March 23, 2023


Last week’s column on the increase in pedestrian deaths brought us a lot of comments.  Here are a few for you to consider:


I have always enjoyed your column.  Today’s was particularly alarming, and perhaps a canary in the coal mine.  There have been more pedestrian deaths in the past twelve months here in West Hartford than I ever recall reading about.   But I’m not surprised.  Driver behavior has deteriorated  from the time I was a Glastonbury police officer in the 1990s.  Since those days, I have spent decades on our highways all over the state, building a business, and I feel like I have some pretty on-point observations at this point:

1) The speed and recklessness of Connecticut drivers is at levels I’ve never witnessed before; approaching almost lawlessness - a real Mad Max vibe.  I’m pretty chill, and I’m alarmed.

2) Everyone is staring at their phones.  People weave in and out of lanes like they are driving to the basket; speeders come up on you so fast that if you are not constantly on vigil you are in real danger.   I can drive by someone at 65 miles an hour and glance over to see them texting or looking at their phone in their lap.  It’s surreal.   So good luck if you if you are a pedestrian or on a bike and have to contend with that (at least on our local roads).


3)  I hear and read that police enrollment is down, and their esprit de corps is as well, so work will have to be done with municipal and state leadership to right that ship.  But to that end, and in the meantime, I rarely drive by state troopers engaged in traffic enforcement / intervention, at least anywhere near the levels I used to witness.  They may have statistics that contradict my observations, but I see what I see.  Nine out of ten times when I see a state trooper, they are cruising past me at high speeds in the left lane, without lights and siren.  I’ll often draft ten or so car lengths behind them at the same speed, and they don’t care whatsoever.   So from what I see, the reckless drivers have little to dissuade them from continuing to operate with impunity.


4) And because of this, I’m re-thinking my opposition traffic cameras, especially if they can document reckless driving, beyond just the speed itself.  If the police can’t ensure public safety by smacking down all of the aggressive drivers, then I think I’m ready to over-pay a third party to big brother us into safety on our roads, with all the downside that entails.  Because right now…we can’t be in any more danger than we are currently.   


I have teenage boys who will soon be driving, and while I’m hopeful they will be respectful drivers, I fear for their lives from the simmering chaos on our roads.  

DOUG RANKIN – West Hartford


I appreciate your column pointing out the rising number of pedestrian deaths and how we all need to pay attention and address this problem. I'm troubled, however, by the column's closing point, which is about how pedestrians can keep themselves safe. Your article begins with a woman who was struck while standing in a park. What could she have done or what should she need to do to keep herself safe when she is already in what is presumably a safe place? Isn't the more important point that drivers need to drive safely? Shouldn't we focus first on infrastructure that encourages safe driving and then on driver responsibility?



What do you think is causing this?  I understand CT ranks like 3rd in DUI stuff.  It appears to me our drivers ed courseware should entail more of the science of why speed, distracted driving, substances, & weather conditions bring us this stuff daily.  Maybe as part of drivers ed they can include simulated model driving complete with a computer screen & the student has to learn to navigate on screen as well.  I think we will see a lot more of this given the cannabis bill & our lazy prosecution.  They should open up the HOV lane to all so as to disperse traffic, not score social credit points. This way we may incur less tractor trailer accidents.  I have recommended to DOT a new type of highway barrier that is designed to disperse momentum.

KIM LIBERA - Cromwell


People often cross midblock because they have better visual of cars versus having to contend with drivers blowing a red light or turning right on red.  I don't give a flying F if a pedestrian is looking at their phone while walking - the assumption should be safety when on our sidewalks or in bus shelters. The onus is on the driver in the 2 ton steel box.

KATE ROZEN - Twitter


March 17, 2023


She was just walking her dog.  Seconds later she became the latest statistic in a growing list of pedestrians killed or maimed this year in Connecticut by motor vehicles.

Donna Joy Berry, age 63, wasn’t on the road or even the sidewalk as she walked her dog in the Glenville neighborhood of Greenwich.  She was on a grassy area away from the road.  Second later a Lexus traveling north on Weaver Street crossed the yellow line, jumped the curb and struck her.  Days later she died.  Neither the dog, nor the driver (who remained on the scene), was injured.

