Why is New York still in charge of our trains?

There’s discussion again about bringing some Metro-North trains directly from Connecticut into New York City’s Penn Station. But will it happen?

As with many good ideas that seem so easy, this one also has been studied thoroughly and found to be problematic in a number of respects. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell floated the idea in 2007 but it went nowhere, aside from an experiment by New Jersey Transit to run trains from New Haven to the Meadowlands.

Here are the reasons that daily commuter service isn’t yet possible:

Inadequate equipment: As any commuter on Metro-North can tell you, we don’t have enough seats for existing service to Grand Central — let alone expansion to new stations. It’s standing-room-only in rush hour and on weekends.

Electricity: Our existing fleet of MU cars cannot take a left turn at New Rochelle and head over the Hell’s Gate Bridge onto Long Island, then hang a right, in through the tunnels into Penn Station. The old cars’ overhead power catenary system operates under a different voltage than Amtrak. And in third-rail territory on Long Island, even our new M8 cars use a different kind of shoe to contact the third-rail power source. The 2009 experimental direct train from Connecticut to Giants Stadium in New Jersey was actually run with New Jersey Transit equipment, which was available only because it was on weekends.

Capacity: Even if we had the cars with the right electrical equipment to make it over the Hell’s Gate Bridge and through the tunnels to Penn Station, there’s no room in the station — that station is full-up serving Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. If and when the $6.3-billion East Side Access project bringing some Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central is completed (many years from now), the Metropolitan Transit Authority says, there might be room for Metro-North trains to access Penn Station.

Cut Long Island service? Recently the MTA has hinted it might run some Metro-North trains into Penn Station, but it would have to cut Long Island Rail Road service. You can imagine the push-back that got, pitting one set of commuters against another. (See more on my Facebook page, a link to which is available in the online version of this column.)

Whatever the decision, it won’t be made by us here in Connecticut. Once again, Connecticut is being told by the New York MTA what our transportation future will be. Connecticut still has no say in the matter — not even a voting seat at the table, neither on the MTA nor the Metro-North board.

Connecticut may be the MTA’s largest customer, hired by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to operate Metro-North trains in our state, but when it comes to important decisions, like expanding rail service to Penn Station, the MTA is clearly in control.

Years ago, Gov. Rell acknowledged the inequity in this position, and promised to fight for a seat on the MTA board. But nothing happened. Nor has Gov. Dannel Malloy said anything about this unfairness.

So just why is a New York agency still in charge of Connecticut’s transportation future?

 

Jim Cameron is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA, but the opinions expressed here are only his own. You may reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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