Riders talk service on bumpy ride

Jammed into a business train car with a conference table extending down the middle of the aisle, Shore Line East riders spoke with members of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council before the council’s October meeting.

Approximately 50 Shore Line East riders met on the regularly scheduled evening train between New Haven and New London Wednesday to comment about the railroad’s service. The council discussed the official October agenda on the return to the Elm City.

Security issues dominated the later portion of the council meeting. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Metro-North peak service slipped four percent, and off-peak service fell five percent. Weekend service has fallen 20 percent.

“We were seeing some drops before Sept. 11 because of the slowing economy,” said Eugene Colonese, a Metro-North representative. “The Sept. 11 events exacerbated those drops, but these are not safety related.”

To maintain passenger confidence in railroad safety, officials have improved security. Police now patrol New Haven’s Union Station 24 hours a day. Israeli-designed bomb resistant trash cans installed in 1995 are checked more frequently, too.

But bag inspections at the station are unlikely.

“The train system is different from the airport system,” said Sean McLaughlin, a captain in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department. “Checking parcels is not realistic because of the number of stops. The commute to New York would last four to five hours.”

Because of concerns related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Metro-North will postpone the “quiet car” issue until next year, allowing cellular phone use to continue throughout all trains. After receiving passenger complains, the council wanted Metro-North to prohibit cell phone use in one car on each train.

The early portion of the meeting, moderated by council Chairman Rodney Chabot, focused primarily on Shore Line East schedule problems. Even the Commuter Council train left New Haven 10 minutes late because of a delayed Metro-North connection.

“Connections are awful between Metro-North and Shore Line East,” said Natalie Grover, who has used the Shore Line East service since 1998. “The reason ridership has fallen is because nobody wants to get home at 8 o’clock.”

Other complaints involved dirty equipment, station parking and poor station signage.

The formal meeting on the return trip to New Haven began with an update on the construction progress of the new State Street station in New Haven, set to open in April.

Lee Carlson, a council member and representative from the Shore Line East Riders Association, questioned railroad signal placement at the new station that trims one of the already short 320-foot platforms by 25 percent.

“If the new platform is incapable of handling the trains we’re running, what good is the new station?” Carlson said.

Railroad officials said the signal had already been moved once, and strong ridership could force further adjustment.

Council members agreed that the proposed downtown bus depot at the corner of State and Chapel streets, if ever constructed, would eliminate bus connection troubles caused by the new train station.

“I’ll probably be in the box by the time that happens,” Carlson said.

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