal government provided slightly more than that for fiscal 2004.

The IG's report noted Amtrak's success in increasing ridership and addressing costs. For the past two years, Amtrak has postponed improvements along the tracks with the expectation of increased revenue and funding. But time has run out, according to the report, and Amtrak must maximize its current revenue.

The report also calls on Congress to provide Amtrak with clear direction in crafting a strategy that might include reducing service, investing in heavily traveled routes or increasing overall funding. He proposed that federal funding be tied to Amtrak's restructuring of its operations. Amtrak relies on a combination of passenger fees and state and federal subsidies to finance operating costs.

Without an increase in funding, Amtrak will continue to postpone capital projects to stay within its budget, Amtrak President David Gunn said in a written response to the IG's report.

If the budget remains stable, “we will be able to continue to operate the current system, but we have to make cuts in the capital program,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

Cutting service will not produce the payoff to fund capital projects, he said, “because of shutdown costs, labor protection and continuing overhead.” Service cuts also would jeopardize overall congressional support of Amtrak, he said, because lawmakers would object to service being discontinued in their regions.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a longtime critic of Amtrak, said the passenger railroad must make tough choices and focus rail service on short-route corridors and restructure or eliminate long-distance routes.

“If Amtrak won't follow this strategy,” he said in a written statement, “then it is the responsibility of Amtrak's Board of Directors, the secretary of transportation, and Congress to make it happen.”

Mead, however, applauded Amtrak's recent focus on infrastructure on the Thames River bridge in Connecticut and its success in reducing losses.

Amtrak's ridership last year exceeded expectations by nearly 500,000 passengers. Still, revenue decreased by 6.8 percent, and Amtrak has reported losses of $630 million annually for the past three years.

“The bridges are creaking,” said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, an advocacy group. “Every day that passes increases the odds that it will take a catastrophic failure to get this problem fixed.”

Transportation Policy Gets New Leader;  Governor names Kevin Kelleher to head Connecticut's Strategy Board
Published on 6/22/2005

Hartford — Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Tuesday tapped a Fairfield County executive to oversee the board that handles statewide transportation policy.

Kevin Kelleher, president and CEO of Cendant Mobility Services Corp. in Danbury, will replace Nelson “Oz” Griebel as head of the state's Transportation Strategy Board when Griebel's five-year term ends on June 30.  Kelleher's appointment comes as the General Assembly prepares to meet in special session this month to take up some unfinished business, including Rell's $1.3 billion, 10-year transportation improvement package. The bill includes money for 340 new Metro-North commuter rail cars and various highway improvements designed to ease the congestion on Connecticut's highways.

But both Kelleher and Griebel said that $1.3 billion is just a first step toward tackling Connecticut's gridlock problem.

“Our needs as a state continue to grow,” said Kelleher, who lives in Rell's hometown of Brookfield. “I think this is a never-ending journey. I think it's really about the vision, the acceptance of the vision, what people need to recognize with respect to the needs for both today and tomorrow.”

The Transportation Strategy Board was created in 2000 to help come up with a comprehensive transportation plan for the state. In 2003, the group recommended about nearly $5 billion worth of projects, but the state legislature has not approved most of that spending.  The sticking point has been how to raise the necessary revenue.

Rell initially called for increasing the state gas tax to pay for her $1.3 billion initiative. The Democrat-controlled legislature, however, instead proposed a 5 percent tax on the earnings of petroleum companies to 7.8 percent by 2014.The tax is expected to raise about $900 million, roughly the same amount as Rell's plan.

The board has suggested raising the gas tax by 3 cents per gallon over five years to pay for its initiatives. Board members also have asked the legislature to study the feasibility of a toll system to collect more revenue for transportation projects. “Without it, without some new source of funding, all the other things this board has worked on and identified in this 2003 report are not going to become a reality,” Griebel said.

Griebel said he understands why Rell wanted to appoint her own person to chair the strategy board. He said he plans to remain active in transportation issues and hopes to encourage the legislature to study tolls.  New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, whose city sits at the congested intersection of several highways, said the state's transportation strategy is failing.

“It doesn't matter to me who's in charge of the Transportation Strategy Board. It's really irrelevant. The job's not getting done,” DeStefano said.

“I have a port that needs rail and an airport that needs to grow. The highway infrastructure is broken and it's stopping job growth in the city and the region.”

Rell thanked Griebel for his years of service and said the board has made strides since 2000 in identifying key transportation projects that have helped the lives of motorists.  For example, the board has brought highway ramp improvements and lane improvements to the attention of the state Department of Transportation, she said.

“Those are the things that matter, and that's what's happening,” said Rell. “You don't see the little improvements, but they are very, very important to the municipalities.”

The Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board's membership (December 19, 2004 from website - not 100% up to date):  update...

Members present, June 20, 2006: Chairman Kevin J. Kelleher, John Markowicz, Karen Burnaska, Commissioner Korta, Jeffery Klaus, George Giguere, Secretary Genuario, Joseph Maco, and Sean Moore.

Members Absent: Commissioner Abromaitis (represented by Larry Lusardi), Commissioner Boyle (represented by Lt. David Aflalo), Commissioner Gina McCarthy (represented by Deputy Secretary Amey Marrella), Stephen Cassano and John Filchak.

Business Members

Chairman - R. Nelson Griebel, President/CEO, MetroHartford Regional Economic Alliance
John A. Klein, CEO/Chairman, People's Bank
Joseph P. Maco, Vice-President, Sound Pilots
Michael P. Meotti, President, Connecticut Policy and Economic Council
George L. Giguere, President, Giguere Associates

State Agency Members

Hon. James F. Abromaitis, Commissioner, Department of Economic and Community Development
Hon. Arthur J. Rocque, Jr., Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection
Hon. Marc S. Ryan, Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
Hon. Leonard C. Boyle, Acting Commissioner, Department of Public Safety
Hon. Stephen E. Korta, II, Commissioner, Department of Transportation

Transportation Investment Area (TIA) Members

Hon. Stephen T. Cassano - I-91 Corridor TIA
Carl Stephani -  I-84 Corridor TIA
Karen L. Burnaska - Coastal Corridor TIA
John Sarantopoulos - I-395 Corridor TIA
John Markowicz - Southeast Corridor TIA

New early train satisfies thrifty former car drivers
Thursday, May 8, 2008 8:05 AM EDT

WATERBURY -- Kathy Onofrio's commute was leisurely Tuesday on the 5:57 a.m. train to Stamford.

Onofrio, who lives in Seymour, didn't have to deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 95 or the other highway that train passengers refer to as the "Merritt parking lot."

Instead, she read a book and listened to music on her iPod.

Onofrio, a branch manager at People's United Bank in Stamford, appreciates finally being on time for her 8 a.m. meetings and saving about $200 a month in gasoline by not driving.

"This is exciting," she said of the new train time, adding that her company offers reimbursement to people who use public transportation and kicks in about half of the $112 a month it costs to ride the train.

The 5:57 a.m. train from Waterbury to Stamford is the earliest departure Metro-North has offered in anyone's memory. Tuesday marked the seven-car train's one-month anniversary, during which ridership has increased from 36 to 80. The railroad wants to see 87 regular passengers by October or it may cut the early train, several passengers and conductors said Tuesday.

The earliest train previously offered was at 6:40 a.m., and it was usually jam-packed. That train doesn't get to Stamford until 8:16 a.m. after a switch in Bridgeport, and to New York City at 9:06 a.m., later than many people have to be at work.

The 5:57 train goes directly to Stamford and arrives at 7:20 a.m. It pulls into Grand Central Station an hour later, though most passengers from Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley get off somewhere in Fairfield County.

The early train was added after passengers organized petitions and lobbied last year. The petition was the brainchild of Ansonia resident Roger Cirello, who worked with the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council to get Metro-North on board.

"This train speaks to the change we're seeing of people living in the Naugatuck Valley for affordable homes but who still want to have a job in New York City or Fairfield County," said Jim Cameron, chairman of the commuter council.

Not only is the new train helping people save time and money, but officials in Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley hope more convenient transportation will help spur economic development. Proposed downtown revitalization projects like Renaissance Place in Naugatuck and a luxury condominium tower in Seymour are aimed at luring people from Fairfield County. Access to Fairfield County and New York City will be a huge factor, says Renaissance Place developer Alexius C. Conroy, who lives in Fairfield.

Still, the Waterbury route -- which was once in danger of being cut by former Gov. John G. Rowland because of a lack of riders -- has just eight trains daily, while Bridgeport to Stamford has 42 a day.

