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February 25, 2007

"More Money For Trains"

What a difference a decade makes. It was exactly ten years ago that then-Governor John Rowland introduced his budget calling for elimination of branch-line service on Metro-North to Danbury, Waterbury and the Shore Line East line to Old Saybrook.

Now, a decade later, Governor Rell has just submitted her third budget in a row calling for increased spending on mass transit, including plans for expanded service on Shore Line East (SLE). Not to be outdone, the Democrats in Hartford are falling over each other to out-spend even the Governor’s ambitious plans.

Following on two years of long-overdue but much appreciated legislative action that allocates billions for new rail cars and other transit initiatives, the latest Rell budget seeks…

>>Two dozen more M8 rail cars for Metro-North and SLE, in addition to the 342 already on order

>>$5 million to fix up our train stations, following the lead of the Commuter Council’s “Fix My Station Photo Campaign”

>>$35 million for expedited demolition and expanded rebuilding of the old Stamford station parking garage, adding 200 more spaces
Funding for bike racks and lockers at stations

>>$4.4 million to expand SLE service, adding two weekday trains and initiating new weekend service

Many feared that, given the largess of the legislature in the past sessions, the attitude in Hartford might be that transportation had been “fixed” in the state and it was time to move on to other issues… health, education and energy. But as any commuter can tell you, we’re far from “done” when it comes to our transit system.

Particularly heartening is the Governor’s recognition that service must be expanded on SLE. Since its opening in 1990, Shore Line East has been only half of a railroad, offering weekday-only westbound service to New Haven in the morning and eastbound in the evening. Despite the limited number of trains, SLE has seen a 7% ridership increase in each of the past few years.

And when the Q Bridge mega-construction project kicks in (costing $1.4 billion and running until 2014), ridership should soar because nobody in his right mind will want to drive I-95 through New Haven.

State Rep. Steven Mikutel (D – Griswold) is thinking bigger, calling for expanded service to New London. SLE trains used to run there, and could again… were it not for boaters.

Believe it or not, boating interests have an agreement with Amtrak (which owns the tracks east of New Haven) to limit the number of trains along the line so that bridges can remain open and boaters can sail through at will. Trains, both Amtrak’s Acela and SLE, filled with hundreds of commuters, are being capped by the selfish interests of a few sailors.

Amazing.

But assuming we can persuade the sailors to wait for bridge openings, why not think bigger still? Why not extend SLE to Mystic and beyond to Providence? This is the only section of the Northeast Corridor, from Washington to Boston, that doesn’t offer commuter rail in addition to Amtrak.

My hat’s off to Governor Rell and her ambitious budget plans. Now let’s hope the legislature sees her (vision), and raises her one.

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JIM CAMERON is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the groups on which he serves. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

2 comments:

hal said...

"Why not extend SLE to Mystic and beyond to Providence? This is the only section of the Northeast Corridor, from Washington to Boston, that doesn’t offer commuter rail in addition to Amtrak."

This is, of course, not true. The stretch south of Newark, DE to the northern-most terminus of MARC in Perryville, MD on the Penn Line is similarly without commuter rail service.

Jim Cameron said...

Hal... I stand corrected.

Thanks!

JC