September 22, 2023


How’s this for a double-whammy?  CDOT is proposing a cut in train and bus service while also raising fares… just as I predicted months ago.

Blame both plans on COVID and what it did to ridership… still down about 30% on Metro-North compared with 2019… but climbing, day by day.  On Shore Line East, CDOT’s railroad from New Haven to New London, the ridership is down 68% from pre-COVID numbers.  Low ridership like that, says CDOT, is unsustainable.

That’s why the agency is proposing to cut two Metro-North trains per day, Monday through Thursday, but eliminate eight trains a day on Fridays when ridership is now the lightest.  On Shore Line East instead of 23 trains a day there will only be 16.

This is how to kill a railroad.  Reduce service, make the train a less reliable option further discouraging ridership, then use the accelerating decline in passengers as an excuse for more service cuts… rinse and repeat.

The problem is CDOT has not announced which trains are being cut, just how many.  Riders’ reactions will depend on whether or not ‘their’ train is affected.

What will this mean to peoples’ lives?  Just look at the effect of service reductions imposed by Amtrak on September 5th on Shore Line East due to track work.  Where 22 trains used to run each day, now there are just 14.

For reasons never explained by CDOT, this track work is being done in the daytime, not at night when the impact on trains would be minimal.  Nor was there any substitute bus service planned as was run in years past.

For student Cassie Bianchi this service cut meant she had to drop out of college.

This Westbrook student used to take a bus, a train and another bus to attend classes at Southern CT State University in New Haven.  But her UPass student ticket is not honored on Amtrak.  And with the reduced service she’d have to leave home at 6 am to catch a 7:03 am train to make it to her 10 am class.  The return trip would get her home at 8:30 pm.  Talk about unsustainable.

For bus riders there will also be cuts on routes running across the state,

And yes, fare increases are also proposed:  almost 6% on Metro-North and 5% on Shore Line East.  Mind you, there hasn’t been a fare hike since 2018 so these hikes don’t even cover inflation.

What can be done to stop all this?  Not much, given that these changes were baked into CDOT’s budget this spring.  In other words, you can thank your state lawmakers (and Governor Lamont) for this double whammy.  They approved the reduced spending, but with CDOT’s support, I might add.

Sure, there will be public hearings in October, two held ‘virtually’ and two in person.  But why are those hearings being held in New Haven and Hartford and not in Stamford or Bridgeport or Old Saybrook where those affected by these plans actually live and ride?

One might think that CDOT’s leaders are trying to avoid their customers’ rage.  And one wouldn’t be wrong.  These hearings are what I call “political theater”:  cathartic but an illusion.  You think your opinions matter and might change minds, but let’s face it:  this is a done deal.

September 15, 2023


Diana Jackson walked 2192 miles. 


The Darien native is one of over 3300 people each year who try to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (the AT), from Georgia to Maine.  But she’s one of the 25% of them that actually complete the task.


She learned to hike with her parents in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and at age seven announced her goal of making the entire trek.  Her parents humored her, but on graduation from Wellesley College she got serious and spent six months in preparation. “I thought of this as my gap year”, she said.


“I have a tendency of psyching myself out,” she says, so she didn’t read too many books about the dangers of the adventure.  But she did drop a lot of money on a tent, sleeping bag and the first of four pairs of hiking boots… each replaced as they wore out.


Starting in late March south of Springer Mountain in Georgia, on her first night it rained and she got soaked.  Crude shelters are maintained by volunteers along the trail, but they are first come, first served and the early Spring nights were as cold in Georgia as the later nights when she finished in Maine.


If Diana was lucky, she’d find a hostel just off the trail where for $25 a night she could get a bunk.  But most nights her dehydrated dinners heated over her camp stove were her cuisine of choice. Her trail name was “Little Debbie” in homage to her favorite snack. But over six months she lost 40 pounds.


Though her backpack weighed 45 pounds, she was able to average about 20 miles of walking each day.


In most places the AT is described as “the green tunnel” but in others there are serious mountains to climb and rivers to cross (some without bridges).  She relied on an app called FarOut, using GPS to keep on the trail and lead her to drinkable water, shelters and hostels.  At least once a day she could find a cell signal to let her family know where she was and how she was doing.


Twice she suffered injuries, falling face first and hurting her knee.  She was all alone and without her usual first aid kit so she just kept going, “pushing through the pain” until she could find help.