"I think this will catch on as everybody becomes more aware that this train exists," said Conductor Steve Haggarty of the early morning Waterbury line. "People are excited about it."

One of those people is Tim Freehoffer of Waterbury. When he got his job as a facilities manager for a resort in Greenwich two-and-a-half years ago, he drove because gas was $1.79 a gallon. As of Tuesday, it was $3.81.

"As it started to climb and climb, I was paying $120 a week just to get to and from work," he said. Now he pays $132 a month for the train. "This is a good thing; I hope they keep it."

Still, Freehoffer believes services can be improved.

He believes if Metro-North simply sold coffee on the train they could increase ridership dramatically. He also believes an electric train rather than a diesel-powered engine would be more reliable. And he echoed several passenger complaints that there are not enough trains to get home in the evening. Anyone who gets out of work at 5 p.m. has just two options that get to Waterbury at 6:51 p.m. or 9:18 p.m.

"Something in between would be nice," he said.

Freehoffer believes Waterbury officials could do more to increase ridership, such as patrolling the parking area near the train station, where his car was once vandalized. Now, he drives to Beacon Falls and hops the train there because it's "much safer."

Cameron believes more people will follow Freehoffer's lead and that a goal of 87 passengers will be easily reached by October.

"With gas prices going up, people are really starting to see the savings," he said. "And there's no reason to believe it's going to get any better any time soon."

Transit's Time Is Now
Hartford Courant editorial
February 19, 2006

Our love for government services is exceeded only by our reluctance to pay for them - or so it has always seemed. But for the state's inadequate transportation system, the time has arrived for an investment equal to the problem.

As studies and personal experience make abundantly clear, highways are increasingly congested, the rail system is antiquated and buses are largely an afterthought. The result is a slow-motion crisis that threatens the state's quality of life and economic well-being.

Governor M. Jodi Rell and House Speaker James A. Amann have markedly different responses.

Mrs. Rell last year proposed, and the legislature adopted, a 10-year, $1.3 billion transportation initiative. The plan includes money for 342 new passenger rail cars, a rail maintenance facility, 25 new buses and various highway improvements. She proposes commuter rail service on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line and announced support for the Hartford-New Britain busway. In her State of the State address Feb. 8, she added another $344 million to the transportation pot.

Mrs. Rell can be credited with making the largest single investment in transportation in more than two decades. The thrust of her initiatives is toward transit, also welcome. She may rightly have believed that an incremental approach was the only way to get the ball rolling. But much of the initial $1.3 billion is devoted to making up for deferred maintenance, not expanding the system.

Mr. Amann's proposal - an impressive $6.2 billion, 10-year plan to fund a variety of transportation improvements - has the proper magnitude. Connecticut needs to make the kind of investment he envisions. The state's Master Transportation Plan in 2003 said the state faced a $3.27 billion shortfall just to keep the existing system up to speed.

But the speaker's plan aims toward implementing the recommendations of the Transportation Strategy Board, which lean toward highway construction projects (although the list includes rail, bus, air and water transit investments).

There is wisdom in both Mrs. Rell's and Mr. Amann's approaches. What is lacking is coordination and planning.

Indeed, the strategy board recognized in its 2003 report that lists of projects were not enough to revamp the state's transportation system. There must be a plan, a strategic overlay that ties the projects together. The report calls for the creation of an enhanced state planning office, which would use the State Plan of Conservation and Development as the basis for improving the state's transportation options. This is an essential step, not yet taken.

The benefits would be plentiful. For example, if the state decides to upgrade its rail and bus lines, it makes sense to encourage transit-oriented development and affordable housing at the same time.

A state planning office could earmark the new $100 million affordable housing fund for housing around transit stops. A state development authority could help towns relocate businesses that happen to be in the right-of-way. The potential for development around transit stations, something happening all over the country, is a way of selling the projects to towns, who sometimes like to see things remain as they are.

This is an auspicious time for transportation in Connecticut. It is the first time in more than two decades that we've had a governor and legislative leadership who not only recognize the problem but are willing to invest in transportation improvements. The state must do it now, and do it right, or become an economic cul-de-sac. 

The Transportation Initiative:  Gov. Rell, legislature, are on the threshold of making long overdue investments in public transportation, roads.
DAY editorial
Published on 6/13/2005

One the most important matters of business before the legislature didn't quite make it out of the regular session but is near the top of the agenda for the special session later this month: Gov. M. Jodi Rell's transportation initiative, which will modernize the Metro North commuter line and begin to address other transportation needs in the state.

The governor had some harsh words for the legislature for failing to finish work on the plan, but there's no reason to believe the plan won't emerge intact in the special session. Leaders have agreed to the broad outline of the proposal, including an alternative method to what the governor had proposed for financing it.

The governor had wanted to employ the gas tax. The Democrats have chosen instead to use a gross receipts tax on petroleum products, which would be imposed on retailers.

This is one of several weaknesses in the proposal. Retailers likely will pass along the gross receipts tax to customers anyway. In addition, the tax will be tied to the price of gas and other petroleum products, which fluctuate so it could fall short of raising the money the state needs for the projects.

Another weakness is that the plan doesn't address many needs outside of Fairfield County, including southeastern Connecticut. The theory is that that is where the needs are most pressing, and that additional money can be invested when plans are further developed in other parts of the state. For example, the widening of Interstate 95 west of New Haven is in the very early planning stage.

But that points to another weakness. The state Transportation Strategy Board, in a detailed study of the state's transportation needs, pointed to more than $5 billion in projects that will be necessary, but the governor's plan only includes about $1 billion in work. The plan that is taking shape in the legislature provides funds for only those immediate projects, which include replacing much of the rolling stock of Metro North. The fear on the strategy board is that it won't be easy to raise additional funds for future projects, and the board has recommended looking into additional sources of funds, including tolls.

This would be a stronger plan if the legislature included a study into the use of tolls. Transportation experts point out that the fuel-related taxes will become less reliable sources of transportation funds as automobile manufacturers shift away from petroleum fuels and public transportation assumes a larger role.

But the strengths of this plan greatly outweigh the weaknesses. This is the first major thrust in transportation investment in two decades, and one that is long overdue. It is to the credit of the governor and the legislature that they are on the verge of carrying this initiative forward.

From earlier in the Long Session...
Rell's transportation plan moves forward
By Mark Ginocchio
March 29, 2005

HARTFORD -- Gov. M. Jodi Rell's $1.2 billion proposal to buy new rail cars and improve highways gained overwhelming approval yesterday from the Legislature's Transportation Committee.  The panel approved 10 transportation bills in a three-hour session focused primarily on Rell's proposal.

Three committee members voted against the governor's plan: state Sen. Thomas Colapietro, D-Bristol; state Rep. Brian O'Connor, D-Clinton; and state Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon. Twenty-six members voted in favor of the bill.  The three dissenting legislators were concerned Rell's proposal didn't provide enough transportation funding for parts of the state.

Rell's plan focuses heavily on lower Fairfield County, with $667 million slated for 343 new rail cars, $187 million for Interstate 95 improvements and
$300 million for a rail maintenance facility. The state's other highways would receive $150 million collectively.  Committee members took issue with Rell's proposal to raise the gasoline tax 6 cents over the next eight years to fund the transportation improvements. Legislators feared areas that would not benefit directly from the transportation improvements may not be in favor of a higher gas tax.

Despite the dissenting votes, Rell was encouraged by the committee's actions.

"I appreciate the Transportation Committee's overwhelming support," she said in a statement yesterday. "We have talked about transportation long enough. It is now time to deliver for the passengers and drivers of Connecticut."  Transportation Committee co-chairman state Sen. Biagio "Billy" Ciotto, D-Wethersfield, also credited the overall cooperation and bipartisanship of the committee for the bill's passage.

The bill must pass through the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee before it goes to the full House and Senate for a vote.

Other bills approved by the committee yesterday dealt with restricting the operation of mini-motorcylces, banning hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle and increasing fines for trucks that travel illegally on the Merritt Parkway.  With Rell's proposal out of the committee's hands, members said more legislators will need convincing and said the bill may be revised.

"We just have to let other parts of the state know they won't be left behind," said state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee. "In some shape or form, someone is going to have to pay for this."

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said, "lifting a billion-dollar balloon off the ground is a hard job" and the bill's supporters have a challenge.

"There is a perception that there is a geographical bias," he said. "While this bill does focus first on southwestern Connecticut, it is in no way exclusive."  Though most committee members preached about the bill's equity, some from lower Fairfield County were not ashamed about where a majority of the money was headed.

"We have proven that this is the place of greatest need," said state Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton. "We have the volume and the demand."  Some lawmakers believe the debate about the bill's equity could be a benefit for the entire state.

