Monday, January 23, 2006

Transportation Focus Shifts to Central Connecticut


Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Sunday that she will propose a new round of transportation improvement plans that include commuter train service in central Connecticut and improved rail and bus service.


Rell proposed commuter rail service with eight trains daily each way between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield to supply what she called a "natural job development corridor." Amtrak provides service from New Haven to Springfield, but it is not a commuter line.

The governor's commuter train proposal endorses a plan that has been studied and backed by several state and local officials in Connecticut and Massachusetts. (AP)

On a day like today, when I slipped and slid all the way from Enfield to Springfield, the thought of useful bus service or a nice train ride instead of the interstate is mighty tempting.

The public transportation system in central and northern parts of the state is a mess. The buses are too infrequent, and run on confusing schedules, and train service anywhere north and east of New Haven is a joke. Try getting from New London to Northampton on public transportation sometime. It isn't easy, and it costs a fortune.

The commuter rail idea isn't new, as the article says, but has been in the works for a long time. In fact, this is a plan that my town of Enfield has taken a great deal of interest in. Train stations would be built or revamped all along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield corridor, including in Enfield and Newington to name a few. It's a great idea, and one long overdue.

The busway idea, as I have said before, is kind of stupid (should be a light rail line), but it's better than the nothing that currently exists.

Hartford County often takes a back seat, and rightfully so, to Fairfield County when transportation issues come up. But better public transportation in the Connecticut Valley will be good for the economy, good for commuters and good for the state as a whole. I'd like to see these projects move forward in the coming year. We need to do more than just talk about better transportation.

"Rell to propose 2nd transportation package." Associated Press 23 January, 2006.


Anonymous said...

This is unrelated (sorry), but I just read this NH Independent article and thought others here (including you GC) would be interesed:

Payback for DeStefano

Gabe said...

Agreed, that it is about time to get the commuter train done.

That being said, and because I used to commute the other direction (for an hour and a half - it only got me 35 miles) to Norwalk, something has to be done about the Fairfield Country traffic on 95 and 15 as well.

No helpful suggestions from me, other than incentivising MetroNorth with parking rebates and ticket/tax breaks and incentivising business to get their freight on rails.

ctblogger said...

Believe me, the transportation problem in Fairfield county should take priority over ANYTHING in Hartford County.

While people in Fairfield County complained about the traffic problem between Waterbury and Danbury, people in Hartford County got an expanded 91 North, a new 84-91 interchange, and a 65 MPH seppd limit which starts outside Hartford straight to Mass.

84 has been a major problem for the last 15 years and could be fixed with a simple rail line that connects Waterbuty to Danbury and Brewster NY (Metro-North Harlem Line).

Funy thing is that there are tracks that go from Danbury to Brewster NY that are not being used so doing the Danbury to Brewster NY thing would cost next to nothing.

ctblogger said...

FYI: Rell is from Brookfield CT and is well aware of the problems with 84 yet she has failed to address the issue regarding the horrible traffic situation between Waterbury and Danbury.

A Different Anonymous (No! Really!) said...


Not so fast (as it were): Last year's transportation bill has $150 million in it for congestion improvements to 84 and 91 ... Interesting idea about a rail connector for Danbury-Brewster; has there been any study on potential ridership?


There's also $187 million for congestion fixes for 95 in last year's bill ...

the wanderer said...

The biggest problem with CT's Interstate Highways is that people use them as local roads. It doesn't matter whethere you are in fairfield County, the Valley, New Haven County or up on I-84, there are entirley too many on and off ramps that cause congestion. If you do not beleive me take a ride down I-95 mid day on a Saturday from Old Saybrook to Greewich and watch the traffic bunch up when you get around a mass of ramps. Nobody wants to deal with it and nobody wants to fix up the secondary roads that parallel the Interstates. They'd rather give money to Walgreen's to build a new wharehouse and create jobs ; yeah we're going to spend something like 25,000/ job created in direct subsiies and more on to of that in hidden costs. Rell, Malloy and DeStefanp all relish passing out subsideis. You'd think after over a decde of this failed nonsnese they'd try another tack but nope.
Alwasy corporate welfare. Always.

ctblogger said...

