July 23, 2022


 A faithful reader of this column sent me some disturbing pictures last week.

Joe C was driving on the Merritt Parkway in Norwalk when he saw a FedEx tractor-trailer moving southbound.  His passenger snapped these pictures:


This is so wrong… a serious accident waiting to happen.  Trucks are, with few exceptions, not allowed on the Parkway… and with good reason.


All of the bridges on the Merritt Parkway, originally built to a minimum standard of eleven feet at the abutments, are too low for big trucks.  In some places the bridges are even lower due to roadbed re-grading and raising. The road just wasn’t designed for anything but passenger cars.

Trucks aren’t the only vehicles banned from the parkways.  So too are RV’s, cars towing trailers, buses and all commercial vehicles. That includes any vehicle with advertising or logos on it, even passenger cars with “Combi” (combination passenger and commercial) plates.

But we know those trucks are there.  We see them all the time.  So why aren’t they getting ticketed?

The CT State Police tell me it’s an issue of priorities.  They have only two troopers patrolling the Merritt Parkway per shift and their hands are full handling speeders, traffic accidents, drug busts etc. 

The problem is, it’s only a $92 ticket for violating the prohibited vehicles warning signs at every entrance.  That’s not much of a deterrent.  A bill to raise that penalty to $500 never made it to a vote in the legislature.

The old “Prohibited” signs at on-ramps were hardly noticeable and were wordy and confusing.  So CDOT has just changed out all the signs to something simpler, more colorful and attention-getting.  Apparently, they’re not helping.  

Even where more sophisticated warning systems employing lasers, blaring horns and flashing lights are in place, bridges still get struck.

Many truckers blame their GPS for directing them onto the parkways, so some insurance companies are offering financial incentives for fleet owners that use “smart GPS” designed for commercial drivers which will warn drivers of over-height vehicles to stay away.  But if you’re using a regular GPS unit or an app like WAZE, you’re out of luck.

When a truck does strike a bridge there are consequences.  In addition to often ripping the roof off the vehicle, the troopers also call in their Truck Squad which can issue thousands of dollars in fines if they find other violations regarding the weight of the vehicle, the driver’s log etc.

Usually, when an over-height truck strikes one of the Merritt’s 40 concrete underpasses, the truck loses.  But any damage to these historic bridges, many of them recently restored, can take months to get repaired. Not to mention the incredible backups and delays from these accidents. 

When the Merritt Parkway opened in 1940, the speed limit was 40 mph and it was designed to carry 18,000 vehicles a day.  These days, outside of the bumper-to-bumper rush hours, the average speed is 73 mph and the parkway handles 90,000 vehicles per day. That’s more than enough without adding dangerous trucks to the mix.




July 15, 2022



Yes, there are new trains on the Waterbury branch… and three new express trains from New Haven, but overall our rail service in Connecticut is still too slow. Why?

Governor Lamont and CDOT Commissioner Guilietti ballyhooed their new train PR last week as if they’d solved the commuting problem.  They have not.

Still,  kudos to Commuter Council Chair and Waterbury branch rider Jim Gildea for his tireless efforts to build up service on that branch line.  Seven new trains have been added to the line, four southbound and three northbound.  But ridership is still miniscule:  just 57,500 a month as of this spring.  And per-passenger subsidies are still way too high:  almost $25 per ride.

That ridership is less than 2000 a day, equivalent to two full rush hour trains on the mainline.  Now that service has expanded, the question is… will more people ride the train?

On the mainline they’ve added three express trains from New Haven to Grand Central, stopping only in Bridgeport and Stamford.  The service is targeted at uber-early morning commuters with trains leaving New Haven starting at 5:09 am and making the run in 99 minutes (1:39).

That’s impressive compared to the 2+ hours required for the rest of the trains on that run.  But most commuters on the mainline are not traveling from New Haven but from busy stations like Fairfield, Darien and Greenwich.  Three new early-morning expresses don’t help them at all.

It was 13 months ago that Governor Lamont made his “Time for CT” promise, pledging to shave 10 minutes off commuting time this year and 25 minutes by 2035.  The promise was for all commuters, not just early AM New Haven express riders.

So why do our trains still run so slow?   Blame the past… and Washington.

You’ll remember the
2013 derailment of a Metro-North train in Fairfield, which injured 65 passengers.  And a few months later a deadly crash of a Hudson line train at Spuyten Duyvil  killed four and injured 61.

That’s when the Feds leapt into action, embedding their Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspectors deep into the Metro-North organization to find out what had happened.

Bottom line:  they blamed the railroad’s culture of emphasizing on-time performance while neglecting safety.  The FRA imposed speed restrictions on all Metro-North trains, especially on bridges and curves… of which there are many. And those speed restrictions are still in effect.

That means that a commute from New Haven to NYC suddenly became 15 – 20 minutes longer than before… but, hopefully, safer.

Also adding to safety was installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) designed to overcome human error.  That system is now fully operational, yet the FRA speed restrictions are still in effect.  Why?

I’ve asked CDOT and Senator Blumenthal to persuade the FRA to give us back our usual speeds on Metro-North, so far to no avail.  So while a few trains, like the New Haven expresses, may be running at better speeds, for most commuters it’s still a slow ride to NYC.


