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Fast, safe, reliable?


“Fast, safe and reliable.” That’s what people want their transportation system to be. Just add “comfortable,” and what more can anyone ask? But recent problems on the rail line between New Haven and New York City have put any such claims in serious doubt.

The failure of a 138,000-volt feeder line has knocked out Metro-North service between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal, perhaps for as long as three weeks, affecting around 125,000 daily passengers using 38 stations in 23 towns. Although buses and diesel trains have been mobilized for the emergency, the company was telling its customers last week that only about a third of them could be served. The rest, said the railroad, were “strongly encouraged to stay home . . .” Unfortunately, if people want to keep their jobs, staying home is not always an option. And this disaster comes not long after a Metro-North derailment in May, in Bridgeport, that sent 76 people to the hospital and disrupted all traffic on the New Haven line for five days.

However, with temporary transformers installed over the weekend, trains were expected to be running at 50% capacity by Monday. Still, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Metro-North Railroad commuters could expect a “very reduced schedule” on the New Haven line.

The state has been trying very hard to convince Connecticut residents that “high-speed rail” is the wave of the future, and that the $647 million New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project — by the time it’s fully operational, sometime in 2016 — is going to provide a “fast, safe and reliable” alternative to commuting by car. It will also save us money, cut pollution, create jobs and reinvigorate our inner cities; the state Department of Transportation is all over the Internet, including social-media sites, saying exactly that.

Well, we’ll see. Because, just when crews started actually working on that plan, these incidents reminded us of just how slow, unsafe, unreliable and uncomfortable rail transportation in Connecticut can be, and has long been. It’s enough to make folks think of the bad old days of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and Penn Central.

But that’s probably because Connecticut, like so many other states, has for a long time been building highways while neglecting public transportation and apparently letting what rail infrastructure we do have suffer from deferred maintenance — which, to the average passenger, may look very much like no maintenance at all.

This can change, however — and the NHHS line, whatever it winds up costing — may indeed turn out to be fast, safe and reliable, as promised. Meanwhile, maybe we can do something about those rusty old rails that lead to New York.



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