On Nov. 16, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board approved the addition of between 60 and 94 new M8 rail cars to the Metro-North’s New Haven Line by 2019.
Originally proposed in September by Gov. Dannel Malloy and Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, these additional rail cars aim to meet the line’s consistently growing ridership, increase safety and improve the general commuting experience from Elm City to New York, according to a Nov. 16 MTA press release. The total cost for the project will be roughly $308 million, funded 65 percent by the state and 35 percent by the MTA Capital Program.
“If we want to remain competitive, giving our residents and businesses the best chance to prosper, we must continue to make desperately needed investments across our entire transportation infrastructure,” Malloy said in the press release.
Ten of these first 60 cars will be converted into cafe or “bar” cars, according to Judd Everhart, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. During evening hours, they will serve soft and hard beverages and snacks like chips and pretzels.
Though designs have not been finalized, the bar cars are expected to include six rows of regular passenger seats.
After complete removal of bar cars from the New Haven Line in 2014, Everhart expects their return will be well-received by commuters, offering a means of relaxation on the way home from the office.
“These cars are extremely popular, and we are happy to accommodate our customers in this way,” Everhart wrote in an email to the News. “Commuters should experience less-crowded conditions in these state-of-the art rail cars. That is not to say that there won’t be some peak-hour trains where some passengers have to stand, but overall, the customer experience should be less stressful, especially if they have a couple of pops in the bar car!”
Many Yale students and faculty depend on Metro-North for travel to and from campus. Chandler Gregoire ’17, who takes the roughly two-hour train from Union Station to Grand Central during the school term for auditions, said she would not personally use the cafe car and would appreciate if the money went instead to free Wi-Fi, which is available on Amtrak trains.
Kimberley Dao ’20, who takes Metro-North to her home in Queens, New York, said she far prefers the train to Greyhound buses, which she says are often slow, delayed and make her motion sick. Dao is generally satisfied with her train commute and says she does not feel a need for a cafe car.
“I wouldn’t actively seek out the bar car, but if it was close to me, and I was feeling peckish, I would probably use it,” Dao said.
In addition to new food offerings, the M8 cars will also improve safety on the New Haven Line, allowing Metro-North to retire the 36 remaining M2 cars. M8 cars will be enabled with positive train control, a system that stops automatically at high speeds to avoid collision and derailment, according to the MTA press release.
Older M8 cars will be retrofitted with the same safety technology. The new models average 460,277 miles between mechanical breakdowns, a marked improvement for the New Haven Line.
The expansion is intended to address public transportation concerns raised by daily commuters and government officials alike.
“Historically, the three biggest concerns would be punctuality, communication and crowding on cars,” said Jim Gildea, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council and a vocal advocate for commuters on the New Haven Line. “Things really came to a head in 2014 with service- and safety-related issues, culminating in a number of derailments and injuries.”
Gildea said he believes the new cars will assist with overcrowding issues, offer the ability to increase service according to ridership and combat mechanical breakdown.
However, he said he wishes the other branch lines would receive the same attention. He cited several delays on the Danbury and Waterbury lines in the past week alone.
“It is critical that the Danbury, Waterbury and the soon-to-be-operational Hartford lines receive the same improvements and move forward with their equipment replacement schedule,” Gildea said. “To only service one segment of the clientele does not address all the transportation needs within state of Connecticut.”
Toni Boucher, a state senator and ranking member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, has long been critical of Metro-North in regards to safety, efficiency and reliability. Boucher referenced the same 2013–14 period as Gildea, citing instances of derailment, reckless speeding and major injury due to human error.
Gregoire, however, had no issues to report with the Metro-North.
“Metro-North has been delayed maybe twice out of the hundreds of times I have ridden it,” Gregoire said. “It is incredibly punctual, and there are trains every half an hour, so even if you miss it, you never have to wait very long for the next one. I have always been able to find a seat, even during rush hour.”
While Boucher supports investment in roads and railways, she opposes the 6 percent fare increase that went into effect on Dec. 1. Though Boucher said the money raised from the new fare will assist, in part, in funding the M8 trains, she would prefer the MTA redirect bonding capacity to avoid increasing the cost of tickets.
According to Everhart, however, the fare increase has little to do with the new M8 cars.
“Funding for this purchase will primarily come in the form of state-issued bonds,” he said. “The rail fare increases are expected to generate about $5.9 million in revenue, which will be plowed back into railroad operations.”
MTA’s subways, buses and railroads make nearly 2.73 billion trips to New York each year.