July 09, 2022


It should have been done by now.

2018 was the expected completion date of the new railroad tunnels under the Hudson River, first proposed in 2009.  At that time the $9 billion project was the biggest infrastructure project in the country.  Now it may finally happen.

Why do rail tunnels from New York’s Penn Station to New Jersey matter to us here in Connecticut?  Because they are the weakest but most crucial link in the northeast corridor, home to 23% of the US economy.  Imagine trying to get to Philadelphia or Washington without Amtrak running through our state, into those tunnels and to points south.

There are 23 bridges and tunnels connecting Manhattan from the north and east.  But between that island and New Jersey there are only six… two of them those rail tunnels built in 1910.  And when super-storm Sandy flooded those tunnels in October 2012 with 3.5 million gallons of salt water, their lifespan was shortened by decades due to corrosion.  They need to be augmented and repaired.

If one of those two rail tunnels were to fail, the entire nation would be in an economic crisis.   We had a taste of that last week when Amtrak closed one of the tunnels for a couple of hours due to a track problem, backing up the morning rush hour as dozens of trains queued up even as others broke down, further clogging the tubes.

New York’s Penn Station was never built to handle the 430,000 daily passengers it  handled each day pre-COVID (vs the 750,000 who enter the much-larger Grand Central Terminal).  Amtrak, NJ Transit and the LIRR then carried twice as many riders at Penn as New York’s three airports combined.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents alone make up 16% of Manhattan’s workforce.  Their rail commuting options are so tight that many must rely on the 7700 daily commuter buses that bring them into the commuters’ nightmare known as The Port Authority bus terminal.

All that could have changed if the 2009 plan to build additional rail tunnels had gone through.  But then, along came Chris Christie, the newly elected Governor of the Garden State who balked at the cost and pulled the plug.

Cynics say that he did so to instead spend money on highways and keep the state’s gasoline tax low for another few years, even after repaying Uncle Sam for $95 million already spent on the rail project.

During the Trump administration the President dutifully avoided even promises to do anything about the tunnels, Ignoring the city where he made his fortune, out of sheer spite.

But now there’s new hope:  an agreement between New Jersey and New York’s governors to share the cost of the first phase, a staggering $14 billion for the local share of the aptly named Gateway project.  Then, it’s hoped, the Feds will chip in the other half.

As the always-prescient 93-year-old Regional Planning Association points out, the tri-state area cannot afford to not build for the future just as those before us did, leaving us an infrastructure now almost a century old and crumbling from neglect.

July 05, 2022


When we get on an airplane we buckle up, read the safety card and are given a demonstration on the oxygen masks and emergency exits.  Those things can save lives should something go wrong.

But when we get on a train, either Metro-North or Amtrak, we settle into our seat and zone out.  We assume we’re safe. 

That’s what passengers on an Amtrak train in Missouri thought this past week… until their train’s locomotive hit a dump truck on an unguarded private grade crossing and derailed.  Four passengers were killed and 150 injured, many seriously.

That accident gave Geralyn Ritter a flashback to her near death experience on a far worse, high speed crash on Amtrak in 2015.  Her new book ”Bone by Bone”, recounts her years of surgery and recovery, donating all proceeds to the American Trauma Society.

Ritter, then an executive at Merck,  was heading home from Philly to New Jersey when her train, Amtrak 188, hit a 50-mph-curve at 102 mph and literally came off the tracks.  Ritter was in the first car, which hit the ground with such impact that it was demolished.

Ritter happened to be standing in the aisle when the train hit the curve.

“I noticed the train seemed to be moving faster than usual. For a fleeting moment, I was pleased. Maybe we’ll arrive early,” she thought. Then the speed got more violent.

“I was clutching the (overhead baggage) rail with both hands to keep from falling. Then the train tilted. I braced myself, both arms straining to hold onto the bar above my head. “What the—?” I yelled. I remember the overwhelming force pulling my body. I remember my confusion, trying to make sense of it. The whole train can’t actually be tipping over. In a flash, I realized it was true—we were crashing. The sound of my own scream is the last thing I remember.”

When rescue workers found her, unconscious, she’d been thrown from the train.  Others were crushed inside the cars. Eight were killed and 200 injured, 11 critically.  Ironically the engineer, later charged in the crash, walked away with just a few bumps and bruises.

Amtrak assumed full responsibility and paid $200 million in settlements; an amount capped at the time under law.

Amtrak’s liability came, in part, from its lack of installation of PTC, positive train control, a technology that would have stopped the train from speeding and avoided the crash.

Had it been installed on Metro-North, PTC would have prevented the deadly Spuyten Duyvil derailment in 2013 that killed four and injured 61 when an engineer spaced out and entered that notoriously sharp curve at three times the speed limit.

After years of surgery and therapy, Ritter is recovered now but still in pain.  She told me she wrote “Bone by Bone” to inspire others fighting to recover from traumatic injuries.

She’s back on the road for business, yes even on Amtrak.  Today she’s always aware of her surroundings, looking for emergency exits when taking a seat.  She never sits by a window nor in the front car on a train. 

When Ritter’s Amtrak train passes the scene of her accident near Philadelphia, she says a prayer for her fellow passengers on that night… and gratitude for her survival and for the medical community that made that possible.


Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembere...