Rail council study finds riders want more bar cars
The majority of Metro-North New Haven Line riders would approve of more bar cars to help relax on their way home, but are split on whether to add more seating and other amenities, according to a new survey by the state's commuter watchdog group.
According to a survey of more than 700 respondents released by the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council at its monthly meeting Wednesday, 90 percent of commuters who completed the survey want expanded bar car service on the line, and 80 percent said that they preferred the additional level of seating proposed in an early design of an M-8 bar car over the current M-2 and M-4 cars.
Conversely, many of the 303 commuters who left additional comments asked for fewer furnishings and a simpler design than proposed, a sentiment commuter council Vice Chairwoman Terri Cronin feels is more in line with that of die-hard customers.
"Bar cars are loud and people are talking, so if you want to read a book you don't go sit there," Cronin said. "One of the reasons we did the survey is that we wanted to be able to tell the Connecticut DOT we wouldn't mind something with fewer seats and tables."
Other findings of the survey include that 59 percent of respondents liked the inclusion of small booths on the proposed car design, while only 37.7 percent favored the current seating.
The percentage of respondents who prefer to stand in the car was 41 percent, compared with 29 percent who prefer to sit and 30 percent who have no preference.
New bar cars would be included in the second of two 40-car options the Connecticut Department of Transportation hopes to buy from Kawasaki Rail Car, which is already building 300 M-8 rail passenger cars for the state.
Last month, Gov. M. Jodi Rell requested an additional $226 million for the order, which would also include additional parts to maintain the cars and other extras, but withdrew the request after legislators raised questions about the state's level of bond funding.
Connecticut DOT Commissioner Jeffrey Parker told council members the state's plan for new bar cars would involve retrofitting seven of the new M-8 cars, which would be less costly than getting the cars made to order by Kawasaki.
"We were concerned with the estimate they provided and decided we could do the job just as well by hiring a third-party contractor to retrofit the cars," Parker said.
Several comments on the survey raised concerns about the location of new bathrooms near the middle of the M-8 cars and how it might impact their happy hour.
"Need Wi-Fi and the bathroom should be in the back corner and not the middle," one person wrote.
DOT Rail Administrator Eugene Colonese said since the DOT would be retrofitting the cars into saloons, designers could consider whether to convert some of the M-8 cars without rest rooms.
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council member Jeffrey Maron said that the railroad and state should also consider the possible financial benefit of keeping the cars in service all day, perhaps by seeking corporate sponsorship of the cars and courting a company such as Starbucks or TGI Fridays to provide coffee and food services.
Several council members at the meeting said there should be more than seven bar cars on the line.
"Using it all day could bring in additional revenue," Maron said.
Colonese said based on the current bar car sales, the DOT calculated that seven cars would be a sufficient number.
Metro-North currently runs a fleet of eight M-2 and M-4 bar cars on more than 20 runs between 12:07 p.m. and 8:07 p.m., Colonese said.
"We felt that the seven were enough," Colonese said.