In another case a Greenwich man may now face manslaughter charges after striking and killing two restaurant workers walking in Stamford.  He was driving a 2022 Mercedes at 86 mph when the December accident happened at 2 am.  Arrested in Florida and extradited to Connecticut, 24-year-old Michael Talbot could get 20 years in jail.

Last year 75 pedestrians in this state died when struck by vehicles, a 50% increase from just five years ago.  But why the sudden increase in such fatalities?

Source:  CT Bicycle & Ped Advisory Bd

One reason is that people are walking more.  But more importantly, both drivers and pedestrians are increasingly distracted, listening to their phones or texting.  And motorists are driving faster.

Our vehicles are also getting bigger and more lethal.  If you get hit by a car you might just roll up and off of the hood.  But trucks and SUV’s strike pedestrians chest-high, causing much more trauma.  And those larger vehicles often block their drivers’ view, especially when making a turn, because of their roof pillars.

In many Connecticut neighborhoods there are no sidewalks, reducing the distance between pedestrians and vehicles.  Our roads seem only designed for those vehicles, hence the call by many for what are known as “complete streets”.

“We have a great partnership with CDOT (in redesigning our roads),” says Sandy Fry, chair of the Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Board, an advocacy group established in 2009 by the legislature.  But when one of their members walked the entire distance of Route 1, it was clear there’s much work to be done.

In many cases there are no marked crosswalks or if there are they aren’t well signed or lit.  Fry says pedestrians and bikers need to be physically separated from traffic.

Frequently these collisions happen mid-block, often when pedestrians are jaywalking.  Sometimes they’re crossing a busy roadway to get to or from a bus stop mid-block.

As of last year, pedestrians at crosswalks (even if unmarked) have the right of way.  All they have to do is wave their hand or point, indicating they want to cross, and vehicles must stop.  Drivers who don’t stop face a $500 fine.

But there are other common sense things pedestrians can do to stay safe:  always walk facing the traffic, cross only at crosswalks, wear light colored clothing or carry a light at night, obey traffic signals and constantly be aware of your surroundings… especially cars turning right on red.

March 11, 2023



Why do we keep “studying” problems instead of fixing them?  Why do we still pay consultants millions of dollars, over and over again, to look at the same issues while we avoid spending that money to change the conditions that create them?

Because we keep hoping there’s an easy solution… that some savvy consultant will find the missing link, shout “Ahah… we’ve found the answer!”, and then we can fix it.   But we should know that’s not going to happen.  If the solutions were easy, we’d have found them long ago.

The latest example of wasting money:  a $7 million, three-year traffic study on I-95, the fifth such study in 20 years.  This time the focus is just a three-mile stretch in downtown Stamford ranked as one of the worst bottlenecks in the nation.

The road sees 200,000 vehicles a day with 40+% of that traffic entering or leaving the highway in Stamford, “The City That Works” (but can’t seem to move its own street traffic). Anybody driving that stretch of I-95 knows what a mess it is most hours of the day.

This new study is looking slightly beyond I-95 itself to include 50 intersections in downtown Stamford as well as the 1500+ daily pedestrians who dodge cars trying to cross under I-95.

Visit the consultant’s beautiful website,, and you are greeted by a background video that immediately makes one skeptical.  The video shows traffic freely flowing on I-95, as if on a Sunday morning, not the typical 15 mph bumper-to-bumper flow that greets daily commuters.  Do these consultants even understand the problem?

Dig further into the website and you get a sense of why this project is costing $7 million.  In the cause of “environmental justice” and social equity all of the documentation is available in English, Spanish and Creole.  There are facts sheets, brochures, newsletters and even a telephone hotline.  And there are fascinating video archives of their first efforts at community outreach.

Let’s just say that local folks are skeptical.  We’ve seen this political posturing, these listening sessions and stakeholder engagement before and know they lead to nothing.

