Metro-North Railroad New Haven Line hikes still up in air
Published 6:40 pm, Thursday, September 22, 2011
With a month until a proposed 16.4 percent Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line increase is to go into effect, state Department of Transportation officials are still mulling whether to endorse Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's fare hike proposal, the state's head rail administrator said Wednesday night.
Eugene Colonese, administrator of the DOT's Office of Rail, said DOT Commissioner James Redeker has yet to make a final call on whether to recommend a lower fare increase for the New Haven Line, and is still evaluating public input garnered during a month-long public comment period.
"We're still looking at the material and comments we received," Colonese said. "The decision will have to be considered in the context of the overall budget and (the governor's) plan B budget being revoked."
Mitch Fuchs, a Fairfield commuter and council member, asked Colonese whether Malloy had given any indication whether he would be receptive to eliminating or reducing the proposed fare hike.
"Ultimately, it will come down to whether the government wants to increase the fare or not and probably nothing to do with public comments," Fuchs said.
Colonese said the DOT needs to complete a full evaluation of the proposal, but said he could offer no signals whether the fare hike might be cut back.
"We have to go through the review," Colonese said. "At some point we'll have to make a decision, or else implementing it Nov. 1 will become undoable."
State legislators and council members have been critical of the 16.4 percent Metro-North rail fare hike and rail and bus service cuts proposed by Malloy in July, saying the administration failed to move quickly to fully or partially rescind the proposal after state labor unions approved $1.6 billion in concessions last month.
The state is proposing cutting its rail subsidy by $37 million over the next two years.
"I'm somewhat confused because this proposal was put forward if the unions didn't make their concessions; they did come around and make their concessions," said Rodney Chabot, a New Canaan commuter and council member. "Why is this proceeding?"
Colonese said there had been no official decision by Malloy's administration to cut back the fare proposal, and the DOT is trying to evaluate it thoroughly.
Colonese said the state has taken delivery of 38 of 424 M-8 railcars, accounting for about 130 trains a week. The state still believes it will be able to reach its goal of taking delivery of 60 M-8s by year's end.
Earlier this year, the DOT scrapped the concept for an overhaul of the state's fleet of M-4 and M-6 railcars to make them less vulnerable to snow and extremely cold weather in favor of increasing the number of M-8 cars the state would purchase.
"We still think we'll make that goal," Colonese said.
Council members also gave generally favorable response to the railroad's recovery efforts in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
Council Chairman Jim Cameron said Metro-North's public relations and communications staff provided timely updates about service suspensions and restoration.
"I would like to applaud Metro-North's public relations staff for the level of communication and keeping the public informed about service changes," Cameron said.
Colonese also said the state is postponing until November a proposed "quiet car" pilot program aboard Danbury branch line trains in order to expand it to the New Haven Line.
Over the summer, Metro-North ran a successful pilot program on its trains run by New Jersey Transit, which introduced quiet cars on morning and evening rush hour trains.
"We decided to make it more extensive," Colonese said.