After seven months she could see her goal in sight, 5269 foot Mount Katahdin in northern Maine, the official end of the AT.  But it took her a couple of days to reach the summit, alternately crying, laughing and filled with joy.  Her parents joined her for the final climb, though she put them on a slightly easier trail.


After the victory came the inevitable letdown but also some important life lessons.  “I had always doubted myself,” she says.  “But now I know I can do anything.”


She’s no longer jealous of classmates with high paying jobs.  “I can join the corporate world anytime, but now, when I’m young, is the time to live this dream. The trail is the happiest place for me.” As well as the beauties of nature, she misses the camaraderie of her fellow hikers.

September 08, 2023


There’s way too much news.  I’m a like thirsty man trying to drink from a firehose. 

Every day I read three daily CT newspapers, several CT news sites, the NYTimes, WSJ and then catch the evening news on BBC, France24, Deutsche Welle and PBS.  (I don’t even bother with the commercial networks or the ‘terror-tainment’ on the cable channels).

But while drowning in content, I sometimes find disparate news items that present a pattern, often disturbing.  For example…

Why are we still looking at huge service cuts on Shore Line East when the State’s Comptroller just reported a $200+ million surplus in the Special Transportation Fund.   And when will CDOT announce dates and times for their long anticipated public hearings on the Fairness & Equity of budget-cut-induced fare hikes and service reductions on Metro-North?  And will those hearings be at times / places when affected commuters can actually attend and be heard?

Another case in point, our state’s electric future.

It seems that some in Hartford want to ban the sale in our state of all but electric cars by 2035.  This would be to help our state fight the impending doom of global warming (as if there’s still time).  You’d still be able to keep your gas guzzler (which would probably increase in value), just not replace it with anything that doesn’t run only on batteries.

I don’t want to debate the merits of the plan beyond asking a question I first asked last November:  will Connecticut have enough electricity and transmission capacity to handle that growing demand for power? 

Eversource, one of the major electricity providers in Massachusetts, expects a 20% increase in demand there in the next decade and a 150% increase by 2050 thanks to a surge in transportation and home heating.  They plan to build new substations and expand others, expanding their grid by 180%, enough to handle 2.5 million more EVs and a million heat pumps in the Bay State. 

I asked Eversource for the specifics of their expansion plans in Connecticut but they could not provide details in time to include here.  However, Eversource says it’s committed to “building out” its transmission network.

But remember, Eversource just delivers the juice.  They don’t generate it.  That’s where the utility companies come in.  So… where will the new electricity come from?

While only 6% of current electricity comes from “renewables”, just 13% of that small amount is from wind power.  But that will change.

A massive wind farm is being assembled off Martha’s Vineyard that will, next year, start supplying over 700 MW of electricity to 350,00 Connecticut and Massachusetts homes using New London’s State Pier as a construction staging area.

But wind power isn’t free of its own problems.

Last week all nine members of RI’s Fisherman’s Advisory Board resigned en masse protesting the wind farms which they say will decimate commercial and recreational fishing.

So much news, so little time, even for a self-avowed news junkie like me to try to put the puzzle pieces together.



September 01, 2023


I’ll never be President of the United States.  Not that I would want to be… I just can’t be.  You see, I wasn’t born in this country.  I’m an immigrant.  And though I’m very proud of my Canadian roots, I’ve been a US citizen for over 45 years:  an American by choice, not chance.

While this country has always impressed me as a meritocracy, on this Labor Day weekend something strikes me as odd:   why do mass transit agencies in the US do all they can to bypass the Buy America laws governing spending of Federal funds on things like new trains.  Not very patriotic, eh?

Why would they pass up millions in Federal money to procure American steel and components needed to build new rail cars?  Why is CDOT’s new $315 million contract with Alstom (a French company) to bring us 30 new rail cars seeing them built in Mexico instead of their US plant in Hormel NY?

One reason is, since the closing of the Budd Company’s railcar plant in Red Lion PA in 1987, the US hasn’t had a large-scale domestic railcar manufacturing facility.  I toured that Budd plant in 1980 as they were finishing their last orders… Amfleet coaches (still in use), Metro-North’s original M2 cars and subway cars for Chicago.  But as demand for new railcars dried up, so did the mighty Budd Company.

Now that many cities are in the market for new subways, trolleys and commuter trains, there are only overseas firms to turn to, such as Alstom and Siemens.  Not that they build bad cars, just that they’re not American.

As with the solar energy market there’s interest in Washington at re-establishing a domestic railcar industry to keep our spending on-shore, so far with mixed results.

