Metro-North tarnishes the Gold Coast

Even if you never ride Metro-North, the railroad’s current problems are hitting your pocketbook. 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 CDOT 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 NYC got wind of the Metro-North problems. Others already living in Connecticut said they were moving closer to their Manhattan jobs, 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.

But surely this will all be fixed, right? By the spring, house hunters will be back, fueling the recovery. 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 midtown 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. Today, in the cause of safety, Stamford to GCT 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 1:47 run from New Haven to GCT now takes 2:04, 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? Gov. Rowland, who ignored investing in rail when there was still time to fix it, and Govs. Rell and Malloy, who treat 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 Darien resident for 22 years. He was a member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council for 19 years and still serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

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