“If our trains and buses rely on the Special Transportation Fund as it exists and is funded today, we will be back for more hearings like this for years to come. What we need is systemic change in how we fund transit. Yet I know of nobody in Hartford with the guts to be honest with commuters and taxpayers about what is coming.”
Days before the Connecticut Department of Transportation opens public hearings on a proposed 5 percent fare increase on Metro-North, Gov. Dannel Malloy held a media event to promote good news about “improved service” on our highest-fares-in-the-nation railroad. What? A return of the bar cars? More seats on crowded trains? No, nothing that monumental: just a new e-ticketing app and word that bike racks have been installed on our trains.
Sure, it was sleazy of Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Transportation to release news of a proposed 5 percent fare hike on Metro-North on a Friday afternoon in July, hoping nobody would notice. But the more I dig into the proposal, the more I realize the governor and CDOT are not to blame. It’s the Connecticut legislature that’s really responsible for this fare hike.
The recent fire under the Park Avenue viaduct in Harlem, which disrupted commutes of a quarter million Metro-North riders, got me thinking: our aging, crumbling and vulnerable transportation infrastructure is close to collapse, and the effects of such failure could be catastrophic. Consider this track-record:
Discount bus lines like Megabus have free Wi-Fi. Even Connecticut’s new CTfastrak commuter bus system to Hartford gives its passengers free Wi-Fi.
But there is no Wi-Fi on Metro-North. And the railroad says none is planned, even though the new M8 railcars are ready for the needed gear. And therein lies a story.
Will the train of the future be a high-speed tube, not a railroad? That’s inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk’s and others’ vision. The concept sounds simple: move passengers in a sealed tube through a series of giant pipes propelled by air pressure at speeds up to 700+ mph. That would mean a trip from New York to Washington, D.C. would take 20 minutes.
Train crashes, passenger deaths, grade-crossing accidents, derailments. These are not just the recent history of Metro-North, but events dating back decades. A friend of mine loves reading the microfilms of our town’s weekly newspaper and has been feeding me clippings of all the stories about the New Haven line. The news reports sound all too familiar.
Remember Gov. Dannel Malloy’s stealth proposal for a “Transit Corridor Development Authority,” described by some as “eminent domain on steroids?” Well, the initial idea to allow the state to acquire any land within a half-mile of train stations was modified, then killed in the legislature. And that’s not the only thing that got stuck recently.
There is no question that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed $100 billion transportation plan for our state is, as he puts it, “bold.” The question is, is it achievable? The problem is that the governor’s plan isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list, with something for everyone in the state. Nobody has vetted the various projects to say what makes sense and what doesn’t. Nor has the governor offered any ideas on how to pay for them.