Commentary on transportation in Connecticut and the Northeast by JIM CAMERON, for 19 years a member of the CT Rail Commuter Council.
Jim is also the founder of a new advocacy effort: www.CommuterActionGroup.org
Disclaimer: his comments are only his own. All contents of this blog are (c) Cameron Communications Inc
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July 10, 2017
"Getting There" P.T. Barnum - Train Advocate
What do Connecticut’s own PT Barnum
Commuter Action Group
have in common? Both are “rail activists”
fighting for the interests of commuters.
This amazing piece of news about
Barnum, a man better known for his circus and menageries, came to me while
watching a speech at the Old State House in Hartford. The
speaker was Executive Director and Curator of the Barnum Museum, Kathy Maher.
She explained that Barnum was more
than a showman. He was also a business
man (he once owned the local water company) and railroad advocate.
In 1879 Barnum wrote an impassioned letter to the NY Times promoting a street railway be built
in New York City along Broadway between Bleecker and 14th Street,
enlisting the support of local merchants such as the Brooks Brothers and “the
carpet men, W & J Sloan”.
Back in 1865, Barnum went to Hartford representing the town of Fairfield as a Republican. (Later he became
mayor of Bridgeport.) As he writes in his autobiography, he arrived at the capitol to find
that powerful railroad interests had conspired to elect a Speaker of the House
who’d protect their monopoly interests in the state.
Further, he found that Connecticut’s “Railroad
Commission” had been similarly ensnared by the industry it was supposed to
regulate and that one member was even a clerk in the office of the NY & New
Haven RR! Barnum pushed through a bill
prohibiting such obvious conflicts of interest.
Then he turned his sights on helping
commuters. Barnum noted that New York railroad magnate Commodore Vanderbilt’s new rail
lines (now the Hudson and Harlem
divisions of Metro-North) were popular with affluent commuters. Once Vanderbilt had them as passengers for
their daily ride into and out of NYC, he jacked up fares by 200 – 400%. There’s nothing like a monopoly!
Sensing that Vanderbilt might try to do
the same to Connecticut riders on the new New Haven line (in which Vanderbilt
had a financial stake), Barnum set to work in the legislature to make sure the
state had some control over “its” railroad.
Just as in Barnum’s day, our
transportation future seems to be in the hands of powerful forces in New
York. “Our railroad” is run for us by
the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), a New York State agency
answerable to that state’s Governor, not our own. Though we are Metro-North’s biggest customer
and Connecticut’s rail lines boast almost as many passengers than MTA has in its home state, we
have no seat on either the MTA or Metro-North boards.
True, Governor Malloy hasn’t been shy
about holding the MTA and Metro-North to task when their neglect caused
derailments and service cuts. But
hauling the New Yorkers up to Hartford (they drove) and publicly excoriating
them in front of the media didn’t win Malloy any friends.
The one area where Connecticut does
maintain control is in setting fares.
New York sets its fares and we set ours.
But in recent years Metro-North fare hikes have become more of a
“commuters’ tax” used to plug state budget gaps than spent on improvements in
As Barnum once said: “There’s a sucker
born every minute.”