Malloy, rail honchos talk about train woes
STAMFORD -- With more than a third of the New Haven Line electric rail fleet still sidelined by snow damage, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy met with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chief Executive Officer Jay Walder Thursday to talk about how to keep the battered fleet rolling while new cars are tested.
Permut said he and Walder spoke with Malloy in his Hartford office about the backlog of damaged M-2, M-4 and M-6 cars and how the lack of shop space at the New Haven railyard and Stamford maintenance facility has slowed repairs.
"This was very much a cordial and informative session, which was a discussion of where we are and what needs to be done," Permut said. "We went over the condition of the cars and how the older cars were not designed to deal with snow and that by their nature and design they are very problematic cars in the winter."
Transit officials updated Malloy about the state's new M-8 cars. The first eight have begun a 4,000-mile reliability test, the final step before going into service, Permut said.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Malloy recognized the age of the rail fleet, especially the M-2 cars that are, on average, 32 years old, and lamented delays in buying new cars and upgrading service.
Malloy said he is concerned that riders aren't able to get to work on time because Metro-North is operating on a reduced schedule. The railroad cut morning peak service from 59 to 53 trains until early next month.
He said he is especially concerned about the 27-mile Waterbury line between Bridgeport and Waterbury, where buses are substituting for trains indefinitely to free up diesel locomotives for the main line.
Thursday the railroad increased bus service after passengers bound for Bridgeport complained of missing connecting trains, Permut said.
"I'm very mindful of the concerns of the commuters who use the Waterbury line who've gotten the short end of the stick over the years," Malloy said. "I'm determined to address their legitimate concerns as quickly as time and resources allow."
Malloy's statement said the discussion touched on his planned request for $81.6 million from the state Bond Commission to purchase 38 of 380 M-8 cars under an $866 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Corp. Last month the MTA approved an additional $12 million to extend the contract of engineering firm Louis T. Klauder & Associates for up to seven months to resolve software glitches that delayed their December debut.
"The fact that Metro-North's New Haven Line is the busiest in the United States offers little solace to the commuters who depend on the service every day," Malloy said. "The issues we're experiencing there are illustrative of the problems our state is facing generally -- for too long we've deferred our problems, and instead we've covered them up with a Band-Aid until some later date ... there is no later date."
As of Thursday, 130 of the 328 electric New Haven Line cars were out of service. That's fewer than last week, Permut said, because several days of above-freezing temperatures without snow reduced the number of breakdowns and allowed maintenance crews to catch up.
"The most important thing is no more snow," Permut said.
Permut praised Malloy for focusing on the need to invest in New Haven Line equipment and infrastructure, including an ongoing project to replace the catenary power system and swinging bridges.
"It's really terrific to work with a governor who understands the importance of mass transportation and the importance of the New Haven Line," Permut said.
If the 4,000-mile test of the first eight M-8 cars goes smoothly, it can be completed in two weeks, he said.
In December Permut and Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker announced that the debut of the M-8 cars would be delayed to resolve software problems, including a glitch that caused the propulsion system to emit electromagnetic interference that threw off signal equipment.
"Any issues encountered thus far during testing have been rectified," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
"If it's true and the 4,000-mile testing is under way and they are not encountering any problems, that is good news," Cameron said. "My note of caution to people is not to expect this problem to be solved for a couple of more winters until we get a significant number of M-8s in service."
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 203-964-2264.