"The only concern in the Transportation Committee was that it was a fine bill, but does not go far enough," said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, also the ranking Republican senator on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

"This is a good problem to deal with," he added. "Yes, there are a number of members who want projects in their districts included. We can certainly have that conversation, but that puts us in a far better posture than we've been in previous years where we've had no bill."

Sunday Feb. 13, 2005 Stamford ADVOCATE:
Lawmakers eager to join transportation panel
By Mark Ginocchio

Fairfield County legislators say they hope their increased presence on the state's Transportation Committee will have a major impact on alleviating the problems on the roads and rails that have plagued commuters.

Of the committee's 31 members, 15 legislators are from Fairfield County, one of the largest contingents from the region in many years, said state Sen. Biagio "Billy" Ciotto, D-Wethersfield. During last year's session, eight members hailed from Fairfield County.

"What we have is a lot of new legislators who are concerned about transportation. What better place to address those concerns than on this committee," said Ciotto, who has co-chaired the committee for the past eight years.

Between the aging New Haven Line that has some rail cars that are 30 years old -- 10 years past their life expectancy -- and a congested Interstate 95, there are plenty of reasons county legislators are clamoring to get on the committee, said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich.

"It's the arterial sclerosis of this region," said Nickerson, who has served on the committee since 1986. "We all recognize that one of the main arteries of this state is I-95, from the shore line to the Rhode Island border."

Several legislators said they pushed to get on the committee this year because the transportation issue is critical to Fairfield County.

"I definitely fought to be on this committee and to get on this issue," said State Rep. Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, a first-time member. "We all listened to our constituents and we know what their complaints are."

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said the rush of Fairfield County legislators to the committee wasn't "any kind of organized effort," but simply an effort by legislators to keep their campaign promises.

"All of us campaigned on transportation," said McDonald, another first-timer to the committee. "It would be disingenuous of us if we didn't try to fulfill it."

Though the numbers are in Fairfield County's favor, the goals of the committee are to serve the entire state's needs, Ciotto said. Topics of discussion during the current session have included banning open alcohol containers in motor vehicles, extending hours at the Greenwich truck weigh station, and requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Once the bills leave the committee, Fairfield County's influence may dissipate as they move to votes in the full Assembly, Ciotto added.

"Everyone votes the same once it gets out of committee," he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has made Fairfield County's transportation problems a statewide issue, said state Rep. Chris Perone, D-Norwalk. Rell's budget proposal released last week includes a $1.3 billion transportation plan that would make multi-million dollar improvements to the state's highways and replace the New Haven Line rail fleet.

"The governor's leadership is helpful," Perone said. "She has made it a statewide priority."

Officials from transportation organizations supporting Fairfield County's interests said they are optimistic Rell's proposal and the large presence on the transportation committee will result in overdue changes in the region.

"It's very significant because they are the key committee in controlling" transportation legislation, said Franklin Bloomer, co-chairman of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area.

"I think this is a tremendous benefit for all of Fairfield County," said Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency. "South Western Connecticut has really been underrepresented in the past. Legislators from Fairfield County understand the economy here so this is very encouraging."

Captain says tour group on doomed boat was bigger than normal

Oct 7, 6:38 PM EDT

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (AP) -- The captain of the tour boat that capsized Sunday, killing 20 elderly tourists on a fall foliage tour, said the 47 passengers aboard that day were an unusually large group. Richard Paris, 74, told The Associated Press Friday he was used to seeing tour buses with 30 to 35 people disembark at the Lake George pier before piling aboard the Ethan Allen.

He was at the wheel Sunday when the Ethan Allen flipped over, spilling its passengers and Paris into the calm, 68-degree waters of this Adirondack lake. He initially told investigators he was trying to steer out of the wake of another boat when the boat went over. Paris wouldn't discuss specifics of the accident but said: "They've had a pretty good description of the accident in the paper."

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are looking at whether the boat was unstable or shouldn't have been certified to carry up to 50 people. They also are studying traffic on the lake that day and human factors. Taking a break from cleaning the gutters on his neat, one-story home on a dead end street off one of the lake's bays, he said he had been instructed not to talk about the accident.

"Our corporate attorney says no. Our boss says no, so I guess it's no," he said. "They don't want me to talk about it. I'd as soon not. Let the attorneys take care of it. I guess that's what they're being paid for." Paris said he's received letters of support since the accident.

"I've gotten cards from people I haven't seen in 20 years saying they're all on my side," he said. "Should be, I haven't done anything wrong." Paris, wearing a ball cap, gray sweat shirt and faded blue jeans and smoking a cigarette, denied media reports that he is an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic.

"I like a beer," he said. "Everyone likes a beer. They put that stuff in the newspapers, there goes my reputation. Everybody knows I like a beer but I'm not a barfly." Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland has said he interviewed Paris right after the accident and determined he lacked reasonable cause to test for alcohol, as per state law.
Paris has since voluntarily given a blood and urine sample to federal investigators who will test for alcohol and drugs. Cleveland supported Paris' account that the boat was more crowded than usual on Sunday.

"You generally don't see that many people on it," he said Friday. Cleveland said investigators have begun turning over material to the district attorney's office to put it before "another set of eyes." He added that was a normal procedure for a fatal incident and did not mean a criminal case was being contemplated.

Paris has experience with bigger tour boats. He piloted the 150-passenger Defiance, another boat belonging to Shoreline Cruises, for about 20 years until they retired that boat in 2004. Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said the village's tour boat captains and pilots are "an extremely important segment" of the local tourism industry.

"In truth, they are ambassadors to the folks that come here," said Blais, who knew Paris from Blais' days as a police officer for Lake George.

"You would never think something like this would happen to us," said Blais as he took a break from writing letters to the survivors and families of those killed in the tragedy. Investigators were hoping to put the Ethan Allen back out on Lake George this weekend for testing. It was back in the water briefly Thursday.

"It appears to be watertight," said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Part of the problem could be that the boat was never subjected to stability tests after modifications that increased its weight because state boating regulations didn't require them, Rosenker said Thursday.

The Ethan Allen was carrying a wood-Fiberglas canopy, instead of its old canvas one, and a bigger engine than when it was first put into New York waters in 1979. From 1966, the year it left a Rhode Island boatyard, until 1979, it worked Connecticut waters. Roger Compton, dean of the Webb Institute of naval architecture and marine engineering, said: "If you're adding weight two things happen. You sink deeper in the water and, depending where you add it, you can be significantly raising the center of gravity, which is usually detrimental to stability."

Tests on a boat similar to the Ethan Allen had to be abandoned Wednesday after the boat leaned over dangerously with only a fraction of the weight it was approved to carry.

State rules also allowed the operators of the Ethan Allen to store the boat's life jackets in what Rosenker said was a locker, even though that prevented passengers from getting to them easily. None of the 47 passengers or the captain was wearing a life jacket. Rosenker said some survivors probably grabbed the orange vests as they popped to the surface.

Gov. George Pataki unveiled proposed legislation Friday that aimed make New York's boating laws as strict as federal law.

Shoreline Cruises, the tour operator, released a statement saying the Ethan Allen was in compliance with all state guidelines regarding passenger limits at the time of the accident. The boat passed its most recent inspection in May.

Big Dig Lawsuit Settled for $400 Million
Hartford Courant
By DENISE LAVOIE | AP Legal Affairs Writer

2:16 PM EST, January 23, 2008

BOSTON - Contractors who worked on the long-troubled Big Dig highway project have agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the state over a fatal tunnel ceiling collapse and to cover the costs of leaks and design flaws.

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consortium that oversaw design and construction of the nation's costliest public works project, has agreed to pay $407 million, while several smaller companies will pay about $51 million collectively, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in announcing the deal.

Under the agreement, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff would not face criminal charges in the July 2006 Interstate 90 tunnel ceiling collapse that killed Milena Del Valle, 39, of Boston. She was crushed by 26 tons of concrete as she and her husband drove to Logan International Airport.

Boston's $14.8B Big Dig Finally Complete
Hartford Courant
Published: December 25, 2007
Filed at 1:31 p.m. ET

BOSTON (AP) -- When the clock runs out on 2007, Boston will quietly mark the end of one of the most tumultuous eras in the city's history: The Big Dig, the nation's most complex and costliest highway project, will officially come to an end.

Don't expect any champagne toasts.

After a history marked by engineering triumphs, tunnels leaks, epic traffic jams, last year's death of a motorist crushed by falling concrete panels and a price tag that soared from $2.6 billion to a staggering $14.8 billion, there's little appetite for celebration.

