About two weeks ago, I sent a questionnaire to the Connecticut Department of Transportation commissioner Joseph Guilietti. The commissioner is regarded by many as a “real railroad man”, having spent his career in various operational railroad posts. Most recently, he was the President of MetroNorth Railroad in New York.
My questionnaire covered a gamut of topics, and was graciously answered by Kevin Nursick of the CTDOT Public Affairs Office.
Here are the questions and answers:
In coordination with MetroNorth CtDOT purchased additional M8 Electrical Multiple Units (EMU’s) for the New Haven main line and Shoreline East line. Regarding these units:
- QUESTION: When will the M8’s begin serving SLE stations east of New Haven using SLE Amtrak crews? ANSWER: “CTDOT, Amtrak, and Metro-North completed testing of the M8s on SLE in late 2020. The data from the instrumented train sets and electrical substations is being evaluated to ensure the performance is adequate and to determine if any vehicle modifications or electrical system upgrades are necessary. The M8s may begin operating on SLE in the next 12-18 months if all goes well.”
- QUESTION: Will any of these runs be extended to major stops in CT on the New Haven main line using MNRR crews? ANSWER: “The M8s on SLE are intended to replace the Stamford through trains which operate during weekday mornings between Old Saybrook and Stamford (prior to COVID).”
- QUESTION: Will any sets be withheld from pool service with MNRR? ANSWER: “See above. The M8s on SLE will be integrated with the Metro-North service. Push-pull locomotive-hauled trains will be used to provide local SLE service between New London and New Haven.”
- QUESTION: Will these units serve New London? ANSWER: “No.”
- QUESTION: And everyone’s favorite topic: Will any of these EMU’s be converted into bar cars? ANSWER: “No. DOT is looking at food and beverage service for select trains that could be implemented through roll-on carts similar to airlines. The DOT seeking ideas from interested parties. There is no schedule to implement such a service at this time.”
SUMMARY: Status of the additional M8’s: Testing on the NEC east of New Haven is complete, and after any necessary modifications, they may begin operating sometime next year. The trains which run through to Stamford on MNRR territory will be equipped with M8’s. And for those of us who yearn for the days of railroading yore, bar cars will NOT be coming back, but food and beverage may come in the form of a cart service at some point.
QUESTION: Do you feel that the Hartford Line has been successful? What plans are there for the line concerning service levels and fleet renewal? ANSWER: “Yes. Hartford Line has been very successful.
- First year (7/1/2018-6/30/2019) ridership projection was 583,500.
- Actual ridership was 635,219.
- Projection exceeded by 8.9 %
- Transit America Services, Inc. and Amtrak together operate 17 roundtrips (34 trains) daily. Our One Ticket, Any Train program allows customers to use any ticket to ride any train. The fares are the same whether purchased through CTrail ticket vending machines or Amtrak.
- Average daily ridership, prior to COVID, was growing with high ridership days in the range of 2,500-3,000 passenger trips.”
SUMMARY: Essentially, pre-pandemic, the Hartford Line was a success.
QUESTION: Taking into account the pandemic, where do you see the potential for passenger rail growth? Should stimulus infrastructure funding become available for service area expansion, what areas do you see as priorities? Specifically:
- CT lawmakers have recently sponsored legislation to study the resurrection of New London – Worcester service, which ended in 1971 when Amtrak took over long distance rail service.
- There has been much talk about resurrecting the Maybrook line for passenger service between Danbury, CT and Brewster (Southeast), NY, which hasn’t seen passenger service since the 1930’s, and has been mostly inactive for freight since ConRail divested the line to MetroNorth and the Housatonic Railroad (HRRC) in the 1990’s.
- MetroNorth has proposed in a filing to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) adversely terminating the freight rights of HRRC in New York State so that they may abandon the entire line in New York State under an exemption with the STB obtained when they acquired the line. HRRC has stated they will file an objection. Will CtDOT object to the abandonment of the line between the state line and the Harlem line in order to preserve its possible future use?
- There was a decades-long study of the Danbury branch, including an extension to New Milford. As there was no funding, and given that HRRC owns both that stretch of the Berkshire line, and the Maybrook line as well, and has proposed their own service, the study was closed with no action. Would this extension be a priority as well?
- Both the Waterbury and New Canaan branch were also studied for service enhancements. Both Positive Train Control and sidings have been added to Waterbury. Will New Canaan receive a passing siding as well?
ANSWER: “DOT is currently developing a vision for the state’s rail system that will strengthen rail connections between Connecticut’s cities and NYC, improve travel times across the rail network and evaluate long-term opportunities to expand the system. Some near-term opportunities include realignment of railroad curves and improved schedules to realize travel time benefits. The study team will also look at long-term opportunities such as the extension of SLE service, new rail extensions, etc. The extension of the Danbury Line to New Milford, preservation of the Maybrook line in NY, improvement of the Maybrook line in CT or reactivation of passenger service on the Worcester-New London line are not part of the study scope currently. DOT’s current capital program does not include a passing siding on the New Canaan Line, however, the DOT will be looking at NCL service improvements up to and including options that could require the construction of a passing siding.”
SUMMARY: I was a bit surprised at the lack of inclusion of some of the new service or service extensions I asked about given the attention that some of them have gotten. The former Mayor and current Commissioner of Revenue Mark Boughton has certainly advocated quite publicly for Maybrook service to Brewster, which generated a back and forth between Commissioner Boughton and transportation advocate James Cameron, with yours truly contributing some information and opinion to that discussion as well.
There was no mention of the adverse discontinuance of Housatonic Railroad’s overhead rights, or if the abandonment of the Maybrook / Beacon line within New York State would preclude any opportunity for Danbury – Southeast service.
You can see some of that here: https://i95rock.com/maybrook-line-train-debate-rages-in-danbury-i-95-listeners-react/
I’d like to express my thanks to Mr. Nursick for providing these answers, and will follow up as matters develop.