A Different Anonymous (No! Really!)

I seriously doubt that the I-84 problem will EVER be fixed. In order to fix the problem, the there simply needs to be more lanes and people in Southbury do not want this to happen. As long as the people of Southbury have the muscle (a.k.a money) and the votes (and believe me, they do), they will get what they want.

The Danbury-Brewster line has been talked about for years but nothing has come from it yet. Just do a search for Mill Plain Road, Danbury CT and you'll see the train tracks (which is right next to the road and the interstate).

The word I'm getting from my sources is that people want to turn the tracks into a bike trail which is silly because a simple link of the track to the Danbury line makes sense (and would link Danbury to the Metro-North Harlem Line which lessen the traffic caused by people traveling to Brewester NY to catch the Metro to NYC).

CGG said...

I hope Rell's proposals become a reality. It would be nice to have easy access to Hartford and Springfield without having to rely on a car.

Gabe is also correct about Fairfield County though. The traffic congestion is awful, and the commuter rail is in serious need of attention too.

turfgrrl said...

Transportation in CT is a regional issue, and shouldn't be blocked by vocal minorities in Wilton and Southbury. Connecticut is the economic corridor linking New England to New York. Once you cross into Westchester County you see many parkways and highways going into and around NYC. CT has resisted all of this essential infrastructure under the misguided notion that trees prop up real estate values. If they won't build it above ground, then invest in an underground rail line and link the major cities to each other. Then you'd start to move traffic off the highways.

the wanderer said...

turfgrrl is exactly right but Jodi has demonstrated that she will kow tow to local interests rather than lead. it doesn't matter wht you think of Super 7, which could run through upper Fairfield County and not dump in to it the same way I-78 does in Jersey through tony Scotch Plains but Jodi like those who preceeded her have no vision and no cajones - well at least Jodi is real.

Thinking mass transportation will solve the traffic problem is like thinking the fountain of youth will stop aging

A Different Anonymous (No! Really!) said...


I see the tracks - do you know, is it an active line or abandoned? If it's in use, do you know who owns it? And is it electrified or would passenger rail require diesel locomotives? (All these things, as you probably know, are big considerations -- epecially if it's an active line owned by a freight road ... )

I'm intrigued ...



the wandererrrrr said...

I didn't think the average anonymice would understand and the freight line used to run acroos the Hudson near Poughkeepsie but the bridge burned down and CONRAIL wasn't intersted in puting it back up. Figure it out 'cause it's an easier puzzle than a Rubic's cube.

Aldon Hynes said...

My understanding is that the rail line from Danbury to Brewster is part of the Housatonic Railroad. This is a freight line from Derby-Shelton to Beacon NY and a line from Danbury up to Pittsfield MA. You can see the system map here.

Based on what I've read so far, the rails are not abandoned, they are not electrified, and they have fairly low volume. As such adding diesel powered rail service could be done.

It is worth noting that Derby-Shelton is also on the Metro North line, so connecting service in Derby-Shelton to the New York to New Haven line may be feasible.

It is also worth noting that the Housatonic Railroad has a train station in Brookfield, so with connecting service in Derby-Shelton, and then rail service from New Haven to Hartford, the existing Governor could potentially take the train from Brookfield to Hartford.

If anyone has more details, I would love to know.

Quinn said...

This is great news. When I want to go to New York, I usually drive down to New Haven and take the train from there. Taking a train from Hartford County is sometimes impossible and always too expensive. This would much improve that situation.

I also agree that Hartford would benefit far more from light rail lines than a busway. I simply cannot beleive that people in government actually think its a good idea. It's completely illogical. And light rail is much more effective, in my opinion. In my experience, people will actually park and ride a train, but not a bus. That's the only way to relieve congestion. Buses draw from a much smaller geographic and socioeconomic base because they don't appeal to those families that already own a car, and usually only those within walking distance of a bus route will ride.

Anonymous said...

a few thoughts..a nice thread BTW

1. Perhaps the fear is that if the Harlem line was run to Danbury the less efficient Danbury spur line would be dropped. Certaintly travel time to NYC would be quicker through Brewster. Could we have both?