Civil and criminal cases stemming from the July 2006 tunnel ceiling collapse continue, though on Monday the family of Milena Del Valle announced a $6 million settlement with Powers Fasteners, the company that manufactured the epoxy blamed by investigators for the accident. Lawsuits are pending against other Big Dig contractors, and Powers Fasteners still faces a manslaughter indictment.

Officially, Dec. 31 marks the end of the joint venture that teamed megaproject contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to build the dizzying array of underground highways, bridges, ramps and a new tunnel under Boston Harbor -- all while the city remained open for business.

The project was so complex it's been likened to performing open heart surgery on a patient while the patient is wide awake.  Some didn't know if they'd live to see it end.  Enza Merola had a front row seat on the Big Dig from the front window of her pastry shop -- stacked neatly with tiramisu, sfogliatelle and brightly colored Italian cookies -- in Boston's North End.  During the toughest days of the project, the facade of Marie's Pastry Shop, named after her sister, was obscured from view. The only way customers could find the front door was along a treacherous path through heavy construction.

''For a while we thought we weren't going to make it,'' Merola said. ''But you know, we hung in there.''

The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project -- as the Big Dig is officially known -- has its roots in the construction of the hulking 1950's era elevated Central Artery that cut a swath through the center of Boston, lopping off the waterfront from downtown and casting a shadow over some of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Almost as soon as the ribbon was cut on the elevated highway in 1959, many were already wishing it away.  One was Frederick Salvucci, a city kid for whom the demolition of the old Central Artery became a lifelong quest.

''It was always a beautiful city, but it had this ugly scar through it,'' said Salvucci, state transportation secretary during the project's planning stages.

Rather than build a new elevated highway, Salvucci and others pushed a far more radical solution -- burying it.  Easier said than done.  Those who built the Big Dig would have to undertake the massive highway project in the cramped confines of Boston's narrow, winding streets, some dating to pre-Colonial days.

Of all the project's Rubik's Cube-like engineering challenges, none was more daunting than the first -- how to build a wider tunnel directly underneath a narrower existing elevated highway while preventing the overhead highway from collapsing.  To solve the problem, engineers created horizontal braces as wide as the new tunnel, then cut away the elevated highway's original metal struts and gently lowered them onto the braces -- even as cars crawled along overhead, their drivers oblivious to the work below.

It was the just one of what would be referred to as the Big Dig's ''engineering marvels.''

The Big Dig's long history is also littered with wrong turns -- some unavoidable, others self-inflicted.  One of the biggest occurred in 2004 when water started pouring through a wall of the recently opened I-93 tunnel under downtown Boston. An investigation found the leak was caused by the failure to clear debris that became caught in the concrete in the wall during construction. Hundreds of smaller drips, most near the ceiling, were also found.

Some delays were unrelated to construction.

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge -- the project's signature element -- went through dozens of revisions as designers labored to come up with the most practical and elegant way to cross the Charles River.

But the project's darkest day came near the end of construction in 2006 when suspended concrete ceiling panels in a tunnel leading to Logan Airport collapsed, crushing a car and killing Del Valle, 39, a passenger in the vehicle driven by her husband.  The tunnel was shut down for months as each of the remaining panels was inspected and a new fastening system installed. A federal investigation blamed the use of the wrong kind of epoxy and the Massachusetts attorney general indicted the epoxy manufacturer.

Four workers also were killed working on the project. During peak construction, more than 5,000 workers labored daily on the project.  The project's escalating budget also became an unwanted part of its legacy.  In 2000, former Big Dig head James Kerasiotes resigned after failing to disclose $1.4 billion in overruns. A frustrated Congress capped the federal contribution.

''It never should have taken so long. It never should have been so expensive,'' said former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who left office just as major construction was to begin.

For those who grew up with the noise and clutter of the old Central Artery, the transformation of downtown Boston is still a wonder to behold.  The darkened parking lots under the old elevated highway have been replaced by parks, dubbed the Rose Kennedy Fitzgerald Greenway after the mother of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who grew up in the North End. Buildings that once turned their backs to the old Central Artery are finding ways to open their doors to the parkway.

Mayor Thomas Menino, who presided over the city during most of the construction, said that for the first time in half a century, residents can walk from City Hall to the waterfront without trudging under a major highway.

''When I came into office in 1993, people said your city isn't going to survive,'' he said. ''Now we have a beautiful open space in the heart of the city. It knits the downtown with the waterfront. All those dire predictions by the experts didn't come true.''

Drivers also give the Big Dig a big thumbs up.  A study by the Turnpike Authority found the Big Dig cut the average trip through Boston from 19.5 minutes to 2.8 minutes.

''Before we drive bumper to bumper, but now they are moving very well,'' said Gamal Ahmed, 38, who has been driving a cab in Boston for seven years. ''Sometimes we are stuck, but not like before.''

For Salvucci, who warns gridlock could soon return without a major commitment to public transportation, the Big Dig -- for all its whiz-bang engineering -- was always second to the city itself.

''The Big Dig is not a highway with an incidental city adjacent to it. It is a living city that happens to have some major highway infrastructure within it and that highway infrastructure had to be rebuilt,'' he said. ''This was not elective surgery. It had to be done.''

Company Indicted On Manslaughter Charge In Big Dig Tunnel Death
By Steve Leblanc, Associated Press Writer       
Published on 8/9/2007

Boston — The company that provided the epoxy blamed in the fatal Big Dig tunnel collapse was indicted Wednesday in the death of a motorist crushed by ceiling panels.

Powers Fasteners Inc. was charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, Attorney General Martha Coakley said. The Brewster, N.Y.-based firm is the only company involved in the construction and design of the tunnel to be indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury, Coakley said, noting that the investigation remains open.

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board released last month found the July 10, 2006, collapse could have been avoided if designers and construction crews had considered that the epoxy holding support anchors for the panels could slowly pull away over time.

Milena Del Valle, 39, was killed when 26 tons of concrete panels and hardware crashed from a tunnel ceiling onto her car as she and her husband drove through the westbound Interstate 90 tunnel. Her husband crawled out of the rubble with minor injuries.

Prosecutors said Powers Fasteners knew the type of epoxy it marketed and sold for the nearly $15 billion project was unsuitable for the weight it would have to hold, but never told project managers.

Jeffrey Powers, president of Powers Fasteners, said the company was unfairly targeted and the wrong product was used in the ceiling, even though his company had filled an order for a different epoxy. The only reason the company was charged was because “we don't have enough money to buy our way out,” Powers said in a statement.

The decision to indict Powers doesn't mean other companies involved in the construction are off the hook, Coakley said. No individuals were indicted, but Coakley did not rule that out in the future.

The maximum penalty for a company charged with manslaughter in Massachusetts is $1,000. Coakley said there may need to be changes in the law, saying the criminal statute may be “wholly inadequate.”

Big Dig 'gadfly' catches attention with tunnel troubles 
By KEN MAGUIRE, Associated Press Writer    
Posted on Jul 29, 12:06 PM EDT
BOSTON (AP) -- Vincent Zarrilli knows a thing or two about lost causes.

His proposal to convert an aircraft carrier to a prison went nowhere. And his calls for an alternative to the Big Dig went unheeded, as did his desire to create a scorecard to rate Massachusetts judges.

But his latest crusade finally has someone listening: The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority launched a safety review of the Tip O'Neill Tunnel this month after the 75-year-old man from Charlestown used the state's own figures to show a high number of accidents in that tunnel.

"Sometimes you have to check our government officials, despite the difficulty involved," Zarrilli said.

The Turnpike Authority said it will conduct an engineering analysis to see if changes are needed, such as lowering the speed limit or installing better signs in the tunnel, which snakes two miles under downtown Boston and is a key feature of the $14.79 billion Big Dig project.

There were 614 vehicle crashes in the O'Neill tunnel from the opening of the tunnel through February of this year, according to MTA statistics. In 2001, Zarrilli wrote a letter to The Boston Globe warning the tunnel, without breakdown lanes, was prime for a high number of crashes.

He wants to see the tunnel speed limit reduced from 45 mph to 30 mph.

"Slow the damn traffic down. It's not going to break anyone's heart," he said.

The traffic safety crusade is just one of Zarrilli's latest quests, and certainly among his most successful.

For years, he has filed legislation in Massachusetts to create a sort-of scorecard on judges. That began after he - acting as his own lawyer - disputed an auction of his commercial property after getting divorced. His idea to have Massachusetts to annually publish a list of judges who have had their cases reversed on appeal - on the theory that judges don't want public inspection because they hate to be reversed - has gone nowhere.