Look no farther than the MBTA in Boston for an example of how this can go terribly wrong.  When “the T” wanted to order 284 new subway cars they saw the chance to kick-start domestic train manufacturing, albeit with a foreign partner, China’s state-owned CRRC, the world’s largest manufacturer of rolling stock.

MBTA Red Line car

CRRC acquired the old Westinghouse Electric factory in Springfield MA, hired 150 workers and started building in 2015.  The initial subway cars were to start delivery in 2018.

Now, five years later, only 100 of the cars in the $870 million order have been delivered and those cars are not working properly.  Some are missing parts, others breaking down in service. Doors fly open as the train in running.  Pretty serious stuff.

Mock-up of Orange Line Subway

The MBTA says CRRC has “completely abandoned” its responsibilities because they seriously underbid the contract and realize they’re losing money.  And when the MBTA order is finished, the plant has no new orders.

The Springfield plant was described by the Boston Globe as “chaotic and dysfunctional”, moving cars down the assembly line lacking important components, just trying to keep up deliveries.  CRRC blames the pandemic and supply chain problems.  Others say it’s a clash of cultures.

The bottom line:  Buy America isn’t cause for much celebration this Labor Day ’23.


August 24, 2023


Global warming is affecting shipping through the Panama Canal, delaying US imports of everything from new cars to fuel. 

Every ship traversing the canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans requires 50 million gallons of fresh water, drawn from two man-made lakes in the middle of the isthmus.  But reduced rainfall there this year has made water levels in the lakes drop precipitously, meaning less water to feed the canal, let alone provide fresh water to the locals.

That’s led to a 200-ship wait on both sides of the canal, delaying passage of goods.  And the ships that are being allowed through, some booked a year in advance, can carry less cargo because their draught (how deep the ships ride in the water) has been reduced from 50 feet depth to just 44 feet.  That reduces the through-put as each ship can each carry less cargo.

Huge “neopanamax” vessels (140 feet long and 180 feet wide) usually draw 60 feet in depth, so their cargos also have been reduced.  As a result, some of these mega-ships that carry liquified propane or butane (or up to 13,000 shipping containers) are having to divert all the way around South America or circumnavigating the globe the long way via the Suez canal, adding to fuel prices in the US.

Even smaller ships are facing delays as traffic in the canal is now limited to 32 crossings per day from the usual 36.  To monetize the supply-demand imbalance some shippers are bidding on auctions to prioritize their vessels.  While a usual Panama crossing might cost shippers $400,000 per trip, a few shippers are paying as much as $600,000.

All of which means more expensive prices for imports in the US where 73% of the cargo (worth $270 billion annually) is headed, including to ports like Port Elizabeth in NYC’s harbor.

One beneficiary of these delays may be the Trans-Panama Railway (which pre-dates the canal and is now co-owned by the Canadian Pacific – Kansas City RR).  Ships that can’t wait for the canal can offload their cargo on one side of the isthmus, put it on trains that make the 47-mile journey and load it on another ship on the other side to complete its journey.  If improved, the railway could carry up to 1.4 million containers annually.

To alleviate the canal’s water problems the Panamanians have hired the US Army Corps of Engineers (builders of the original canal) for a $10 billion contract to divert water from inland rivers into the man-made lakes feeding the canal’s operations.  But this will be a ten-year project.

So after a COVID-era nightmare of shipping delays at US ports like Long Beach CA (which led to many carriers using the Panama Canal to go directly to east-coast US ports), import delays will persist.  But this time it’s not due to high US demand for imports but global warming’s effect on rainfall in the jungles of Panama.



August 18, 2023


Metro-North is telling part-time commuters to go back to work.  Their incentive?  Elimination of the 20 trip discount tickets introduced in 2022.

After the pandemic when daily commuters were reverting to two or three days a week in the office, the old monthly pass didn’t make economic sense.  So MTA introduced a 20 trip ticket (good for 60 days) offering a 20% discount over daily fares.  It proved very popular.

Investment manager John Sini from Darien says he loved the idea.  “I currently commute 3 – 4 times a week (to GCT) and a 20 trip ticket would last me 2-3 weeks.”

Here's a chart showing the ticketing options for a Darien commuter on Metro-North:




One Way – Peak

$ 15.25


One Way – Off Peak

$ 11.50


10 Trip – Peak

$ 152.50


10 Trip – Off Peak

$ 97.75


20 Trip – Peak

$ 244.00



$ 107.25



$ 301.50



The unlimited monthly ticket only makes sense if you take at least 27 trips a month.  For many in the work-from-home crowd this isn’t their new reality.

