FAIRFIELD, Conn. – With its 100-year-old train tracks, bridges and catenary wires, the infrastructure of the commuter railroad running through Fairfield County is in desperate need of repairs, legislators said.
That became readily apparent this past week after a broken catenary wire stranded 200 passengers in the cold in Westport on Wednesday night. Metro-North blamed the cold for breaking the century-old wire.
When new rail cars started to hit the tracks in 2011, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he believed Metro-North's hard times were over. But in the last 18 months, there have been even more problems on the beleaguered railroad, he said.
“The entire infrastructure of our rail has been crumbling for 20 years,” said state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield. “They know what needs to be done, there’s just no plan to get it done.”
One of the biggest obstacles is getting the money needed to invest in the infrastructure, says Kupchick.
“The first and last issue is always going to be about the money and one of the unfortunate practices have been that we as the government, at least in this state, have historically taken money out of our transportation fund to cover general fund deficiencies and shortages,” said state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. “It really is an unacceptable shortcut.”
Metro-North is the busiest railroad corridor in the entire country, and Fairfield County generates a large amount of the tax revenue that funds the railroad.
“This isn’t just a joy ride. These are people getting to their jobs. This is an important rail system that needs to be revamped,” Kupchick said. If the rail system into New York City begins to fail, businesses and residents could leave the state for places with more reliable public transportation, Hwang said.
Kupchick and state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, are calling for the upcoming legislative session, which convenes Feb. 5, to be a special transportation session dedicated to finding ways to fix the public highways and railways.
“I would like to see the General Assembly require the immediate submission of an infrastructure repair and upgrade plan, and then make its funding a priority over all other transit projects, including those in progress. This should be done early in the session, on an emergency basis,” said Lavielle. “The situation has reached crisis proportions, and the General Assembly must treat it as such.”