After reading about a shortage of prison space in the late 70s, Zarrilli proposed converting an aircraft carrier into a prison, and docking it near Deer Island in Boston Harbor. It gained some support from the Boston City Council, but never went further.

"There are all kinds of political activists. Vincent was always a loner," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "People used to call him a gadfly."

Anderson said she got involved in efforts to reduce taxes in Massachusetts because her individual efforts were fruitless: "The individual taxpayer or citizen doesn't really have a voice."

But that's OK with Zarrilli.

"If it were a common thing that a lot of people were involved in, it would not be of interest to me, because there's no uniqueness in it," he said.

In the 1960s and 70s, he operated a string of gourmet kitchenware shops, before a recession forced him into bankruptcy protection. He still sells his Boston bean pot and other items online. He fell into that line of business after discovering a niche market selling kitchenware as a part-time job during college.

There's a story behind his "French Chef" omelet pan, and to no surprise it involves a dispute. In the early 60s, Zarrilli befriended Cambridge chef Julia Child, who was launching "The French Chef" on public television. He provided her with a heavy cast aluminum pan, which she used on the show.

The station and Zarrilli "got into the legal aspects" of his use of "French Chef." He said it ended amicably, with him copywriting the name "and I stayed in touch with Julia over the years."

Zarrilli's daughter is a member of the Turnpike Authority board. Mary Connaughton said she and her father "approach things differently."

"I take a more conventional approach. He takes a more extreme approach," said Connaughton, an outspoken member of the board who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney. "Nothing that he tries to accomplish is easy. He's passionate about the causes that he fights for. If there is one gene I did inherit from him it's the gene to challenge the status quo."

Connaughton is not sold yet on her father's findings about traffic problems. She's calling for an independent review of the data. Both father and daughter say they didn't consult on the matter.

"He's a very independently minded person, and likes his independence," she said.

And part of an older story...note the reference to
"last hard hat won't get removed until 2005" - it opened even later than that - in 2006!

Boston's Dirty Secrets

The Mammoth Big Dig Highway Project Shortchanges Transit

by Jim Motavalli

Depending on who you ask, Boston's Big Dig, a mammoth undertaking designed to replace the city's aging central highway infrastructure with an eight-lane underground tunnel, is either one of the wonders of the known world or a colossal boondoggle, the biggest waste of $13.6 billion ever conceived. Not up for debate, however, is that the project has run massively over its original $2.5 billion budget, and is now so late that the last hard hat won't get removed until 2005, 14 years after the first spade went into the ground.

So big is the Big Dig that, according to Dick Bauer, a Greater Boston Legal Services attorney and bike enthusiast, "There's now no money in Massachusetts for any other transportation project." This is the largest public works project in U.S. history...READ MORE BELOW.

State claims negligence in $ suit vs. Dig bigwigs
By Jessica Fargen
Boston Herald Health & Medical Reporter
Monday, November 27, 2006 - Updated: 12:48 AM EST

The state is slamming Big Dig designers, builders and contractors with a mega-lawsuit today alleging their negligence led to the fatal tunnel collapse this summer and that the state is entitled to millions of dollars to cover the fallout.
Attorney General Tom Reilly is expected to file a civil suit today in Suffolk Superior Court alleging gross negligence, negligence and breach of contract against six companies involved in the “design, installation and oversight of the I-90 tunnel collapse,” according to a state official familiar with the suit.   The source said they are seeking unspecified damages for repairs, loss of tunnel use and toll revenue and other economic factors, which could add up to millions of dollars.
The suit accuses embattled Big Dig manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, general contractor Modern Continental and designer Gannett Fleming Inc. of negligence and breach of contract, according to the official. Modern Continental and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff are also accused of gross negligence.   Andrew Paven, a Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff spokesman, said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
“We’ve always said we stand behind our work,” he said.   The makers and distributors of the epoxy, a sort of superglue used to attach bolts to a concrete roof and support 4,000-pound concrete ceiling panels, are also named.  Inspections after the July 10 collapse that killed Jamaica Plain mom Milena Del Valle showed that hundreds of bolts had come loose throughout the connector.
Sika Corporation, manufacturer of the epoxy, Powers Fasteners, the epoxy wholesaler, and Newman Renner, Colony Inc., the epoxy distributor, are accused of negligence.   The suit is filed by the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Massachusetts Highway department.
“The damage done here was immense, first and foremost in terms of the cost of human life and the tragedy and also the cost to the taxpayers,” the state official said.

Reilly has also convened a special grand jury to hear testimony for a possible criminal case against those involved with tunnel construction. In addition, Del Valle’s family has filed a wrongful death suit.   Attorney General-elect Martha Coakley, who will take over the case come January, declined comment last night on the suit.

Another Big Dig Ramp Shut - Inspectors focusing on bolts holding 3-ton ceiling panels
By Brooke Donald

Published on 7/17/2006
Boston — It could take months to fix problems in the entire Big Dig highway system and reopen the roads, Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday, the same day another ramp was closed to traffic because of what he called a “systemic failure.”

The work in the tunnel closed Sunday, a three-mile-long ramp, is expected to last at least several days and comes nearly a week after the collapse that crushed a car carrying Milena Del Valle, 38.

The governor said testing on bolts used to secure the heavy concrete panels in the most recently closed tunnel revealed dozens of potential problems.

“It looks like the problem is far more substantial than just an anomaly — that it is a systemic failure in the fastening system,” Romney said. “For the entire system to be repaired and safe is probably going to take at least a couple of months, and perhaps longer.”

Since Del Valle's death July 10, motorists had been using the ramp closed Sunday as a detour around the accident scene. But recent testing showed problems with 40 bolts that hold up the ceiling panels there, up from an initial 20, Romney said.

The ramp, which connects Interstate 90 westbound to Interstate 93 north and south, had been previously identified by Romney's inspection teams as a potential trouble spot, said Jon Carlisle, a state Highway Department spokesman.

“We're putting additional connections between the roof and the ceiling panels,” Carlisle said, adding that the specific number of repair spots was unclear. “We're still working on the engineering.”

The closure was expected to snarl traffic even worse, Carlisle said.

Romney said Sunday's closure was not called for because of any imminent danger. “We're just not willing to risk people's lives,” Romney said.

Twelve tons of concrete ceiling panels crushed the passenger side of the car being driven by Del Valle's husband, Angel Del Valle, as they headed to Logan International Airport.

Connector tunnels in both directions have been closed since then.

State and federal investigators have focused on bolts used to hold the drop-ceiling system in place. Each of the concrete slabs suspended above the roadway weighs three tons.

Romney has said there are 84 potential trouble spots in the eastbound connector tunnel where Del Valle was killed. In two other adjoining sections of the tunnel, as well as traffic ramps, there are another 278 possible problems, he has said. He was expected to revise those figures today.

In some cases, inspectors have found ceiling bolts pulled as much as three-eighths of an inch away from the tunnel's concrete roof, he said. Investigators are focusing on the bolts and the epoxy glue used to secure them.

Gov. Romney Takes Control of Big Dig Probe
By GLEN JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Published July 14 2006, 10:19 AM EDT

BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney seized control Friday of inspections in the Big Dig highway system where a woman was killed by falling concrete, saying an independent assessment was necessary to restore public trust.

Inspectors had already pinpointed at least 242 points where bolts were separating from tunnel ceilings, and their review was continuing.

 "When it comes to an issue of inspecting the tunnel system, to have the person who's been responsible for it for the last several years say, 'I'm going to inspect it' and tell us, 'It's now safe,' that's not enough," Romney said.

The Republican governor signed emergency legislation Friday morning that gives him ultimate say on when the tunnels reopens, taking that power away from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. State lawmakers approved the bill within hours of Romney's request.

Romney was to meet Friday with representatives from the Massachusetts Highway Department, the Federal Highway Administration and the Turnpike Authority for a briefing on the status of the inspection, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said.

The eastbound section of the Interstate 90 connector tunnel under South Boston, part of the main route to Logan Airport, has been closed since late Monday when 12 tons of concrete ceiling panels fell, crushing a car carrying Milena Del Valle, 38, and her husband, Angel Del Valle, 46. He escaped with minor injuries.

Michael Lewis, the Big Dig director, said inspectors found 50 bolt assemblies had come loose in the eastbound section of the tunnel where Milena Del Valle was killed -- plus 68 suspect assemblies in the westbound section, 45 in the section carrying carpool traffic, and 79 in ramps connecting Interstate 90 with Interstate 93.

A day earlier, Lewis had only cited 60 potential trouble spots.

He said the road may remain closed for weeks, until federal officials review the panels and workers fix any needing repair. "It will be reopened in segments, not all at once," he said.