During the Q&A with the consultants in the first public session there were the usual calls for bike lanes, pedestrian crossing and yes, one old timer said we need to replace the highway with a monorail. The consultants listened politely, nodded and said they appreciate “big ideas”.

But the first caller, Zach, really said it best: “This seems like a waste of money. You can’t take three years to study this”.  Then he made the best observation of all: “The problem with I-95 is that the trains run too slow.  Let’s get more people on the train and out of cars.”  Exactly. 

So why isn’t CDOT studying Metro-North and the Stamford Transportation Center (which they own) right next to the highway?  Why aren’t they figuring out why people are driving instead of taking the train?  Answer those questions and the traffic problems will be solved.

March 06, 2023



What is this fascination that people have with monorails?  I can’t tell you how often people suggest them as “the answer” to our state’s clogged roads.

“Why don’t we build a monorail down the middle of The Merritt Parkway?,” asked an architect at a recent meeting.  To my astonishment, such an idea was once studied!

As lore has it, back in the mid-1980’s local tech giant Sikorsky was asked by CDOT if a monorail could be built and a plan was submitted.  Sure, such a system could be built, they concluded, but where would you put the stations and the necessary parking? 

Since hearing of this white-whale of a tale, shared by Merritt Parkway Conservancy Executive Director Wes Haynes, I have been on a relentless search for details of the proposal, but I’ve come up empty.  Sikorsky has no record of the plan.  CDOT said “Huh?”

Digging through the archives of the Stamford Advocate I found 
articles from 1985 discussing the idea:  a $700 million monorail down the median of the Merritt Parkway from Greenwich to Trumbull as an alternative to Bridgeport developer Francis D’Addario’s idea of widening the parkway to eight lanes… or double-decking I-95.

Chinese monorail

Motorists were surveyed and CDOT apparently spent $250,000 for a study.

The amazing research librarians at the State Library dug through their dusty files and came up with a CDOT report from 1987 pooh-poohing the idea, not only on grounds of impracticality but because it would compete with existing rail service.  Heavens no!

In 1998 a monorail was once proposed for Hartford, connecting downtown to Rentschler Field in East Hartford.  It was to cost only $33 million and the cost was supposedly to be paid by the Feds.  It never happened.  The idea was revived again in 2006 when the Adriaen’s Landing convention complex was opened, but again, nothing.

A pseudo-monorail “People Mover” system was built at Hartford’s Bradley Airport in 1976 connecting the remote parking to the main terminal, all of seven-tenths of a mile away.  The fixed-guideway system, with cars designed by Ford Motor Company, cost $4 million but never operated because the $250,000 annual operating was cost was deemed impractical.  In 1984 it was dismantled, though you can still see one of the original cars at the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor.

Whatever your fantasies are about space-age travel by monorail, let me dispel your dreams with some facts.

Monorails are not fast.  The Disneyworld monorail, built by a Japanese company, has a top speed of 55 mph but usually just averages 40 mph.  Even on a bad day Metro-North can better that.  The 3.9 mile long Las Vegas monorail does about 50 mph shuttling losers from casino to casino.

Monorails are expensive.  The Vegas system, opened in 2004, cost $654 million.  That’s why existing monorails like Disney’s have never been extended.

Monorails are not Maglevs.  Don’t confuse the single-track, rubber-tired monorails with the magnetic-levitation technology in use in Shanghai and being tested for passenger trains in Japan.  The Shanghai maglev can travel over 250 mph, the Japanese test trains have hit 374 mph.

No, monorails are not in Connecticut’s future and are not the answer to our woes.

February 25, 2023



“I’m going to cut your throat,” said the man wielding a knife and targeting a SEAT bus driver in New London who’d stepped off her vehicle for a quick break.  The female driver jumped back on the bus, closed the doors and called the cops who minutes later arrested the would-be attacker.

This incident in late December is just one of many in Connecticut, New York City and nationwide in what is an increasing incidence of violence aimed at our mass transit workers. On Metro-North alone they were targets of 16 assaults and 14 harassments last year.