2. There are already studies on widening i-84 west of Waterbury. Some of the proposals ( scrapping the high capacity Exit 11 ramps) are dumb, though. As usual with CTDOT it takes them decades to go form blueprint to Governor been able to fix that.

3. Wanna fix I-95, give a private firm some eminent domain powers, access to tax exmept bonding and a franchise to build and operate HOT lanes like in NO VA and Orange County.

4. A number of interchanges are in need of upgrades....i.e. the bottleneck on I-84 east@39A when it narrows to 2 lanes, the stacked off ramp to the Wilbur Cross at Exit 17 southbound on I-91, and the single lane ramp to the Charter Oak Bridge.... Minor upgrades would greatly ease traffic flow.

5. The biggest help to CT traffic would be Rep. Nadler's plan for a freight rail tunnel from Brooklyn to NJ...unfortunately like most large NYC projects these days it is lost in the bureaucratic fog. Too bad Sen. Stevens doesn;t own land in would be built already.

6. A great guide to all this stuff is, which should be checked from time to time

Aldon Hynes said...

Anon(7:45) I would hope that if Danbury and Brewster were connected, they would keep the Danbury spur. Currently, it takes about forty minutes longer to get from Danbury to New York than it does to get from Brewster to New York. However, my guess is that it would take around twenty minutes via train from Danbury to Brewster. So, people from Danbury would probably save about twenty minutes going through Brewster. It would probably be about the same time either way for people from Branchville, and the rest of the riders would do better to go down through South Norwalk.

I would also suggest that we don't have a zero sum game. By adding the link from Brewster to Danbury, I suspect ridership would increase due to more options for riders.

Personally, I would love to see the whole freight line from Beacon to Derby Shelton used to extend passenger service.

the wandererrrrr said...

Let's try this again. The traffic problem is a rush hour problem for the most part so why not work on that? Hellping out some guy going from Hartford to NYC twice a year is not where all our dough should go. We want to get freight off the interstates and the way to do that is to open the old rail link that CONRAIL abandoned up on the Hudson; what's his faces tunnel is a pipe dream rooted in technical stupidity. And then fix the damn interstate highway system in CT like New Jersey has done since its inception.

A Different Anonymous (No! Really!) said...

Aldon, wandererrrrr, etc.:

Believe me, I'm all for this, but one reality we have to deal with is the extreme reluctance -- verging on outright unwillingness -- of freight lines to share trackage with passenger rail.

It's no coincidence that the Northeast Corridor is Amtrak's most successful business unit: Amtrak owns the vast majority of its own tracks, especially between Penn Station and Boston. Almost everywhere else on their system it's got to deal with freight roads. More and more in these days of just-in-time inventory, they charge a premium for express trains that take a priority over everything else on the system.

All this to say, own trackage (or purchasing abandoned trackage) is far better than leasing trackage rights from frieght roads (like the Danbury-Brewster link).

The trade-off is expense. I've seen estimates of $1 million a mile (light rail is presumably less, but still ... ). That may well be one reason why a busway is preferred over light rail.

Gabe said...

Diff Anon - I'm glad that money was in last year's budget, but I was speaking only from experience. It shouldn't take 90 minutes (on average) to go the 35 miles between Hamden and Norwalk.

Aldon - Please correct me if I'm wrong. If the rails between Brewester and Danbury are not electrified then the train will have to switch between electric and diesel in Brewster (like the Amtrak trains do in New Haven), right?

That adds another 20 minutes on to the commute and some money in building extra tracks in Brewester to make the change. Or money in electrifying the tracks between Brewester and Danbury.

Anon 7:45 - The problem in using eminent domain to widen 95 in Fairfield county is that the private property generally goes right up against the highway in and in many (I would guess most but I'm not sure) they are businesses and strip malls - not the usual clientele for e.d.

wandererr has a point in that, if you look at the mass pike in W. Mass. that has no traffic and 95, one of the main differences (besides volume, I know, its an imperfect analogy) is that you can't go 3 miles on the mass pike and then get off. I suspect that if you take out some of the exits from 95, not only will you cut down on ramp congestion, you will cut down on volume as well (people like my former boss will stop getting on 95 in Southport to take it to Westport only when they are forced to stop). If there were exits in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford, and Greenwhich only, there would be less volume and less congestion.