Another special feature...
After Years Of Shifting Street Patterns, Boston's Big Dig Winding To A Close (old story here)

Published on 1/14/2006

Boston— After more than a decade of ever-shifting traffic detours, the last major piece of roadway in Boston's Big Dig opened Friday, officials said. The opening of an off ramp from Interstate 93 south means the $14.6 billion project to ease congestion in downtown Boston is substantially finished, said Matt Amorello, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman.

Heavy construction began in 1991. For drivers, the ramp's opening signals that the city should finally have a stable street pattern. The dig has been plagued by soaring costs and long delays. The cost ballooned from $2.6 billion to $14.6 billion. Formally called the Central Artery and Third Harbor Tunnel project, the Big Dig buried Interstate 93 in tunnels beneath downtown and connected the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan Airport with a third tunnel beneath Boston Harbor.

Fuel cell technology comes to state's roads
By Mark Ginocchio
Published May 7 2006

The cutting edge of mass transit technology is expected to arrive in the state when the first hydrogen fuel cell bus is delivered later this year.  The federally funded bus will be used by CTTransit's Hartford division as part of a demonstration project to determine the technology's efficiency and practicality.   It also would be the only bus of its kind in the Northeast, CTTransit officials said.

"Hydrogen is the fuel of the future," said Stephen Warren, assistant general manager for maintenance services at CTTransit. "We know that we're running out of petroleum and it's getting more expensive . . . Fuel cell technology is fairly early in its design and continues to evolve."

Warren would not give the cost of the bus because the grant money expected from the federal government has not been officially approved.  State officials said the buses would be "significantly more" than the diesel vehicles now used, which cost more than $200,000 each.  There has been a great interest in fuel cell technology because it relies on hydrogen-created electricity rather than gasoline-powered combustion to move vehicles.  By not using fossil fuels, the technology is considered emissions-free and environmentally friendly.

"We strongly support this project," said Roger Reynolds, a staff lawyer for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. "The only disadvantage we know of is the expense."

Hydrogen fuel cell buses make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation's bus fleet, according to the American Public Transportation Agency.  The Hartford division was the selected recipient because it is the only CTTransit branch with a nearby hydrogen fueling station, Warren said.  Without a fueling station, the state would have to build a facility, which is financially out of the question, he said.

The Hartford division will probably be the only CTTransit branch to operate the buses for the next few years, Warren said.  There was no timeline given for when the buses might be used in lower Fairfield County.

The only other state bus division that is pursuing the hydrogen technology is the Greater New Haven Transit District, said Michael Sanders, administrator in the state Department of Transportation's public transit bureau.  The astronomical costs and facility limitations will keep the state from investing in the technology in the near-future, he said.

Two years ago, the state purchased its first two hybrid-electric diesel buses, which are used in Hartford and Stamford.  The hybrids cost twice as much as regular diesel buses and are about 10 percent to 15 percent more fuel-efficient. It's more likely the hybrid fleet will be expanded before hydrogen fuel cell buses are purchased state officials said.

Norwalk Transit has no plans to invest in a fuel cell bus.

"Our sense is we don't have the resources we need to always maintain the current level of service," district administrator Louis Schulman said. "So that's our current priority."

Before the hydrogen bus is delivered this fall, CTTransit will research the best way to store the vehicles when not in use. A request for proposal was posted last week seeking a consultant for garage storage and engineering, Warren said.

Railroads signal a tepid US economic recovery
By JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer 
Thu Jan 21, 6:46 pm ET

OMAHA, Neb. – The nation's railroad operators expect a tepid recovery for the U.S. economy in 2010, as both businesses and consumers continue to wrestle with the effects of the recession.

The severe economic slump cut shipping demand for the railroads because American consumers and industries have been buying fewer of the cars, chemicals, crops, lumber and containers of imported goods the railroads carry.

Union Pacific Corp., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and CSX Corp. — the nation's top three railroad companies — all say demand for coal, once a lucrative segment, is slumping as U.S. factories and homeowners use less electricity. And as people continue to spend sparingly, shipments of consumer goods will show a slight increase at best.

The companies reported lower fourth-quarter profits this week and said results won't improve until they see a firm turnaround in the economy.

"Until employment shows some signs of improvement, you're going to have consumers stay on the sideline, and I think it's going to be pretty tough to see any kind of a strong recovery," Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Jim Young said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Economists are forecasting U.S. gross domestic product to rise a little over 3 percent, modest growth for an economy coming out of recession.

Many economists are hoping the U.S. manufacturing sector is beginning to rebound as the economy struggles to emerge from the worst recession since the 1930s. Manufacturing activity has expanded for five straight months, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. But construction activity remains weak, reflected in the steep drop reported by Union Pacific and Burlington Northern in shipments of industrial products, a category that includes lumber.

Burlington Northern says on its Web site that it transports enough lumber each year to build more than 500,000 homes and enough newsprint each year to print 1 billion Sunday newspapers.

Union Pacific reported a 17-percent drop in fourth-quarter net income Thursday to $551 million, or $1.08 per share. The Omaha-based company handled 5 percent fewer carloads during the quarter.

CSX on Tuesday said fourth-quarter net earnings rose 23 percent compared to a year ago. Burlington Northern's quarterly earnings fell to $536 million, or $1.55 per share, compared with $615 million, or $1.78 per share. Revenue fell 16 percent. The company expects any economic turnaround to be gradual.

CSX CEO Michael Ward said the railroad expects better results in all of its business segments in 2010, except coal. But CSX, like all the major railroads, will be comparing this year's results with 2009's weak performance.

Coal shipments have been hit hard. As industrial production slowed and jobs vanished, plants closed and consumers reduced their electricity consumption. That, combined with mild weather last summer, resulted in large coal stockpiles at many power plants.

CSX is pessimistic about its coal business partly because more utilities in the eastern United States have switched to cheaper natural gas to run power plants. The switch to natural gas isn't as common in the western U.S. where Union Pacific and Burlington Northern deliver coal.

Automotive shipments should be a bright spot in railroad earnings reports during the first half of 2010. U.S. auto sales were solid in December and should improve from last year's total of 10.4 million, a 27-year low.

Agriculture shipments offer another opportunity for growth. Already, Union Pacific said its ethanol shipments are up because ethanol plants that used to be owned by bankrupt VeraSun Energy have reopened under new owners.

Citi Investment Research analyst Matthew Troy said railroads will carry more crops later this year if the USDA's forecasts are correct. Troy said in a research note that sustained improvement in grain traffic could be a bright spot in early 2010.

When consumers start buying more goods and retailers have to replace them, railroads will benefit. That's because many imported shipping containers are carried inland from ports on trains before being delivered to their final destinations by truck. Union Pacific actually hauled 5 percent more of those intermodal containers in the fourth quarter although revenue for that sector was still down 3 percent.

And Union Pacific officials said they're watching to see if construction activity picks up this spring as more projects funded by stimulus money get going. That could lead to an increased demand for industrial shipments.

Besides the economy, fuel prices will be another factor in the railroads' 2010 prospects. When diesel gets expensive, the cost of shipping on railroads becomes more attractive compared to shipping by truck.

"If the economy starts to pick up, you'll see fuel prices move up. That makes us much more competitive versus moving products on the highway," Young said.

Barge proponents remain optimistic about plan
By Mark Ginocchio
Published May 7 2006

Proponents of a state service that would move commercial goods by water rather than trucks say they are not concerned that a similar barge service in Albany, N.Y., ended for lack of demand.

Connecticut's service, which has been in development for more than four years, is based on a more financially successful model and exists in a region where there's more demand, said Joseph Riccio, executive director of the Bridgeport Port Authority.   Bridgeport's barge service may be "more competitive with the trucking industry than Albany's," Riccio said. "We may not be able to offer the cheapest price, but we won't be the most expensive."

The service will take containers usually trucked out of ports in New York and New Jersey and carry them up the Hudson River and through Long Island Sound. Once they arrive in Bridgeport, containers can be moved by truck.  State officials have estimated that the service could remove about 35,000 truck trips a year on Interstate 95 between New York, New Jersey and lower Fairfield County.

Along with Bridgeport, the Albany service, which was terminated in February after two years, was designed to be a part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Port Inland Distribution Network. The network called for barge operations in Delaware, New Jersey, northeastern New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Albany's service, which carried about 400 containers a day, was shut down because "it was not self-sufficient" financially, said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority.

