Things have been going in the right direction recently with Connecticut’s main commuter rail that serves customers from New Haven to Grand Central Station. I’ve seen it with my own eyes as a conductor on the New Haven Line.
Unfortunately, unless something is done soon, conditions will begin to deteriorate very quickly.
Ridership and service levels cratered during the pandemic. Businesses and schools closed and employees were told to work remotely, but trains still ran due to the critical need for first responders like police, fire and rescue, healthcare and hospital personnel, and other essential workers to all report to work.
I, along with our union’s members, continued to report to work every day to keep the trains running; some caught Covid and a number of our brothers and sisters died from it.
Slowly and surely, the situation has turned around. Right now, ridership on the New Haven Line is more than 70% of the pre-pandemic level with many trains at capacity. The service level (which is the number of trains running each day) is approximately 100% of pre-pandemic levels.
That’s quite an accomplishment and a credit to our customers, businesses, and state officials who guided us through the entire Covid ordeal.
So what is the problem? Significant cuts are about to be imposed on the New Haven Line.
The proposed budget that Connecticut legislators are reviewing right now would cut service on the New Haven Line to 86 percent starting July 1. We will go from 309 trains daily to 260. And what trains will go? Both peak (rush hour) and off-peak trains will be required to share in the service reduction. Peak service will be cut to 60% of the current service level. Do you remember the old days of packed cars with commuters and families standing in the aisle? Imagine those days and add some severe delays between trains. That is what these cuts mean to the New Haven Line.
There could not be a worse time to do this. Many large businesses in New York City are calling thousands of employees back to the office five days a week. Many other small- and medium-sized businesses are doing the same. Schools have fully reopened and Yankee Stadium is packed on game days with fans taking the train to get there. The fact is, more and more people depend on commuter rail for their transportation.
The recent consensus revenues from the legislative and executive branch budget offices have found an extra $200 million in available funds. Maintaining service on the NHL at 100% would cost $38 million, or 19% of that windfall.
It makes sense to keep the investments coming. When Virginia ramped up their spending on rail by 30%, the state saw a 101% increase in riders.
Customers are already anxious about the upcoming cuts and are speaking out (@CTRailCouncil).
Paul tweeted that “86% is ridiculous with ridership surging. Companies are calling back workers to NYC.”
Rosalie weighed in, too, tweeting, “Cutting service is the fastest way to destroy ridership,” adding, “This will put more cars on 95 & Merritt.”
What can we do to stop the pending cuts? Here is my suggestion: Email and contact your legislators today and ask that they support adding $38 million to the budget’s line item for commuter rail service on the NHL. If you are their constituent, which means you reside in and vote in the district they represent, they will listen to you.
We’ve taken ridership on the New Haven Line, which was reduced to almost nothing during Covid, and have brought it back to its highest levels since before the pandemic. Let’s keep that progress going by maintaining full service in the coming fiscal year.