August 27, 2014

State introduces first new rail car on the New Haven line; Sen. Daily hails new commuter rail funding

Exterior of new M-8 commuter rail car.

The first of the long awaited new rail cars for Connecticut commuters has been put into service on the New Haven line on March 1, according to the state Department of Transportation. The new rail cars are called the “M-8”s.

In announcing this development, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said, “We are purchasing a total of 380 new M-8’s and they will be coming in all the way through 2013.” He added, “Some of the M-8’s will be used on the Shore Line East, but that won’t be until later in the game.” 

In a related development State Senator Eileen Daily praised the state Bond Commission’s recent approval of new funding for the “imminent delivery of new rail cars to improve service for Metro North and Shore Line East passengers.” She also has hailed “approved funding for a new rail maintenance facility in New Haven to ensure that the state protects its investment in these new cars.”

Senator Daily also said that the new bond allocations would provide funds for “the next step toward an overhaul of the Shore Line East station in Westbrook, which has already included property transfers and a lot of improvements.” She also said, “Shore Line East stations in Branford, Guilford and Old Saybrook will also be upgraded as a function of this bond allocation.”

The Senator added that “literally thousands of construction and related jobs are expected to be retained or created as a result of these transportation investments.”

Interior of the new M-8 commuter rail car.

Talking Transportation: Why Hartford Hates the Gold Coast

I was watching CT-N the other night (my favorite reality TV channel) as the members of the CPTC (Citizens Public Transportation Commission) were meeting for an incredibly boring discussion the state’s transit woes.  But toward the end of the meeting, my ears perked up as one of the 80+ year old members started on a rant.

“Our next Governor is going to be ‘gold plated,’” he said.  “He’ll come from Fairfield County, the Gold Coast, so heaven help us!”

Not even the lone member of the Commission from Fairfield County dared challenge this crazy assumption that a Governor from the ultra-affluent downstate region would do anything but spend to help Fairfield County while ignoring the rest of the state.

Which got me thinking:  Why does everyone upstate mistrust us, we who live on the Gold Coast?

Years ago, when I used to journey to Hartford for my annual appeal to the legislature’s Transportation Committee to invest in new rail cars for Metro-North, I could feel and hear the resentment.  Then-Committee Chairman, Senator Billy Ciotto ( D – Wethersfield) would excoriated my testimony, once saying “You people on the Gold Coast can buy your own damn trains!”

Even the CT Rail Commuter Council’s long-time member from Guilford (Shore Line East territory), an otherwise learned and reasonable man, says that Fairfield County isn’t the “real Connecticut.”  Oh, really?
Consider the facts:

WE PAY THE TAXES: Forty-plus percent of all the taxes collected in this state come from Fairfield County.  Something like 15% of the state’s total collections come from Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien alone.
Without Fairfield County taxes, upstate residents’ tax rates would soar.

BUT WE DON’T GET THE BENEFITS:      Though we pay most of the taxes, we get almost nothing back in return.  Towns like Darien get back 1 cent for every dollar sent to Hartford.  One cent!  Who’s gold plating the roads in Wethersfield?  We are.

WE’RE NOT ALL MILLIONAIRES: Sure, there are some affluent families living along the Gold Coast?  But our state’s most populous and poorest city, Bridgeport, is here too.   I’d guess there are far more people living in poverty in Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich than in West Hartford or Farmington.

WE’RE THE VICTIMS OF TRANSIT NEGLECT: Who suffers more from traffic congestion than those who drive I-95 through Fairfield County?  And who pays the highest commuter rail fares in the US, but Metro-North riders?  Our rail cars are older than most passengers and our highways show the scars of decades of neglect.

So for those people who live north of the Merritt Parkway (the Mason – Dixon line of state politics), get over yourselves and stop portraying us as free-spending fat cats living not in Connecticut but some annex of New York City.

Connecticut’s next Governor will come from Fairfield County.  And that’s a good thing.  Who knows more about what happens when you don’t invest in your highways and trains?

Maybe the shiny new commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield (which we’ll all be heavily subsidizing) can learn from Metro-North’s mistakes.  Maybe a new Governor can extend Shore Line East from Old Saybrook beyond New London to Mystic, Stonington and even Rhode Island, turning local rail critics into passengers.

To her credit, Brookfield’s Jodi Rell has served our entire state’s interests as Governor, especially in funding improved mass transit state-wide, not just in her own home town.  And I have every confidence that Dan Malloy or Tom Foley will be Governor of all of Connecticut, upstate and down, from the Quiet Corner to, yes, even the Gold Coast.

JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 19 years.  He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM.  Read his column on LymeLine every other Monday.  You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct .