June 03, 2007

Saving the Bar Cars

Score one for the commuters! The MTA has backed down on plans to prohibit the sale of alcohol at Grand Central and on the trains, thanks in part to the organized efforts of the CT Rail Commuter Council and a petition drive by bar car fans.

An MTA task force was studying possible prohibition at the urging of an LIRR board member, who was worried that the railroad might be liable for injuries caused by people who were drinking on the train. Board member Mitch Pally started his effort after a young woman died after she fell into the gap between a station platform and the train; the victim was found to have been drinking before the accident.

But it turns out that dozens of people have fallen into such platform gaps when they were stone cold sober, so our suggestion was to fix the gap… not penalize responsible adult commuters who enjoy having a beer on their way home by train. Led by commuter Council Vice Chair Terri Cronin, concerned commuters gathered over 4,000 petition signatures, which were presented along with her testimony before the MTA panel.

To their credit, CDOT officials also testified that even if the MTA plan went forward prohibiting alcohol sales, Connecticut would not enforce it. It's almost a two hour ride from Grand Central to New Haven, and given the crowding, lack of seats, smelly bathrooms and spotty AC, don't commuters deserve (if not need) a drink?

(Full disclosure; I haven't had a drink in over 20 years, but I'll surely fight to defend the right of adults to enjoy such beverages responsibly.)

The panel also heard from MTA police, who said that there have not been reports of unruly drunks on the trains or injuries caused by commuters driving home after time in the bar cars. Bartenders, both at the carts at Grand Central and on the bar cars themselves, are conscientious about sales. Not only do they proof for age, but will only sell one drink at a time.

All of this apparently impressed the MTA panel studying possible prohibition as their initial recommendation to the full MTA is to leave the sale of alcohol alone.

The MTA earned over $700,000 last year from such sales, double that earned on the Long Island Railroad. Not that Connecticut commuters drink twice as much, but we're the ones blessed with the only bar cars on any commuter railroad in the US.

In the mid-1970s, 20 bar cars were built... ten for New York and ten for Connecticut. The New York cars were later converted to coaches to increase seating capacity. But Connecticut's bar cars live on and are almost “the holy grail” of the railroad.

Nine of the original bar cars are left, but eight new bar cars are on order as part of the M8 purchase. But the older cars are really in sad shape, being held together with gaffer's tape, so they’re undergoing rehabilitation, one at a time. The first rehab’ed bar car should be in service this summer.

So, next time you're on the train, join me in a toast to the MTA, CDOT and America's only commuter-rail bar cars! Cheers!
JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 15 years. He is Chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM, but the opinions expressed here are only his own. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

1 comment:

AudioGuy said...

"Not only do they proof for age, but will only sell one drink at a time."

This isn't entirely true. Just two days ago, before boarding the 9:07 to Hartford, I bought 2 16-oz cans of beer and a Gin on ice. And They didn't card me. They never do. Mind you, I don't look underage so it's reasonable.

To my surprise there was a barcar on the train, a very nice retrofit. There was paneling resembling bamboo, and there were pictures of tropical rainforest scenes. Although there was no bartender that time of night, it was a refreshing break from the humdrum standard passenger cars. Tons of counter space, room to move around, drinkholders and couch-like seats. I was elated!

You see, It's been over 10 years since I commuted to NYC, and back then the barcar consisted of a standard passenger car with a few seats removed, and a cart and bartender in that space.



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