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November 12, 2005

CT Commuters Lose Again

As we slide from fall into winter, rail commuters start getting that nagging worry… will the trains keep running, or will we have another winter like 2003 when the system froze solid?

While engineering work is underway to try to keep our dilapidated 30+ year old cars running, I’ve been telling you for months that CDOT has cars available that it has not yet put into service.

Over a year after CDOT took delivery of 26 used commuter rail cars from Virginia, only half of them are now being used. Last fall, after Governor Rell inspected those VRE cars, she said “put them to work”. But they’re still not running.

Over the summer CDOT leased eight used Amtrak locomotives to haul those VRE cars, but are they all being used? No. While we all know about the standing-room-only conditions on most trains, more than a dozen badly needed rail cars, and locomotives to pull them, sit in a rail yard somewhere gathering dust.

It seems that when CDOT first asked for bids on re-wiring work to make the cars compatible with our system, none of the bids were acceptable. But seven months later they still have not issued a new RFP asking for new bids. Nor has CDOT asked Metro-North to do the work. Why?

Somehow, this debacle has finally come to the attention of Governor Rell, who wrote CDOT Commissioner Korta and demanded action… and weekly status reports. Good for her… but where has she been on this issue for the past year?

Then there’s the bombshell from the Stamford Advocate’s sleuthing on where our Homeland Security Agency dollars are going. Last Sunday the paper reported that, while NYC area transit agencies are being given $37.5 million to beef up rail security, Connecticut is getting just $510,000 of those Federal funds for security.

How could the Feds offer such a huge pile of cash to spend on such a crucial infrastructure issue and we in Connecticut get so little? Where were our representatives when decisions were being made on how to spend that dough?

Congressman Chris Shays argues that Connecticut riders will benefit because much of the HSA money will be spent in New York City, our riders’ top destination and terrorists’ likely target. That sounds more like an excuse than an explanation.

Aren’t terrorists likely to target the weakest part of the rail network? And wouldn’t that be us, here in Connecticut?

On Connecticut tracks alone there are six vulnerable targets which, if attacked, would bring down the entire Northeast rail corridor. Will state taxpayers be forced to pay for their hardening while federal funds cover similar work in NYC?

Congressman Shays is Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee and he can’t deliver more than $510,000 for his constituents? For shame!

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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com