Since 2019, the overall rate of violent crimes — murder, rape, felony assault and robbery — has more than doubled in the NYC subways even as ridership has decreased. And increasingly it’s not just passengers but the people who run our trains, subways and buses who are the targets.

In NYC anyone convicted of assaulting a transit worker faces up to seven years in jail… assuming the perp is caught and the DA prosecutes.  In Connecticut such attacks are a Class C Felony, the same as assaulting a police officer.

Not every attack or threat is potentially lethal.  Sometimes transit workers have had coffee tossed at the them or they’re spat at.  Whatever anger commuters may have about delays should not be taken out on the front-line workers who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.

According to police many of these attacks in Connecticut seem to be perpetrated by homeless passengers riding the bus system all day taking advantage of the free fare program which expires at the end of March.  Lacking sufficient shelters and day-facilities it seems they prefer our buses to camping out in other public places.

Many of them are suffering from mental health issues.  They need our governments’ help, not a change of venue.  Keeping them out of sight and off our streets by having them ride our buses is not the answer.

Their presence on our buses and subways frightens other passengers, further discouraging badly needed ridership.  And transit workers who must cope with them are not social workers, so it’s not fair to ask them to intercede.  The fear of confrontations with angry or unstable passengers is one of the reasons MTA did so little to enforce the federal face-mask rules during the pandemic.

The free fare program on Connecticut buses has been immensely helpful to poor people struggling to save money.  They deserve those breaks… but not when the unintended consequences of such a pilot program leads to violence.

Mass transit is replete with security cameras and, in the case of vulnerable bus drivers, safety shields around their driving work area.  So the people making these attacks are usually caught but only after the damage, physical and psychological, has been inflicted.

The answer is not to put armed guards on every bus and train.  That’s impractical.  But whether attackers are mentally unstable or just drunk, whether their targets are transit workers or random passengers, something must be done to keep such people off of mass transit.

February 17, 2023



Americans have been thinking about the safety of our railroads a lot in recent days, and with good reason.

On Valentine’s Day a Metro-North train made a slow speed crash into the protective rail bumper at the end of the line in New Canaan.  The train was unoccupied (aside from its crew, one of whom was slightly injured) and the train derailed, causing minor damage.

Photo courtesy 

The location has seen similar derailments in the past but there’s no use speculating on what happened, or why, pending a formal inquiry. But if this had happened in the evening rush hour when the train would have been crowded with commuters, the outcome could have been different.

In the Fairfield derailment and crash ten years ago, many of those injured were out of their seats, standing in the vestibules and ready to detrain at the next stop. When the crash happened, they were tossed like rag dolls.  The lesson there:  remain seated.

The New Canaan branch line dates from the 1860’s and is due for work.  In fact the 8-mile-long line will reportedly be completely shut down for several weeks in a renovation planned long before the recent derailment.  While conductors on the branch are warning passengers about this, there is no information forthcoming about this work from Metro-North or CDOT as to when or why.

Of course, none of this comes close to what happened February 3rd when a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine OH.  The 150-car-train was carrying all manner of freight, most of it not risky. 

But eleven of the 36 cars that derailed were very dangerous, including five transporting vinyl chloride gas, under pressure as a liquid.  Other cars were carrying ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene.  The EPA says many of those are dangerous and potentially carcinogenic.

To avoid even more perilous explosions, the authorities decided to burn off the gas in a “controlled explosion”.  The result was loud and perfect for prime-time TV.  But days later the real problems began.

"Controlled Explosion"  -  photo courtesy Axios

Neighbors reported 3500 dead fish in their rivers while many suffered from headaches and nausea.  Wells are being tested but bottled water seems in everyone’s future… if they decide to stay.

Initial reports say this accident may have been caused by an overheated axle on one of the 150 railcars.  The NTSB will investigate and, in a few months, give us a more definitive answer.

There are over 1700 derailments in the US each year, most of them non-lethal.  For Connecticut residents the good news is this won’t happen here, at least not to this extent.  Why? Because we have virtually no rail freight in this state. 