The service received about $3 million in federal grant money that recently ran out, Coleman said. It's possible the Albany service will restart if new funding is found, he said.
Part of what made Albany's system less attractive to shippers was that it used a crane to lift and stack boxes individually, which becomes costly over time, Riccio said.
Bridgeport's service would use a system in which multiple containers would be carried by chassis and delivered to ships, which is less costly, Riccio said.

Demand in Albany was affected by the large amount of rail freight between New Jersey and upstate New York, Riccio said. There are few viable rail freight routes in Connecticut, he said.  The Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board backs the barge plan and gave the Bridgeport Port Authority $1.5 million to build a facility at the city's regional maritime complex.

Board member Karen Burnaska, who represents coastal Fairfield County, said she has confidence in the Bridgeport service.

"As long as it's economically appealing, I think with congestion on I-95 and with gas prices increasing dramatically, it does make sense to have a feeder barge," Burnaska said.

Albany's termination should be treated as a "separate case" from Bridgeport, she said.  Trucking industry officials said they would continue to support the barge service, but the state must cut its losses if it proves to be unsuccessful.

"I think it's worth a shot and a chance to develop," said Michael Riley, president of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association. "But if no one uses it, you have to shut it down."

Riccio said he expects to update the Transportation Strategy Board with a start date for the Bridgeport service at the board's meeting this month. The service is about a year behind schedule.

Greenwich gripes over airport top all other towns
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published April 7 2007

Greenwich has a reputation for making a lot of noise about aircraft noise.

Officials at Westchester County Airport's Noise Abatement Office in neighboring Rye Brook, N.Y., said about half of the telephone complaints they receive come from Greenwich.  In February, the most recent month for which information was available, two town households registered the most complaints with the airport.  One in the King Merritt Acres development about a mile south of the airport made 32 complaints. Another household in Glenville accounted for 15 complaints.

Both pale in comparison to the relentless standard set by another King Merritt Acres household, which lodged 800 complaints in a month in 1997.

"One of them, she did have us on speed dial," said John Inserra, the airport's noise abatement officer.

Twenty-three households combined to make 86 complaints in February. Airport officials would not voluntarily identify the complainants, saying it would discourage people from calling a 24-hour hotline used for gathering information about noise disturbances.  Each complaint, they said, leads to an investigation that often determines the cause of the disturbance, whether it's from planes using the airport, transient aircraft or helicopters.

"We're sensitive to everybody's complaints," Inserra said.

Erica Purnell, who lives on Bedford Road north of the airport and once had a plane crash in a neighbor's property, said she occasionally complains about the noise.

"In the month of August, when everyone is chartering a plane to Martha's Vineyard, it's quite busy over my house," said Purnell, a board member of the Northwest Greenwich Association. She also is vice chairwoman of a new airport monitoring group formed by the town.

Addressing the high number of complaints from King Merritt Acres, Purnell said the neighborhood in the northwest part of town gets hit with engine exhaust from planes turning away from a nearby runway after takeoff.

"They're on what I call one of the hot spots for Greenwich," Purnell said.

Airport officials cited another reason for the disturbance - planes making a rapid descent into the airport over land instead of the recommended approach over Long Island Sound. The phenomenon is known locally as "cutting the corner."

Air traffic controllers have blamed the problem on vague navigational maps that do not show landmarks near the shore for pilots to follow. Responding to intense lobbying from Greenwich, the airport's tower manager has proposed to the Federal Aviation Administration a sequence of three offshore locations for pilots to use as reference points on their approach into the airport.

Aircraft headed for New York's LaGuardia Airport are being blamed for the disturbances reported by the Glenville resident who registered the second most complaints in February.  Overall, Purnell said officials at the suburban airport are sensitive to the concerns of town residents.

"They'll print out a snapshot of what happened during a complaint," Purnell said, explaining that airport officials produced a 40-page report for one household that complained.

First Selectman Jim Lash said that the complaints serve a purpose.

"We want people to call the airport noise line not to harass them, but to give them a more complete picture of what the noise problem is," said Lash, who suggested restraint in some cases. "I think 800 times in a month is probably not helpful."

Despite the extreme number of complaints from some households, airport officials said the overall number is down. In 1997, the airport received 10,510 complaints. Last year, the airport received 1,294 complaints.

"Aircraft have gotten significantly quieter," said Westchester County Transportation Commissioner Larry Salley.

While some disturbances might not qualify as significant under government standards, transportation officials said changes in sound patterns can be quite noticeable when airplanes stray from their routes to previously unexposed areas. That's often when the airport's noise hotline starts ringing.

"We serve as their psychologist," Salley said.

Towns may sue FAA over plane plan
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published April 2 2007

Fairfield County officials are threatening legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration over its proposal to change the airspace over the region, saying the plan lacks measures for dealing with noise.

"If there's no attention paid to the noise issue, I think it's possible there will be litigation coming out of many of these communities," Greenwich First Selectman Jim Lash said.

After several years of studying air traffic congestion in the region, the FAA endorsed a new routing system March 23 that it said would save 12 million minutes of delays per year at Kennedy, La Guardia, Newark Liberty and Philadelphia airports.  The new routing pattern would allow departing planes to climb to higher altitudes quicker and with less separation between them, which the FAA said would clear the path for more on-time arrivals.

But officials are concerned about plans to shift an arrival pattern for La Guardia Airport east over Fairfield County. Existing flight paths take approaching aircraft over Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

"I think this is a regional problem," Lash said. "We all have the same concern with this, and that is the report that has been presented makes no attempt to mitigate the noise impact. That's unacceptable to all of us."

An FAA spokesman denied the new flight pattern would have a dramatic effect on Fairfield County, including the La Guardia approach.

"There will be some noise increases in Fairfield County, but not significant by FAA standards," said Jim Peters, a spokesman for the FAA's Eastern Regional Office in Queens, N.Y. "There are no significant increases associated with the preferred alternative in terms of shifting the arrivals to Connecticut from New York."

Another controversial proposal would allow planes departing from Westchester County Airport to turn back over Connecticut as they ascend. Peters said the route would take outbound planes back over the airport.  Now, most departing flights head west or south, climbing over the Hudson River, lower Westchester County or the Bronx, N.Y. An FAA rendering of the proposed departure route showing a loop over northwestern Greenwich, which borders the Rye Brook airport, alarmed Fairfield County officials.

"That's a graphical representation," Peters said.

Greenwich is working with New Canaan to commission an analysis of the FAA proposal by Williams Aviation Consultants Inc. of Queen Creek, Ariz.  Each town will contribute $10,000 toward the study, which will review the FAA proposal, the methodology used in endorsing the new routing system and the agency's projections for air traffic volume.

"We will present a very united front with Greenwich," New Canaan First Selectman Judy Neville said. "We will vigorously oppose this."

Neville echoed Lash's comment about the potential for legal action.

"I'm totally prepared to have to pursue litigation," Neville said. "I think we all are."

She said she does not expect the results of the study to be available for an April 24 FAA public hearing at the Holiday Inn Select in Stamford.  Peters said the FAA will issue a report before the hearing with recommendations for mitigating noise. The public will have until May 11 to comment on the rerouting proposal, which the FAA has said could take effect in August.

Cutting The Corner: Westchester-Bound Jets Take Shortcut Over Town
Greenwich TIME
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer

February 11, 2007

In many local households, the friendly skies could be friendlier.

Complaints of pilots straying from published approach patterns for Westchester County Airport and beginning their noisy descent over Greenwich instead of Long Island Sound are so common that residents have a name for the phenomenon.
"Cutting the corner has been such a long-standing problem," said Selectman Peter Crumbine.

Many residents have their theories why some pilots approaching the airport are making the required U-turn over land instead of water.  Some say it saves the aircraft operators money on fuel. Others suspect it saves times on commercial and corporate flights.  But one air traffic controller says navigational charts are to blame because they lack specificity on where pilots should turn.

"If you're based in Chicago and they say, 'Turn right at the shoreline,' where do you commence your turn?" said Thomas Cahill, the airport's air traffic manager.

"There's no marker or beacon. That's the problem," Cahill said, explaining that the area's jagged coastline of coves and rivers makes it difficult to determine a turning point.

Responding to intensive lobbying efforts from Greenwich, which borders the Rye Brook airport to the east and north, Cahill developed a plan to deal with the issue.

Cahill's plan would establish a sequence of three offshore locations for pilots to use as reference points on their approach into the airport. Known as "way points," the locations would be near Shippan Point in Stamford, Greenwich Point Park and Calf Island off the Byram shore.

The Federal Aviation Administration, for whom Cahill works, is reviewing the proposed route and could publish it in flight manuals it updates periodically. The way points would also appear on cockpit displays in aircraft with modern avionics equipment.

