New Haven Independent
New Haveners appeared so pumped to start taking more trains to Hartford and Springfield — that no one showed up to complain about the fares.
At least that could be one takeaway from a public meeting state Department of Transportation staffers held Monday night at New Haven’s Hall of Records at 200 Orange St.
The DOT didn’t end up hearing much public feedback. But what it did hear was that New Haven is ready to start taking advantage of increased rail service to the north.
The hearing concerned proposed service schedule and fares for the long-awaited New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program. Starting this spring, New Haven commuters will pay less for more frequent train access to Hartford and Springfield, thanks to a $1 billion state and federal rail project that has been 15 years in the works.
The DOT expects to launch the Hartford Line service in May 2018.
The new train line will increase New Haven’s round trip service to Hartford from six to 17 trains per day. Twelve of those daily trips will also continue on to Springfield.
The DOT’s proposed fare is $8 for a one-way trip from New Haven to Hartford, and $12.75 for a one-way trip to Springfield. Amtrak service along this route currently costs between $12 and $25 for a one-way trip to Hartford, and between $17 and $46 for a one-way trip to Springfield, depending on the time and day..
DOT Chief of Public Transportation Richard Andreski led Monday night’s hearing, which was the first of three meetings that the DOT has scheduled to solicit public feedback on the proposed train service and fares. The next hearing will be in Hartford on Tuesday night, and the third hearing will be in Springfield on Wednesday night.
John Bodnar, a 52-year-old New Havener in an electric wheelchair, was the first to take the microphone to share his thoughts, and praise, for the new proposed Hartford Line.
“I would like to thank everyone on the DOT for doing something right,” Bodnar said. “Because, unfortunately, I’m not accustomed to the state using common sense.”
Bodnar spoke about how he recently paid $18.70 for an Amtrak ticket from New Haven. But, upon getting to the station, he found that the train doors were only 30 inches wide: a good four inches less than his wheelchair, and six inches less than that required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“I hope to god that your doorways will be 34 inches, or maybe even 36,” Bodnar said. “I really look forward to using this train to get to Hartford.”
Andreski later assured Bodnar that all Hartford Line trains and stations would be fully ADA-compliant.
Bodnar praised the DOT for the imminent launch of the service, for their adherence to the ADA, and for setting the proposed train fare at a reasonably low price.
“Why should we have to sit at home and watch TV all day when we could be out enjoying life?” Bodnar said about the deterrent that poorly designed public transit has on people with disabilities. “Everything that changed for the better with the ADA happened because we first made people feel uncomfortable.”
AJ Brundidge, a 21-year-old railroad engineering student at Gateway Community College, also expressed his enthusiasm for the new train service, and said that the DOT should make sure to let college students use the new U Pass on the Hartford Line.
Anthony Ray-Hall, a 28-year-old from Norwalk who spends much time traveling the state by train to visit family and friends, said he hoped that the new train line would further encourage people to leave their cars at home and travel by public transit.
“We need to have a clean, safe environment,” he said. “People need to start taking the train a lot more because I-91 in downtown Hartford gets very congested.”
After the handful of speakers had shared their comments, the DOT staffers spent the vast majority of the meeting browsing the poster boards, explaining the new rail line’s service to a few lingering members of the public, and watching the clock for 8 p.m. to come.
The sparsely filled room at the Hall of Records on Monday night.
New Haven economic administrator Matt Nemerson stuck around until the end of the meeting, talking with Andreski about how the Hartford Line was a major, long-term state and federal investment that would further enhance New Haven’s status in the region as a major transportation and economic hub.
“These kinds of huge investments are all about thinking about the future,” he said, noting that a thousand new apartments are scheduled to be constructed along the State Street corridor in the coming months. He said that those apartments will be occupied by people who want to live in New Haven and work both in the city and throughout the region.
He said that this rail line will help facilitate easier access not just to Hartford and Springfield, but also to New York and the rest of New England.
“This is about a culture change,” he said.
According to the NHHS website, the state first started researching building a new commuter rail between New Haven and Springfield in 2003. According to a factsheet provided by the DOT on Monday night, the state has invested $564 million in the project, and the federal government has invested $204 million in the project. The state will be applying for another $403 million in federal aid to complete expansions to the rail line that are scheduled to be finished by 2030.
Interested residents can submit comments to the DOT in person at the hearings, or via mail or email by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 27. At the end of the month, Andreski and his team will conduct a review of the public feedback received, and then submit a final proposal on train schedules and fares to DOT Commissioner James Redeker. Those schedules and fares will go into effect by the Hartford Line’s launch in May 2018.
A dozen DOT staffers filled the Hall of Records’ basement conference room on Monday night with poster boards, fact sheets, brochures and troves of other information about the upcoming rail service.
Andreski began the hearing with a brief overview of the scope and proposed schedules and fares for the new rail line, which he referred to later in the night as the “great missing link” in the state’s public transit system.
The Hartford Line proposed weekday schedule.
Amtrak currently operates six daily round trip train routes between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield. The new Hartford Line will increase that number to 17 round trip trains between New Haven and Hartford, 12 of which will continue on to Springfield.
Weekday service will run from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the trains will operate at speeds of up to 110 mph, putting the New Haven-to-Hartford commute at around 45 minutes and the New Haven-to-Springfield commute at around 85 minutes.
Andreski said that the project includes a number of train station improvements, including new stations in Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin, and new elevated platforms at Hartford Union Station and New Haven State Street station.
Commuters will be able to purchase Metro North and Hartford Line tickets at the same CTrail ticket vending machines at these stations, and CTrail and Amtrak are working on a joint ticketing program that will allow passengers to ride on most Amtrak trains with a CTrail ticket.
The proposed fares, Andreski said, were based on current prices for Shoreline East and non-peak Metro North trains. One-way tickets from New Haven to Hartford will cost $8, and one-way tickets from New Haven to Springfield will cost $12.75.
Senior citizens, persons with disabilities and individuals on Medicare can purchase discounted tickets at 50 percent off. Frequent passengers can also buy ten-trip and monthly passes instead of just the one-way tickets.