The bad news?  Those chemicals are traveling on our highways, albeit in smaller truck-sized loads, but no less likely to cause explosions or damage if they’re involved in an accident.  Those chemicals are what drive our industries. They need to get shipped.

Meantime we keep talking about wanting to take trucks off our interstates and put them on freight trains.  But be careful what you wish for.


February 10, 2023


There must be something in the water.  How else can we explain Bridgeport, our state’s largest city, and what goes on there?

Bridgeport politics are infamous.  The fact that they keep re-electing convicted felons to high office should tell you a lot.  But on the transportation front the locals’ behavior is equally hard to understand.

Case in point:  the city’s latest dreams of a high speed ferry.

Actually, more than dreams.  Because money is being spent, yet again, and this time not just on a study but a new dock…. without a ferry.

As Brian Lockhart writes in the CT Post, the city started back in October building a new dock on Water Street (near the existing slow-speed ferry terminal).  The $11.2 million dock is being paid for with $10.5 million federal money and $700,000 kicked in by the local Bridgeport Port Authority, just as goodwill.

Normally such a project would be announced with fanfares, but not in Bridgeport.  Why the stealth?  Well, they may be building a dock but they don’t have a ferry to operate there.

After the dock is built the city will then issue an RFP for a company to run a ferry service.  Usually such projects are done by seeking expressions of interest from vendors, then doing the construction… but not in Bridgeport.

I have written any number of times why ferry service makes no sense:  ferries can’t offer the frequency of trips, the fares will easily be double the train fare, they can’t operate in all weather, they’re fuel inefficient and may end up being slower than Metro-North.

A Bridgeport ferry would probably stop in Stamford on its way to NYC, maybe even in Glen Cove NY too.  That Long Island bedroom community built a beautiful $17 million high speed ferry dock, but it has sat empty for the last six months because the ferry couldn’t get enough passengers.

There are successful high speed ferries in the NYC area but they’re all heavily subsidized and don’t operate in direct competition with rail service.  And the operators of those ferry could very easily start service from Connecticut… if they thought there was a demand.  But they haven’t, because there isn’t.

Bridgeport is no stranger to water transport experiments.  You might remember back in 1976 the city hosted a private hovercraft service operating from that same Water Street location.

Hovercraft "Excalibur"

Bridgeport native Robert Weldon hoped to bring gamblers to the city’s new jai alai fronton on a 60-passenger, 50-foot-long craft.  In addition he would whisk fat cats to Wall Street in as little as 35 minutes.

But cutting travel times (compared with Metro-North) came with hefty fares:  $125 a month compared to the railroad’s $80 commuter pass.  The noisy craft first departed Bridgeport at 6:45 am on June 26th, stopping in Huntington LI on its way to the city.  By November the service was stopped, having never achieved better than a 30% load factor.

Ah, Bridgeport!  The city where expensive dreams never die… especially when they’re spending other peoples’ money.


February 03, 2023



The Connecticut legislature is back in session, saving us from ourselves (and each other).  And the collection of proposed bills this session, numbering in the hundreds, includes many that would affect our state’s transportation laws.

Once again lawmakers are debating our state’s “open container” law as Connecticut is one of only 10 states where it is legal for a passenger in a car to have an open can of beer, hard cider or even a bottle of Jack Daniels as the vehicle drives along.  Of course, the driver would never be drinking, just the passengers… so that would keep us all safe, right? 

At the same time, some lawmakers want to extend the pandemic-Happy Hour law to keep allowing “To Go” drinks from bars and restaurants.  That makes sense too, eh?  Let’s all keep partying after staggering out of the bar onto the streets or into our cars?

And of course there’s the annual battle to make booze even cheaper and more available by allowing wine sales in grocery stores, not just our state’s 1200 package stores… an idea popular with consumers but not liquor store owners.

Is it just me, or all these bills sending mixed messages?

While the CDOT’s “Vision Zero” program tries to stop the carnage on our highways, lawmakers seem to be heeding constituents’ cries to allow them to stay high on the highways.

You’ve seen the stats on highway and pedestrian deaths, soaring to 40-year highs.  And lawmakers too have felt the pain of this roadway slaughter with the recent death of State Rep Quentin “Q” Williams in a wrong-way driver crash on Rt 9 after he left Governor Lamont’s inaugural ball.  (By the way… where are the toxicology reports on that crash’s two victims?  Why is it taking so long to find out who had what in their bloodstream?)

But the most interesting bill of all is one submitted by Senate President Martin Looney regarding unhelmeted motorcyclists who die in traffic accidents:  Looney wants their organs harvested without their permission.

Looney received a kidney transplant in 2016 from a donor, which is admirable.  But to start dissecting corpses of motorcycle riders because they were not wearing helmets seems a bit extreme. 

The motorcycle lobby points out that this would violate the rights of those whose religious beliefs prevent organ donation.  Even New England Donor Services, which runs the New England Organ Bank, seems skeptical.

While the Looney bill certainly raises awareness of the need for more organ donations, does he really think this plan would incentivize bikers to play safe and wear head protection?  Or is this just a way of finding more, badly needed organs for transplants?

I have a corollary bill to suggest:

Each time a truck collides with a bridge on our parkways, the truck’s contents should be up for grabs for the first scavengers and looters who can reach the rig… unless they have open containers of alcohol in their cars.



January 27, 2023


Grand Central Madison, the new train station bored into the rock beneath Grand Central Terminal, is finally open.  When it’s fully operational it’s expected to serve 160,000 daily Long Island RR riders.  And by freeing up space at Penn Station (once dominated by LIRR), some Metro-North trains will be able to terminate there instead of at GCT.

As a friend from an engineering consultancy put it in social media:  “This new station proves we CAN build great things (in the US).”  Yeah… a decade late and 400% over budget.

I hate always to be the cynic, but if we don’t understand our mistakes we’ll keep repeating (and over-paying for) them.

The New York Times did an investigation in 2017 showing that the construction cost for Grand Central Madison and its new tunnels was seven times the average of such projects elsewhere in the world.  Why?

Feather-bedding for one: 200 of the 900 construction workers digging the huge tunnels were being paid $1000 a day but effectively doing nothing.  This was discovered in 2010 and the excess workers were laid off, but the incident was not reported to the public which is paying for the project.

Right now the MTA is facing a fiscal cliff:  it doesn’t have enough money to keep the region’s mass transit running without a fare increase.  But they’re still burning through $51 billion on capital projects like this one:  new ADA access at subway stations, new signal systems, important stuff but never cheap.

During the pandemic the MTA paid McKinsey consultants millions to predict when transit ridership would return (thereby reducing their operating deficits).  The consultants told them what they wanted to hear, that commuters would soon be back in droves!  Wrong.

Subway ridership is now only 65% of pre-COVID numbers, buses about 62% and Metro-North only 68%.  On the subways the perception (and reality) of crazies and criminals is discouraging riders further… while actually encouraging fare beaters.  The MTA says it loses a half billion dollars a year in uncollected fares!

Those are facts.  So too is the reality, finally, of a brand new train station in New York City!  But will it deliver on the promises that were made to justify its expense?

The MTA (parent of the LIRR and Metro-North) says the new Grand Central Madison will save “40 minutes commuting time” for Long Island riders heading to the east side of Manhattan.  Maybe.

Just emerging from the new station, 15 stories below street level, takes almost 12 minutes riding one of the four ginormous 182 foot long escalators.  I have a pool going as to how quickly one of them breaks down. (Email me if you want in.)

Metro-North can’t keep a single story escalator from the lower to upper level of GCT working… or the escalators constantly broken down connecting to Madison and Park Avenues, let alone these monsters. 

But next time you’re in Grand Central, go take a look… while the new station is still sparkling, bright and in full working order.  After all, you paid for it.

January 21, 2023


 Why do the folks who run our commuter railroads act like their customers are stupid?  Though desperate for ridership to return (to fight huge post-COVID deficits), they ignore legitimate commuter feedback and do everything they can to hide their failures.