If all of this is confusing, MTA does have a cool online fare calculator ( showing your lowest price option based on your travel patterns.  Plug in your stations, number of trips each month, peak and off-peak, and it recommends the “best” kind of ticket to buy.

Why is MTA killing the 20-trip ticket?  They say it’s because “post-COVID travel patterns continue to return to normal.”  But that’s obviously not what’s happening.

Ridership on Metro-North has flatlined at 70% of pre-COVID numbers for over a year now.  Efforts by employers to force their workers back into the office are still not working.  People prefer to not commute if they can.

The MTA’s claim of “a return to normal” also runs counter to what the CDOT is about to do in reducing service on the least-traveled days, Mondays and Fridays.  That decision is already baked into the new state budget but details are pending.

When I asked CDOT to comment on this apparent contradiction I never got a reply.  Even though CDOT sets fares in Connecticut, they’re clearly not in synch with Metro-North.  So think of this new move by Metro-North (effective Sunday August 20th along with fare hikes on the subways and buses in NYC) as a not-so hidden fare increase.

When the 20 trip tickets were introduced in 2022 they were a “carrot”.  Now Metro-North is going with a “stick”.

Higher fares won’t incentivize the work-from-home crowd back to the train. They may actually do the opposite.  As commuter Sini says,   “I think the MTA’s decision (to eliminate the 20 trip ticket) is a short sighted fare policy mistake that will drive some commuters that have in-office flexibility to commute less frequently.”

Workers now have a stronger argument with their bosses that they’ll be more productive (as well as saving time, stress and money) by not commuting.



August 11, 2023


Finally, some good news for rail commuters in Connecticut:  CDOT has ordered 60 new railcars for service on the branch lines.

To be manufactured by French rail giant Alstom (the folks who built the TGV and are building the new generation of Acela for Amtrak), these new unpowered cars will bring welcome enhancements for riders.

THE CARS:  The new cars will offer two-by-two seating (vs three by two seating on the M8s), some with work-station tables.  There will be overhead luggage racks and the capability of onboard Wi-Fi (which CDOT promises will be installed).  There will be USB plugs, automated station announcements, automatic doors and full ADA access.  And there will be bicycle racks.

But given the spacious seating, the new coaches will have 20% fewer seats per car than the M8s.

WHERE WILL THEY RUN?   They will mostly serve the Hartford Line between New Haven and Springfield, replacing ex-Shore Line East coaches built by Bombardier and Mafersa.  Even older coaches, rehabilitated on a lease from MBTA, will be returned to Boston.

Currently CT Rail runs locomotive-pulled three to five coach trains (supplemented by Amtrak’s two-coach consists) on The Hartford Line.

The new cars are capable of running at 125 mph but the tracks between New Haven and Springfield are only rated for 110 mph in short stretches.  Speed limits on the Danbury and Waterbury branches (where the new coaches may also run) are much lower.  The new cars will not run on the mainline, the New Canaan branch or Shore Line East, which are all electrified and operate with M8 cars.

MANUFACTURING:          The Alstom cars will be built in Sahagun, Mexico.  Because they are being purchased with state money there is no “buy American” requirement.

Alstom has extensive experience building rail cars elsewhere in the world. But these new cars will have to be built stronger (and heavier) to meet Federal Railroad Administration standards for “buff strength” and fire resistance in case of a crash.

Alstom tells me the first cars in the order will arrive “sometime in 2026”.

THE COST:            Given the $315 million purchase price for the 60 new cars, that works out to $5.25 million each.  The last M8 order from Kawaski in 2016 (for self-propelled EMU cars) came in at $3.85 million each. The new Alstom coaches will require dual-mode (diesel & electric) locomotives being purchased separately.

CDOT also has an option to buy an additional 313 Alstom coaches.  The current M8 fleet is over 500 cars, the first of which were ordered in 2006 but not put into service until 2011 due to software issues during testing.

THE BOTTOM LINE:        The branch lines have long needed new cars, but ridership there is historically lower than on the mainline (New Haven to Grand Central).  And with post-COVID ridership still no better than 70%, fewer seats makes sense (for now).  Obviously CDOT hopes these sleek, roomy new cars will attract new riders, but only time will tell.


How’s this for a double-whammy?  CDOT is proposing a cut in train and bus service while also raising fares… just as I predicted months ago ....