CT demands Sandy relief funds

Connecticut is fighting for its share of Sandy relief funds for public transit.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker recently requested $603 million from the federal government for three projects restoring the New Haven railway line after Superstorm Sandy. The money is part of a total $3 billion allocated by the Federal Transit Association in October 2012 for restoring transit systems in the 11 states affected by the hurricane. The projects — revamping the line’s communications systems, reconstructing the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge and updating the New Haven Rail Yard’s power transmission system — are expected to cost an approximate total of $800 million, according to a press release from the Governor’s office last week.

“We learned some tough lessons during Superstorm Sandy, but one of the most important was that several aspects of our transportation infrastructure are in dire need of hardening measures,” Malloy said in a statement. “The New Haven Line is the busiest single commuter rail system in America and the backbone of our economy, and its failure due to a weather-related event would have a catastrophic ripple effect throughout the region and the nation.”

Malloy added that Hurricane Sandy has increased the urgency with which the state must invest in transportation. The state will take a central role in the project, funding approximately $82 million of the $346 million communications revamping project, $116 million of the $465 million Norwalk bridge project and $3 million of the $12 million New Haven rail yard project.

John Hartwell, vice chair of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said the success of the state at procuring federal funds hinge on the Governor and Commissioner Redeker’s previous engagement with federal officials.

Connecticut will find out whether it received the FTA money in the fall, according to the press release.

Connecticut DOT officials are optimistic that the state will receive the requested funding.

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said in an email that the state has made “a very competitive and compelling request” for the $603 million, and he trusts the federal government will recognize the crucial role Metro-North’s New Haven Line plays in Connecticut’s economy, given that it is the country’s busiest rail commuter line.

“We are optimistic that our federal partners will view the request favorably,” Nursick said. “If weather shuts down the New Haven Line, it is essentially shutting down an important part of the state’s economy.”

On Oct. 29–30, the Metro-North Railroad was forced to shut down in the face of Superstorm Sandy but was able to resume service within 48 hours.

Nursick said the currently proposed projects would yield long-term benefits, and that though the construction could cause delays, any delays are a necessary part of track improvements.

On-time performance on the New Haven line fell from 95 percent to 80 percent in February, and a report from the Regional Plan Association estimated that full maintenance repairs needed on the line was $3.6 billion.

Hartwell said that out of the three projects, he will prioritize revamping of the New Haven line’s communications system. He said that a revamp would only cause minor delays during construction and that a new signals system would improve train performance.

“It would vastly increase the reliability and the ability to respond when there’s a problem,” he said. “That’s what we’re lacking right now. We don’t have great flexibility to respond to [habitual weather delays].”

Hartwell added that a project such as the Norwalk Bridge reconstruction would be a more substantial project, requiring massive upheaval and delays since parts of the rail system would only be able to run on two tracks instead of the normal four. The RPA study found the New Haven line in need of $2.8 billion to repair the line’s four most dilapidated bridges, of which the Norwalk Bridge is one.

Terry Borjeson, a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said the council will meet with Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Antonio Guerrera and officials from the Connecticut Department of Transportation next Thursday.

The line makes 125,000 passenger trips per day, or 38 million a year.

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