Friday, May 24, 2024

Rail Riders Speak Up

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Talking Transportation

By Jim Cameron

“I thought I lived in a progressive state,” said Luther, “My wife and kids live in New London and my three hour rail trip to see them will now take four or five hours.”

Luther was just one of dozens of rail passengers who spoke at public hearings last week on CDOT’s planned service cuts and fare hikes, explaining how policy decisions will impact the lives of real people.

Kelly told how she moved from Phoenix and chose a new home in Madison because of the train service.  “What will these rail cuts mean to the value of our home?” she asked.

Deborah, a disabled rider, said the CDOT “will be sued” because they didn’t survey the impact of their plans on the disabled.

Theater worker Molly said she moved to Bridgeport because of its train service.  But she said service cuts will hurt those in the NYC entertainment business because shows don’t end until 10:30 pm.  “Public transit is a public good,” and should be properly funded, she told the hearing.

Several of those who spoke said their kids rely on trains to get them to school, including Marybeth whose son commutes on Shore Line East in his wheelchair. Now he must be driven to New Haven to make his classes.

Nurse Kristen from Clinton works at Yale New Haven hospital.  She has colleagues who also work in Stamford who may now have to quit their jobs because of the rail cuts.

The proposed cuts on Shore Line East (from 23 to 16 trains per day) will “kill this railroad” said several riders.  “It will lead to a death spiral,” said others, noting that reduced train service will discourage ridership, leading to even lower numbers and prompting further cuts.

Jim Gildea of the Commuter Council said that Shore Line East was never given a chance to rebuild post-COVID.  While Metro-North and the Hartford Line saw service restored to 100% of pre-COVID levels, Shore Line East was only brought back to 66%, so no wonder ridership was down.

He added that the state’s push for greater transit oriented development (TOD) in SE Connecticut will fail without the trains.  “What developer wants to build next to a train station with no trains?” he asked.

Almost everyone who testified noted how terrible traffic has become on I-95.  Less train service will only worsen that, especially on Fridays, while also adding to pollution.

Several of those who spoke in the virtual hearings bemoaned the lack of in-person hearings in the towns and cities most affected by the plans.  Still others asked what is being done to attract riders back to the trains… or what CDOT will do if riders do return en masse.

Not that any of what was said will make a difference.  While the hearing leader from CDOT said that all testimony would be “carefully reviewed,” these hearings are only a formality.  This is a done deal.  Blame lawmakers who approved Lamont’s budget cuts to CDOT.

“CDOT wants to run trains,” said Gildea.  “Let’s give them the funding to do it.”

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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