I read somehwere, and I can't find a link, that in the country at large 75% of freight is on the rails and 25% on the roads. In the Boston to NY corridor those numbers are reversed - 75% on the road and 25% on rails. Anyone think that if we could get 2/3 of the trucks off 95 we might have a different ballgame?

Gabe said...

Finally, as long as we are talking about transportation issues, I have three problems with NYC (and clearly I don't get alot of chances to vent on this issue):

1. When they talk about connecting LIRR to Grand Central, why are they also not talking about connecting MetroNorth to Penn station as well? I used to work across the street from Penn and it took me an additional half hour to get to the office from Grand Central.

2. On a completely related note, it is a travesty that 2 of the largest and most important train stations in the world are 1.2 miles apart and you can't take one subway between them.

3. Ditto that you can't go across town above 59th St on the subway. there should be a shuttle between E 86th and either W 72nd or W 96th (where the expresses and locals stop).

Also, would a Second Ave Subway kill anyone?

Word Verification is the bane of my existance

the wandererrrr said...

Gabe: I take back what I said about lawyers when I was just another anonymous kidding around. And whoever it was that said freight doesn't want to share with passenger rail is almost correct as it is frequented commuter lines though urban areas that they like to avoid such as Fairfield and western New Haven Counties. That's why folks who are smart have proposed reopening the rail link from the Hudson River by rebuilding the burnt out bridge over it and extending on to the New Haven freight yards. It can be done and it makes more sense than a tunnel under the Hudson that the Port Authority who would own it doesn't want.

This is the crap the governor and citizen legislature should be working on but they are too busy handing out freebies to Walgreens who ships everything by truck.

Gabe said...

Wait, what did you say about lawyers when you were kidding around? I am sure I took no offense as a lowly law student.

the wandererrrr said...

Gabe: I don't remember exactly but I tired to explain my understanding of your position on something by your background in law - and if you've made it to your second year you already know all you need to know but back to cars, trucks and trains:

Norfolk southern for a number of years now has operated a major freight depot in Bethlehem. PA alongside Interstate Route 78 just west of the Delaware river. They bring freight in from the west load it up on contract tractor trailers and ship it out to the east and northeast. You've probably seen trucks from there on I-95 just about everyday. It's all because us nitwits in the metro new York area can't get our act together. hey but at least we have a minor league minor league team of has beens playing in the new stadium in Bridgeport. And we can also brag that we pay a hell of a lot more to our UCONN sports coaches than Penn State ever has and ever will.

the wandererrrrr said...

I shouldn't be too critical of us nitwits. The Southwest Regional Planning Agency was given a ton of money and spent a ton of money to figure out how to move people and freight better along CT's Coast. A consultant came up with a plan that consolidates all the good ideas out there but it never went anywhere. Diane Farrell who was head of the agency needs to be called to account on this. If she can't get a couple of First selectmen and mayors to sgree on a little thing like transportation how's she going to build consensus in the Congress?

Wolcottboy said...

Light rail would be great for suburban Hartford. You'd have lines going south to at least Rocky Hill, Southwest to New Britain, Newington, Bristol, Plainville and then probably extend it all the way to Waterbury. While you're at it, the Farmington-Qunnipiac Valley should have a line going along Rt. 10 to New Haven. Its only natural.

Speaking of these lines, I've driven along Plank Rd. in Cheshire and there's an old trolley bridge out there in the middle of the woods. Does anyone know how much of these lines are still partially intact? Why were they taken out? Perhaps they should be:

1) Brought back. This would add a unique feel to Connecticut experienced nowhere else in the world (Yes SF has them, but not through the woods)

2) upgraded into very light rail lines.

Of course this would be a huge project. Making a line between Waterbury and Cheshire would largely be devoid of stops except at the I-84 interchange. Then you might run it through the industrial park or to the center of town somewhere. The line would then run south where you could put stops near industrial parks or village centers. Cost? Uhhh....
... perhaps you could eliminate busses this way though. Or make their use more practical.

