The Amtrak board of directors approved the terms of a contract Thursday that will lease eight locomotives to the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Expected to improve commuter rail service in the state, the agreement is the first step in Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s major transportation initiative, which she will reveal when she presents her budget Wednesday.

“I want Metro-North commuters, Shore Line East riders and everyone who uses our train system to know that I have heard their complaints and I am doing everything in my power to follow up and act on them,” Rell said in a press release.

The contract will allow the state Department of Transportation to lease each locomotive at a cost of $20,000 per month. Under the terms of the agreement, the state will have the option to buy the locomotives through July 2007.

Last spring, the Connecticut state legislature purchased 33 used passenger rail cars from Virginia, 26 of which it has current possession of and only 10 of which are now available for service. The addition of these eight Amtrak locomotives will allow more cars to run, creating more capacity, more seats and more comfort for passengers.

But the locomotives lack the power to run on the main Metro-North Railroad line from New Haven to New York City and will only be used on the Shore Line East, Danbury and Waterbury branches. Connecticut Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council Vice Chairman Jim Cameron said he does not think the addition of these locomotives will lead to a significant improvement in train service.

“Although reliability on the branch lines might improve, most passengers are concerned with the line to New York City, and this is not going to increase the number of trains available to them,” Cameron said. “The state has so long neglected to upgrade equipment that they now have to borrow from Virginia and Amtrak just to get by.”

The use of eight new locomotives on local branch lines may free up other locomotives to run to New York, Rell spokesman Dennis Schain said. Metro-North Railroad derives 65 percent of its income from Connecticut, the line’s biggest customer. Schain said the state and the railroad have been working closely to address the concerns of customers.

“We understand the worries of people who rely on that line and are on those trains every day,” Schain said. “These locomotives are going to have the net effect of improving services on the New Haven to New York runs, which are the key runs.”

Last December, Rell announced that the state Department of Transportation would build an $18 million rail maintenance facility in the New Haven Rail Yard to perform critical maintenance on Metro-North rail cars. The governor also promised to step up the state’s representation at Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meetings, at which the Connecticut Department of Transportation does not currently have a vote.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently bought new cars for the Westchester line using New York tax dollars. Cameron said he does not think Connecticut will see a marked difference in rail service until the Connecticut legislature is willing to fund the purchase of more cars for the New York City line.

“There’s only one way out of this crisis: money,” Cameron said. “Enough rhetoric — it’s time for action.”

New York City native Arielle Haves ’07 said she takes the Metro-North line every time she travels home. She said the trains are often unreliable and tend to take longer than the scheduled hour and 40 minutes because of unforeseen delays.

“Instead of spending money on the branch lines, the state should put its funding into the main line, which is so widely used,” Haves said. “Any money improving the New York City service would be money well spent.”

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