OP-ED | Connecticut’s train lines are getting better – and worse

Passengers board an Amtrak train in New Haven, Connecticut, in March 2018. Credit: Bob Korn/Shutterstock
Jonathan L. Wharton

I have an affinity for commuter trains to get to New York and also to different cities in Connecticut. Yet I live in Connecticut where our train lines have been a problem for generations. When I lived in New Jersey, I marveled at how New Jersey Transit operated, as it was large and quite efficient. I also realized that Pennsylvania Station in New York is not Grand Central Terminal.

But over the past two years, Connecticut has shown promise on the commuter rail front. Ridership has steadily increased to pre-pandemic levels on Metro-North’s New Haven line and several express trains to New York are back. This has been an ongoing promise from New Haven’s governors’ and mayors’ administrations. Instead of a two-hour journey to New York, the express train service cuts the journey down to around 20 minutes. (I’m still waiting – with so many Fairfield County runners – for the bar car return rumor. Unfortunately, former Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration did not order the elegant M8 cars suitable for bar cars).

The Waterbury line operates with seven other regular trains as well. This is a must see in light of the construction of I-84 and Route 8 and the traffic that resulted from this large scale project. Furthermore, the Naugatuck Valley deserves a reliable train line and its bipartisan delegation to the General Assembly has rightfully lobbied for additional trains for years.

Shore Line East train line has new M8 carriages, replacing diesel locomotives with electrification. And carrying a bike is child’s play thanks to the integrated luggage racks suitable for daily trips. In fact, there are so many fellow cyclists at peak times that I often have to fight for space.

And then there was the unfortunate news this summer that the Hartford line, which has only been in service for a few years, moved commuters to buses due to station upgrades needed. For a few months, passengers will take the substitute bus service and pay the regular train fare even though CTtransit is offering free rides through the end of the year (my CT News Junkie colleague Susan Bigelow recently wrote to “keep it free forever” in light of climate change concerns).

CTrail’s Hartford line already has a limited schedule, even during peak hours. With its diesel locomotives and refurbished Massachusetts commuter rail cars, the line looks decades old. Admittedly, I have been in favor of a Hartford line since I grew up in West Hartford when there was talk only of a commuter rail line to New Haven. Alas, back to the bus we leave. The Hartford line reminds us that dreams can come true and reality can hurt.

Connecticut still has a lot of work to do on our commuter rail lines. If there is recent good news, state officials are discussing light rail ideas again. A while ago there were light rail projects in New Haven and Stamford. Also, there is talk of a Hartford Line station with a connection to Bradley International Airport (more than likely a bus line before a light rail). But state officials are suggesting turning the infamous CTfastrak bus route between Hartford and New Britain into light rail. At the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials conference, Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti presented the transformation of the bus line. And Lamont pointed out that with the federal government’s $1 trillion infrastructure program, his administration could make significant changes to public transit.

So maybe we can dream again. But I’m still going to hold my beer and nap on the New Haven Line, without a car, until someone wakes me up to let me know that Connecticut has modern, efficient commuter rail service. .

A CTrail locomotive leaves Windsor Station
A CTrail engine pulls out of Windsor Station during the Saturday morning test run June 11, 2018. Credit: Contributed by Emily Woodward Tracy/CTNewsJunkie
A CTrail motor pulls out of Windsor Station in Windsor, Connecticut
A CTrail engine pulls out of Windsor Station in Windsor, Connecticut during the Saturday morning test run June 11, 2018. Credit: Contributed by Emily Woodward Tracy/CTNewsJunkie

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