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March 01, 2014

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 railcars 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 CT, 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 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 1950’s the New Haven Railroad ran express from Stamford to GCT 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, what used to be a one hour 47 min run from New Haven to GCT now takes two hours and four minutes, 17 minutes longer.  With a typical five working day roundtrip schedule, that’s almost three hours a week in extra commuting time on top of the 17+ 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?  Governor Rowland who ignored investing in rail when there was still time to fix it, and Governors 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 Governor 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?

3 comments:

SHL said...

Jim, Fairfield County has been a net "exporter" of people the last ten years. You can find this data here from Forbes:

http://www.forbes.com/special-report/2011/migration.html

The gap might have closed during the economic downturn because people hunkered down and trying to ride it out. But one must wonder as soon as our economy improves, what will happen next? Will people see the area as a rip off and leave as soon as possible? Or will people look at the Gold Coast as a great area to move to and to raise families?

mcguirebesq said...

As I understand it, there were no fatalities before 2013, and all the major problems we've had have nothing to do with speed limits per se. No one would suggest lowering the speed limit on Rt. 1 if someone ran a red light.

Michael Maloney said...

To show that grievances are being addressed to, Metro-North has worked hard since to restore its reputation in the Gold Coast with the implementation of the 100-day plan which includes a new timetable as well as scheduled track and catenary work.