Metro-North tarnishes the Gold Coast

FI-Talking-Transportation-Jim-CameronEven if you never ride Metro-North, the railroad’s current problems are hitting your pocketbook and this “winter of discontent” shows signs of becoming a chronic problem, bleeding our state’s resources, human and monetary.

Here’s why, at the “Commuter Speakout” in mid-February in Southport, almost 200 angry riders turned out to confront the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Metro-North officials, sharing their horror stories of longer rides, unheated rail cars and stranded trains. But they did more than complain, they threatened to move away.

Several real estate agents told the crowd they had lost closings when folks moving up from New York City got wind of the Metro-North problems. Others already living in Connecticut said they were moving closer to their Manhattan jobs and to towns with dependable, cheaper mass transit.

If people move out of Connecticut, they take with them their taxes, both local (property) and state (sales and income).  Reduced demand for real estate lowers property values. Your town’s grand list shrinks and taxes must rise to fill the gap, creating a vicious cycle.  The “gold coast” is losing its luster and this is a major reason for it.

But surely this will all be fixed, right? By the spring house hunters will be back, fueling the recovery. Well, maybe not, because Metro-North’s new president isn’t making promises for a speedy turnaround.

Consider this: Many people chose where to live based on travel time to work. A one-hour commuting time from mid-town Manhattan used to include portions of Connecticut all the way from Greenwich through Stamford, Darien and Norwalk. Not anymore.

Trains are running slower since last spring’s derailment … much slower. In the 1950s the New Haven Railroad ran express from Stamford to Grand Central Terminal in 47 minutes. By 2000. Metro-North had increased speeds so the run could be done in 46 minutes, making Stamford a desirable bedroom community. But today, in the cause of safety, Stamford to Grand Central takes 63 minutes.

Metro-North’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, told lawmakers in Hartford that running speeds will not increase in the coming years, and possibly never. The Federal Railroad Administration has placed so many speed limits on the New Haven line that what used to be a one-hour, 47-minute run from New Haven to Grand Central now takes two hours and four minutes, which is a whole 17 minutes longer.

With a typical five-working-day round-trip schedule, that’s almost three hours a week in extra commuting time on top of the 17-plus hours already spent on the train. Nobody wants to compromise safety for speed, but neither do commuters want to pay the highest fares in the country for unreliable, slower service.

Who’s to blame? Former Gov. John Rowland ignored investing in rail when there was still time to fix it and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and current Gov. Dannel Malloy both have treated the Special Transportation Fund like a petty cash drawer to pay for everything but rail.

Most of all, our legislature bears the blame for ignoring transportation funding for decades.

Doesn’t it seem hypocritical for Mr. Malloy and our state legislature to be so “angry,” “confused” and “appalled” with the state of Metro-North today when it was their spending, or lack thereof, that got us in this mess?


Jim Cameron has been a commuter resident for 22 years and was a member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council for 19 years. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected]  

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