Case in point: the Commuter Rail Council, the independent watchdog group created by the CT legislature almost 40 years ago, on which I served for 19 years.  During the Malloy administration we were getting a bit too vocal in our complaints, so a senior Democrat warned me (and another Council member) to cool it or “your little Commuter Council will be written out of existence”.

Sure enough, they tried, slipping a bill into the hopper to eliminate our group and its criticism.  To his credit, State Senator Tony Hwang saved the day, rewriting the Council’s mandate, though in a much watered-down version.

Senator Hwang hosted members of the Commuter Council at the Capitol this week for an update on what riders are thinking, and Hwang’s colleagues on the Transportation Committee got an earful.

Jim Gildea - Chairman Commuter Council
Jim Gildea - Commuter Council

The Council’s usually affable Chairman Jim Gildea said the CT Dept of Transportation is, once again, unresponsive to simple requests.  Since April the Council has asked for data on on-time performance by station, when Shore Line East service would be fully restored, ridership numbers on the much-touted 99 minute express trains from New Haven to GCT and, yes, the status of Quiet Cars.

But the agency didn’t reply for months.  Why?  Because they’re obviously hiding their failures behind a veil of bureaucracy.  “We’ll have to get back to you,” seems their constant refrain.

Governor Lamont promised 60 minute train service from New Haven to GCT and the best CDOT could offer up were three very-limited-stop runs on weekdays, two of them departing before 6 am. The fastest train still takes 99 minutes to make the journey. But is anyone riding those trains?  CDOT knows but is embarrassed to tell us.

By the way, Chairman Gildea also asked the Transportation Committee for a small budget as he has to pay out of his own pocket for a website, email feed and Zoom account.  That’s right, though the CDOT is awash with money, the Commuter Council doesn’t get a dime to do its important advocacy work.

As for the possible return of the Quiet Cars, after five requests the Commuter Council finally got an answer: “No”.  Metro-North blames “operational issues” but wouldn’t explain what that means.

That phrase “operational issues” is widely used by the railroad in explaining train delays and cancellations, the latest in their growing dictionary of euphemisms to obscure the truth.

Just look at Metro-North’s Twitter feed and notice how often they avoid telling us what’s really happening, using words like “mechanical issues” instead of telling us a train broke down.  Why can’t they be honest with us?  Because they can’t own up to their poor performance, let alone correct it.

Incoming CDOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalito can change all that, if he wants to.  It’s time to be honest with commuters.  We can handle the truth.

January 12, 2023


Last week I wrote about the amazing success of high speed rail in Europe based on cheaper fares and more frequent service than anything you’ll find on Amtrak, even on the Northeast Corridor.

Another reason for their success is competition:  the state-run railroad (SNCF) now competes against an Italian railroad even on its most popular domestic TGV routes.  That’s led to a doubling of ridership and fares dropping by 17%.

Many ask:  why can’t Amtrak get some competition?

Sure, they compete against the air shuttles (faster, but more expensive), buses (much cheaper and slower) and, of course, cars (also slower).  But why does the would-be rail rider have only one choice of railroad… Amtrak?

Well, under Federal law Amtrak has the sole right to carry rail passengers interstate (not counting the commuter railroads), but that could change.  Maybe it’s time for a private company to offer an additional, alternative high-speed rail service.

Enter:  AmeriStarRail LLC.

Though they would not disclose who their backers are, AmeriStar claims to have $5.5 billion ready to spend on its own fleet of 160 mph high-speed trains built by the same company Amtrak is using for the next generation of Acela train sets.

Amtrak's next-gen Acela... "Avelia"

But unlike Amtrak’s Avelia Liberty trains which will have nine cars (just for business and first class) AmeriStar’s will have 12 cars and offer coach seating too.  That should mean lower fares and faster service than Amtrak’s 50+ year old Amfleet trains, the only coach class trains between Boston and DC.

AmeriStar’s proposed offerings sound too good to be true: adults will be able to bring two kids under the age of 18 for free.  There’ll be free Wi-Fi and compartment seating like on European trains.  Food service can be ordered and it will be brought to your seat.

