Letters to the Editor: Light Rail a solution for train service on the New Canaan line
To the Editor:
Over many years of commuting by rail from New Canaan, I have often wondered why the Metro-North Railroad (MNR) spends so much money on the off-peak and weekend shuttle to New Canaan.
Every time, they send a three-pair, six-car, heavy rail train with four of the cars closed off. The two open cars can accommodate up to 200 people, yet only on rare occasions will you ever see as many as 50 passengers on an off-peak or weekend train.
These heavy rail (now M8) cars are the most expensive rolling stock to buy and run, and are not suited for this job.
Across the country you now find light rail vehicles (LRVs) increasingly used for this type of operation, typically as two connected cars (pairs). These cars are half the weight of heavy rail and have top speeds of 50 miles per hour rather than the 85-100 mile per hour trains used on the main line. The electrical energy required to move a 145 ton M8 pair is nearly double the energy required to move a modern light rail car.
Because of their lighter weight and reduced speeds, LRVs are much gentler on the rail bed, resulting in lower track maintenance costs — a major long-term expense for the railroad.
The capital cost and operating cost of a three pair M8 train vs. a single light rail pair is undeniably much greater. When you also take into account the unused overcapacity of just one M8 pair for the volume of traffic, it is not surprising that Metro-North and, of course, New Canaan face a significant operating expense problem.
The MNR M8 is burdened with history (and significant cost) in having to accommodate two power systems on a journey from Connecticut to New York: AC power via the overhead catenary on the New Haven line and DC power via third rail from the Bronx to Grand Central. Fortunately, LRVs for the New Canaan branch would be much simpler, operating only from overhead power which is the standard for LRVs.
With the increase in ridership on the main line, MNR has had to order additional M8 cars to handle the increase in traffic. An obvious immediate and significant benefit for MNR is the freeing up of six M8 cars for use on the main line.
For all of the above reasons, it is recommended that a light rail pair be acquired and dedicated to use on the New Canaan branch of the Metro-North Railroad.
A light rail example
To provide some context for this recommendation, we have looked at available LRVs for use on the New Canaan branch and found one very well suited to this project, the Siemens S200. This car is manufactured in the U.S., and Siemens has a greater than 30% share of the North American light rail market.
In the U.S., much of the growth in light rail (over 70 percent) has taken place on systems which operate at street level; cars for which are referred to as “low floor.” Since we have platforms at all stops on the New Canaan branch, we will need “high floor” cars, such as the S200.
The two notable systems using the high floor S200 are:
Calgary: 63 LRVs, first entered service in 2016; these cars are specifically outfitted for service in Calgary (New Canaan?) weather;
San Francisco: initial order of 175 LRVs, subsequently increased by 40 more, first entered service in 2017.
Based upon available data, we estimate the cost of the S200 to be at least the $3.3 million paid for the Calgary LRVs (pairs). Additional information on the Calgary S200 will be found at
MNR and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) have a great deal of experience with specifications and configurations in the acquisition of rolling stock. With a big commuter railroad to run, they understandably don’t spend much time on such a relatively small issue.
This paper is written to encourage fresh ideas for a long-term problem.
Paul T. Pureka