Thursday, April 25, 2024

New Canaan Branch’s Summer Shutdown

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Yet Another Metro-North Misstep

“Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron

It’s going to be a rough summer for commuters from New Canaan as they cope with Metro-North’s shutdown of all trains on the New Canaan branch starting Tuesday May 30th to September 1st.

TRACK WORK:  CDOT says it’s doing major track work on the branch, including replacement of 8000 ties, 1600 feet of rail and needed bridge work. Because the New Canaan branch is just a one-track railroad, trains cannot operate while the work is being done.

BUSING ALTERNATIVES:   In place of the trains, Metro-North will run bus service from New Canaan to Stamford. But the running time will be 44 minutes at best (compared to 17 minutes by train).

However, because they’ll only have three buses (each carrying about 50 passengers) and some New Canaan rush hour trains now have 200+ passengers, this will not be enough.

PARKING OPTIONS:  Given the limited bus options it’s expected that many New Canaan commuters will drive to Darien or Noroton Heights train stations on the main line.  But day-parking is already at near capacity at both stations and Darien officials have declined New Canaan’s requests to set aside special spaces for commuters from the north.

BOXCAR:  New Canaan has been working with “commuter concierge” and entrepreneur Joe Colangelo from New Jersey who, pre-pandemic, had an interesting business renting out private day-parking spaces near train stations using his Boxcar app.

Colangelo has been tasked by New Canaan officials with surveying available private parking near Darien’s two stations, but he tells me “It’s hard to make this happen with such a short time left”.

BUT… ARE THERE ENOUGH SEATS ON THE TRAIN?:      Ridership has been coming back quickly on Metro-North with some rush hour trains showing standing room only conditions on the busiest days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Metro-North has warned New Canaan town hall that existing trains stopping at Darien and Noroton Heights may not have enough seats already and trying to cram on hundreds of New Canaan passengers will look like the Tokyo subways.

COMMENTARY:  One local government official predicted this New Canaan branch shutdown will be a “cluster {expletive}”.  They’re right and there’s plenty of blame to go around.

We’ve all known since March that the New Canaan branch would be shut down.  Train conductors were sharing rumors with rider’s months earlier.  Everyone has had ample time to plan alternatives.  The last minute scramble underway now, days before the trains stop, wasn’t necessary.

Darien town officials gave their New Canaan counterparts full details on the limited parking at its train stations months ago.  And Boxcar’s last minute appeals to local Darien merchants to sublet a few parking spaces near the stations will, I predict, come up short.

As for potential over-crowding on the trains, that’s what the railroad has actually been hoping, if not praying, for since the pandemic: they want commuters to come back.  But commuters expect on-time service and available seats.  The railroad has plenty of extra train cars sitting idle, so why not put them to use?  There is no reason anyone should have to stand.

As for what individual commuters can do… well, working from home has never looked so good!

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”

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