"I think it's going to work," Cahill said. "It's been flown in a computerized simulator."

First Selectman Jim Lash said he was encouraged by the plan.

"I can see how that might improve the situation," said Lash, a former astronautical engineer and former Boeing employee.

On a recent afternoon in the airport's control tower, Cahill gazed out at the southern horizon as several corporate jets prepared for landing. In a 15-minute period, all of the five planes that made the U-turn did it over Long Island Sound.

"There isn't a person who uses this airport who isn't cognizant of the noise impact sensitivity," said Cahill, who described some complaints about wayward pilots as exaggerated.

"I think it's more a perception than reality," Cahill said. "I know the people who live in that area think the pilots are doing it intentionally."

About 65 percent of the 300 planes that land each day at the airport use the route in question, according to Cahill.  Cahill cautioned that his plan would only apply during good weather conditions and could be published in May at the earliest.  The FAA has strict procedures for flights during times of low visibility that requires pilots to use an instrument landing system that follows a route still farther out over Long Island Sound.

One former pilot who lives in Greenwich is taking a keen interest in Cahill's plan.

"From what I understand, it should help considerably, assuming the pilots follow the way points," said Bruce Dixon, chairman of the Selectmen's Advisory Committee on Aircraft Noise.

The town recently created the committee, which includes several current and former pilots, to deal with what leaders have called an important quality of life issue. Several of its members are planning to meet later this month with Cahill, who said wayward pilots just need to be shown the way.

"I think they scratch their head and say, 'What the heck do they want us to do?' " Cahill said.

Money Drain: Cost Of I-84 Fix Estimated
By EDMUND H. MAHONY, Courant Staff Writer
February 15, 2007

The state may have to pay as much as $27 million to tear up and repair defective drains and other work on a brand new stretch of I-84 near Waterbury - half of what it was originally supposed to cost to build the redesigned roadway in the first place.

The state's newest repair estimate, a copy of which was obtained by The Courant, is just another piece of grim news emerging from a relatively small, increasingly expensive and by all accounts poorly managed highway reconfiguration project.

And it is not the only bad news:

The Federal Highway Administration, which has pumped $55 million into the project, is concerned enough about construction and inspection failures that it may ask for at least some of its money back.

The state Department of Transportation has released a document showing that the construction problems extend beyond more than 200 defective drains to include two overpasses.

L.G. DeFelice Inc., the construction company that walked away from the job and left its insurer to argue over the cost of repairs, owes the Connecticut State Police $1.2 million for construction-related traffic safety services.

Also, the FBI is showing no signs of slowing an investigation of construction lapses that could end in fraud charges. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and a private auditor also are investigating.

The new estimate may provide guidance for state budgeters, but nothing in the numbers is likely to mollify the tens of thousands of commuters looking for an end to construction-related traffic jams on Waterbury's east side. The job was supposed to have been completed in 2005. That was revised last year to June 2007. More recently, it has been re-revised either to Dec. 1, 2007, or sometime in 2008, depending on the consultant doing the revising.

Also, the estimates don't answer the question that has dogged the project for six months: How did dozens of workers assigned to build, inspect and pay for an interstate highway project fail to notice that the critical water drainage system beneath it was so poorly built that, in places, it probably would have been inoperable?

The state transportation department again declined to address the question a week ago when asked how many state employees were assigned to the I-84 project, who they are and what they were supposed to have been doing.

"To preserve the integrity of the investigations that are currently ongoing, we will only confirm that DOT staff were assigned to various aspects of the project," spokesman Judd B. Everhart said. As to what went wrong, Everhart said, "That is what we expect these ongoing investigations to determine."

The newest estimate for repairing and completing the 3.5-mile stretch of I-84 in Waterbury and Cheshire is included in a report that contains two strikingly different cost projections, $27 million and $19 million. Construction consultant PinnacleOne prepared the report, basing a substantial part of it on the work of STV Inc., another consultant.

STV estimated the cost of the work at about $27 million, but PinnacleOne said it could be done for about $19 million. PinnacleOne said the lower cost would be possible if working hours, work crew sizes and construction methods were altered to "generate efficiencies and economies of scale."

Most of the new estimate involves repairing the drainage deficiencies. But it includes costs associated with structural problems detected in the two bridges that carry the east and westbound lanes of I-84 over Route 70 in Cheshire, Everhart said.

He said bearings in bridge abutments that support the bridge deck are out of tolerance, meaning that they are not properly situated. He said the problem is being evaluated and will be corrected.

The drainage problems were publicized in October when The Courant reported on a state transportation document claiming that a sinkhole led to the discovery of a wide array of underground problems, some of which could be repaired only by tearing up newly completed portions of road bed.

Among other things, the drains - similar to storm sewers - were built incorrectly, put in the wrong places, situated over unstable water collection tanks, connected with substandard piping or not connected to anything at all. What's more, some of the collection tanks were stuffed with construction debris.

About 270 of the 300 water runoff drains in the project are defective in some fashion, the state transportation department has said.

"The numerous types of deficiencies, the particular as well as the general defects and omissions in the work, were and are stunning," Arthur W. Gruhn, chief engineer at the state transportation department's bureau of engineering and highway operations, wrote in an in-house memo five months ago.

DeFelice of North Haven had the $52 million contract to build the reconfigured stretch of I-84, a contract awarded in August 2002. The Maguire Group Inc. of New Britain, a consultant, got a $6 million contract to inspect DeFelice's work, including the drainage system and bridges. And the state transportation department assigned an unspecified number of people to the job, including a senior engineer who other participants in the project said had an on-site office.

So far, no one has offered to explain what went wrong.

The DOT has instructed its employees not to talk about the matter. The team of lawyers trying to save Maguire from what could be a professionally devastating financial blow has told the company's employees the same thing. DeFelice, reportedly with cash flow problems, has ceased operation.

At the close of the construction season in late 2005, shortly after persuading the DOT to release to it a sum held in escrow to guarantee completion of the I-84 work, DeFelice stopped doing business and never resumed. Some of its assets were transferred to a related company, which now has state contracts associated with replacement of the Quinnipiac River bridge carrying I-95 through New Haven, according to transportation industry sources.

"We may never know what was in somebody's mind as they were doing this," Gruhn said. "It just is so far beyond the norm that appropriate action had to be taken."

So far, that action has included firing Maguire and trying to assign responsibility for paying for the repairs.

People familiar with the I-84 project, who asked not to be identified, said the state transportation department is now in talks with Maguireand DeFelice or their insurers to force the companies to pay for the repairs.

Representatives for Maguire would not discuss the matter. A lawyer and others representing USF&G, which is the surety or insurer for DeFelice, did not respond to repeated telephone inquiries. Other sources said Maguire and DeFelice collectively have more than enough insurance coverage to pay for the higher of the two estimates. Less clear, the sources said, is whether they are willing to do so.

The contractors and their insurers are likely to argue that the DOT bears some responsibility because state employees not only failed to detect faulty work, but paid for it. What's more, the transportation department released escrow money - known in the construction industry as retainage - to DeFelice.

The DOT says Maguire and DeFelice contracted to deliver a properly built and inspected highway and should be forced to pay whatever is necessary to meet their obligation.

"The department's position remains that this work was the responsibility of these two contractors, L.G. DeFelice and Maguire," Everhart said. "The reason that they have bonds backing up their work is so they can be applied in this kind of situation. This department expects that the repairs, whatever the total is, will be borne by those parties that we had contracts with."

If talks can't resolve the issue, the parties could end up in arbitration or in court.

There is political pressure on the transportation department to resolve negotiations to the state's advantage. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who last week proposed a budget based on increasing the state income tax from 5 percent to 5.5 percent, has said the state should not have to spend more of its money to get the work done right. She also said the work should be done at night and during odd hours to minimize inconvenience to motorists. And she hired the private auditor to participate in the quest to determine what went wrong.

Even if the state prevails in the negotiations, its I-84 problems may not be over.

The Federal Highway Administration, which is funding 80 percent of the project, is re-examining its commitment in view of disclosures about defective work and sloppy oversight.

The highway administration "expects a qualified state representative to exert appropriate oversight activity on the project in accordance with contract provisions and federal requirements," the agency said in a written response to a series of questions.

Should the federal agency conclude that the state failed to exert responsible oversight, it could ask for all or part of its money back.

If the federal agency asks for a refund, it would not be the first time the state DOT suffered a significant financial blow because of irregularities in its highway program.

The federal regulators recently took back about $6.5 million from a state highway sealing project, after learning that corrupt state employees had steered the work to an unqualified contractor in return for gifts like free trips to fancy strip clubs.