And AmeriStar won’t just run between Boston, NYC and DC.  They’ll also compete on routes like Springfield MA to Harrisburg PA (via CT and NYC) and offer hourly non-stops from New Haven to Penn Station taking just 99 minutes. Between DC and NYC AmeriStar trains would run every 30 minutes at speeds up to 160 mph.

Proposed routes

AmeriStar plans for its trains to also run north from NYC to Albany and continue from Boston up to Bangor Maine.  South of Washington they’ll run as far as Richmond VA.  And some trains will even serve Long Island all the way to Ronkonkoma.

Is all of this possible?  Maybe. Rail experts, talking off the record, were skeptical.

They’re not sure there are enough “slots” to add more trains on the NE Corridor (which, by the way, is owned and run by Amtrak).  The commuter railroads who’d see new competition won’t be enthusiastic (or cooperative), they said.

When I asked Metro-North for their thoughts they said they “declined to comment” and suggested I speak to Amtrak.  But, despite numerous attempts, Amtrak never responded.  Neither did officials at CDOT.  I wonder why.

But the pro-rider Rail Passengers Association said “AmeriStar makes a good point… high speed trains should be affordable to all Americans” and right now they’re not.

While I too am skeptical of AmeriStar’s plans, I do think it’s high time to discuss some alternatives to Amtrak’s over-priced, under-delivery of promises paid for with taxpayer dollars.  Maybe a little competition will be good for us all.

January 09, 2023



How can we persuade more people to take the train?  Well, maybe we should take a cue from our friends in Europe, especially the French.

We know, of course, about the famous French TGV, or Train à Grande Vitesse. Since 1981 these sleek trains have carried over 100 million passengers a year at speeds averaging almost 200 mph from Paris to all corners of the nation.  Passengers can travel in either first or second class (Coach) and enjoy on-board meals and beverages along with free Wi-Fi.

Building on that success, in 2013 the French railroad SNCF added another option:  a cheaper, all coach-seating service called OuiGo.  But unlike Amtrak’s slower (non-Acela) trains, the OuiGo trains also run at high speed on the same tracks as the TGV.

A regular TGV trip almost 244 miles from Paris to Lyon would cost $75, but on the OuiGo it only costs $32.  Compare that to Amtrak’s Acela from Washington to NYC (only 225 miles) which costs $120 in Business Class (there is no “coach” on Acela) or $62 on a slower Northeast Corridor train.

Why does Amtrak charge so much more?  Because they have a rail monopoly.

The French OuiGo trains are usually double-deckers and luggage costs extra.  There is no Wi-Fi and no food service onboard.  But the OuiGo service has proven immensely popular with only half of initial riders saying they opted for the cheaper ride instead of the full-service and more expensive TGVs.

In other words, the railroad had grown its market share of travelers, attracting new passengers who might have driven or taken a bus.  A quarter of those surveyed said if it wasn’t for OuiGo they wouldn’t have taken the trip at all.

But now the Europeans have added a new enhancement:  competition.

On that popular Paris to Lyon run (where TGV got started) and the Paris to Milan journey, it’s not just the French TGV that’s on offer.  The Italian high-speed Trenitalia is also running.  Now passengers have even more choices.

The Italian railroad offers Coach fares matching OuiGo’s, First Class tickets comparable to the TGV and an Executive Class ticket with waiter-served a la carte meals in a car with only ten seats.  There’s also a private meeting room available with a flat-screen TV.

What has competition meant on this line?

Well, lower fares, for one.  Fares have dropped as much as 17% as service increased.  And best of all, the total number of tickets sold has more than doubled:  more trains, more choices, lower fares, more train riders… and fewer cars on the road.

Train service is so good in France that the EU has approved plans to ban short distance flights in France on busy routes well-served by high-speed rail.  It’s all part of the French taking their climate initiatives seriously.

Imagine Washington to NY air shuttles being legislated out of existence.  Imagine Amtrak offering cheaper, but still high-speed, options maybe even including competition.

That’s what we’ll discuss in next week’s column.



Last week’s column on the increase in pedestrian deaths brought us a lot of comments.  Here are a few for you to consider:   I have alw...