Wolcottboy said...

Of course, the best and FIRST place to put in light rail will be at Bradley Airport directly downtown. (hopefully the taxi's won't mind going just to Springfield)

Anonymous said...

I'm the 7;45 am Anon

The reason a freight tunnel from Brooklyn to Bayonne is being proposed is a number of reasons, none of which fixing a decrepit bridge 80 miles north of NYC would accomplish

* Removing truck traffic from the NYC bridges
* Making deep water dockage in Brooklyn accesible to the rest of America
*Giving what's left of NYC and LI's manufacturers a way to ship goods out of the city, thus preserving a blue collar job base.

But of course, the only thing NYC builds these days are stadiums

DeanFan84 said...

Can anyone tell me how successful/unsuccessful the Shoreline east rail line is? I hate to be a naysayer, but I wonder if all the commuter rail discussed above would actually attract significant ridership.

Would love to hear a factual analysis from someone in the know.

the wandererrrr said...

In other words, the rail tunnel under the Hudson that would be operated by the PANYNJ would get trucks off their bridges and reduce the freight going in to their very successful Port Elizabeth that has more than enough capacity thereby reducing their revenues as well as benefitting the state of New York economy where those NY state and local executives who have representatives on the PANYNJ don't see the benefit.

The rail bridge can't be fixed; it would be replaced using the existing right of way and reopen a once valuable link to the west from the northeast and vice versa that was abandoned by CONRAIL, a quasi govt agency.

And DF, for your answer about the Shoreline East you can give John Rowland a call in Lorretto, he wanted to stop subsidizing it and buy everybody that used it a car and free gas.

Anonymous said...

Why is this Governor so interested in fixing Springfield's transportation problems? Could it be that her presidential (LOL!) friend Mitt Romney is governor of Massachusetts?

the wandererrrrr said...

Mitt Romney is not running for re-election so no I don't think that has anything to do with it. It's the same old let's do something for everybody that Rowland used to do. Rowland built libraries and stadiums. Rell is building highways, byways and railways wherver somebody wants one. It's called political ribbon cutting 101.

Genghis Conn said...

The economy of northern Connecticut is inextricably connected with Greater Springfield and the Pioneer Valley (trust me). The plan calls for cooperation with Mass. on the rail line, which will benefit both states.

the wandererrr said...

Who's going to pay for this stuff? And why all at once when nothing has yet to be solved anywhee? To me it's just another reckless building spree without any real needs analysis being done and prioritazed first.

Anonymous said...

Conrail was sold to Norfolk Southern. They are not going to build a bridge across the Hudson.

The Port Authority ought to figure out how to regain market share from other ports. Better rail connections would help

the wandererrrrr said...

Nor4folk Southern would absolutely build a bridge acroos the Hudson with the right incentives. They would much rather carry freight further east than Bethlehem PA (see my earlier post)if they could. It would be worth the investment by NY, NJ and CT to ge the trucks off the roads to improve the road's life not to mention cut down on volume. Have you talked to NS about the bridge and what it would take?

And genghis, I hate the new look. At least fo me it's very tough to read

Genghis Conn said...

It isn't just you. Blogger has been doing some very, very strange things lately. For a while this morning all the text on the site was showing up in hot pink, which gave me a mild heart attack.

Oh, well, I guess one gets what one pays for.

Genghis Conn said...

New look?

the wandererrrrrr said...

G.C. can that comment. whatever was going on with the background which was dark when I first logged on and the print which was white just went back to normal. I'm just a low tech hacker.

Anonymous said...

The insanity of ripping out rail lines to make a bus line while at the same time adding a nearly parallel rail line is astounding. While trainsets are expensive, one would think that the planners of the bus line expect it to succeed, and actually generate significant ridership. If this is the case, it would be wise to contstruct the transportation project in such a way as to allow for future expansion. the line that runs from Hartford to New Britain which is in danger of being ripped up continues through plainville and Bristol, connecting to Waterbury. If we are going to invest in commuter rails in central CT, why not do so in a way that allows for long-term success and growth? Couldn't there be uniformity of means of transportation among the two proposed systems?

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