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August 15, 2006

"Fix My Station, Please!"

If we’re ever to encourage commuters to get out of their cars and onto the train, we first have to give them a parking space and a station they feel safe commuting from. I’ve recently written about the railroad station parking mess, so let’s talk now about the stations.

Is it too much to ask for a safe, well-lit shelter to call home while waiting for Metro-North? Probably not, but for the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation (which owns the stations and leases them to the towns), it’s a goal seldom achieved. For example…

After millions of dollars in renovations, the Darien station was fitted with indoor light fixtures, installed outdoors on the platform. The lights fill with rainwater and short out the electrical system, plunging the station into darkness. Despite years of appeals by town officials for repairs, it took Governor Rell to step in and order the CDOT to “fix it!”

Days later there were fresh complaints about the Stamford station’s parking garage and again the Governor micro-managed the matter, this time ordering CDOT to inspect all of the stations and get on with needed repairs.

But why another inspection when CDOT just paid $1.6 million to Urbitran, a consulting firm, for a three-year study and engineering analysis of all the stations? Those reports, dozens of pages thick for each station, were never acted upon. Why will things be any different this time?

The Commuter Council offered Governor Rell our help in inspecting the stations. After all, we ride from them every day and know what’s in disrepair. But the Governor’s people said “no thanks”.

So, we jumped into the matter anyhow, launching the “Fix My Station Photo Campaign”. We’re asking commuters to send us digital pictures of needed repairs at their stations. We’ll post them on the Commuter Council’s website (www.trainweb.org/ct) for all to see and, in a few weeks, will send a print-out to the Governor and CDOT.

Our hope is to jump-start the inspections by alerting CDOT staffers to some obvious priorities. But we’re also benchmarking the current situation so we can go back in six weeks, six months or a year from now and judge the progress, if any.

The response by commuters has been tremendous. Within days we’d received dozens of snapshots of broken stairs, rusted girders and peeling paint. In some places there were exposed electrical wires, in others, safety violations.

There’s still time to contribute your photos. Just send them to FixMyStation@camcomm.com and include your name and a description of where each photo was taken.
Governor Rell says this time things will get fixed. Time (and these photos) will tell.
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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is 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 http://www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com/

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