More cars, including bar cars, on tap for Metro-North

A passenger boards a train at the Noroton Heights Metro-North Rail station Tuesday morning, April 14 — Aaron G. Marsh photo

A passenger boards a train at the Noroton Heights Metro-North Rail station — Aaron G. Marsh photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday announced the return of bar cars to Metro-North’s New Haven line, but the real change could be the addition of more regular cars to trains on the nation’s busiest railroad.

Malloy announced that Connecticut will soon purchase an additional 60 M-8 rail cars, each carrying 105 seats, adding the new cars will accommodate more than 6,000 additional commuters.

Under current plans, 10 of the 60 new rail cars will be converted into café cars — popularly known as bar cars. The last New Haven Line café cars were retired in 2014.

“I think the real news isn’t the 10 new bar cars but the 50 additional M8 cars,” said Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group. “We desperately need more seats on crowded rush-hour trains. Ridership is up 27% in peak hours in just five years.”

The New Haven Line, owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and operated by Metro-North Railroad under contract with the DOT, carried more than 40.3 million passengers in 2015, up 2% from the prior year and setting an all-time record, according to figures provided by Malloy.

Connecticut has already purchased 405 of the M-8 rail cars, which began going into service in 2011 and are now standard on the New Haven Line. Most of the older M-2 rail cars have been retired, but a small fleet remain as backups.

“More and more, Connecticut residents are choosing public transportation to go about their daily commutes,” Malloy said at a press conference. “If we want to remain competitive in the 21st Century, modernized economy — in a way that attracts new businesses and creates high-skilled jobs — we must update our infrastructure and give our commuters a best-in-class transportation system.”

“Clearly, we did not order enough M8 cars in the initial order when they just cost $2.5 million apiece,” Cameron said after Malloy’s announcement. “The new cars will cost $3.3 million.”

“We have witnessed what decades of underinvestment has resulted in, and we can no longer afford to sit back and let the status quo remain,” Malloy said at the event.

DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker said the New Haven Line is now carrying as many passengers today as had been predicted for 2021. He added that DOT is testing the M-8 rail cars for possible use on Shore Line East — the commuter railroad between New Haven and New London, where trains need to be propelled by locomotives. The M-8s are powered by overhead catenary lines and do not need locomotives.

An allocation of $200 million is anticipated to be considered later this month at the next meeting of the State Bond Commission to approve the purchase of the new M-8 rail cars, according to Malloy’s office.

The M-8 cars have larger windows and better lighting, especially in the vestibules for improved safety. Each pair of cars have been equipped with bike racks, and they also have intercom systems that customers can use to contact the crew in case of emergency. Other features include LED displays that show the next stop and automated audio announcements, electrical outlets to charge personal devices, coat hooks, and curved luggage racks. Outside, customers see prominent electronic destination signs and external public address speakers. Single leaf doors provide high reliability and lessen the susceptibility to snow intrusion, according to the DOT.

“This is just one of many bold steps we are implementing statewide toward making a modernized transportation system reality — because our economic future depends on it,” Malloy said in New Britain.

“The bar cars are nice, but I haven’t heard a lot of commuters saying, ‘Gee, I wish the bar cars were back’ in recent months. But hardly a week goes by that a commuter does not ask, ‘Why am I paying $350 a month and feel like I’m riding in a standing-room-only subway?” Cameron said.

“So,” he added, “Congrats to Gov. Malloy and CDOT for playing catch-up and getting us more capacity by ordering more cars.”

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