New Transportation Chief Promising Improved Hartford Line Rail Service | Connecticut Public Radio

New Transportation Chief Promising Improved Hartford Line Rail Service

Mar 26, 2019

The state wants to add new train cars to the Hartford Line, the commuter rail line that runs between Springfield and New Haven.

Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live Tuesday, Connecticut’s new Department of Transportation commissioner Joe Giulietti said the cars the state leased from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to get the line up and running are obsolete.

“One of the problems we have is that the manufacturer for them no longer is in business and you can’t buy the parts anymore, so there comes a point where you either recondition or you have to buy new,” Giulietti said. “These truly have to be replaced.”

Shortly after the state announced the deal with Massachusetts, the Hartford Courant reported that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had stated seven years earlier that the carriers weren’t worth what it would cost to fix them up.

Giulietti also discussed a controversy Connecticut Public Radio has covered extensively since the Hartford Line’s 2018 launch: ridership for CT Rail and student-ticketed passengers on Amtrak trains.

Amtrak trains service the Hartford Line with two cars – that gives them half the capacity of CTrail trains on the line. Since September, when those Amtrak cars are at capacity, Amtrak conductors have asked CTrail and U-Pass ticketed passengers to either stay on the platform or give up their seats so that Amtrak passengers can be assured a ride.

“They’ve now left open more seating that will not be purchased into so that there’ll be more capacity on that line,” Giulietti said.

He said that Amtrak continues to open up space for its non-Amtrak ridership even after agreeing to modify its reserved seating requirement on the Hartford line this past January.

“I would like to tell you that I believe you’ll see that your calls coming in complaining that on a Friday afternoon you’re not able to get a train has tremendously diminished,” Giulietti said.

Another route that Amtrak operates in Connecticut is Shore Line East from New Haven to New London. Ridership has gone down on that line as track construction has caused delays and cancellations.

Giulietti blamed the disruption on something called “undercutting” that Amtrak is undertaking – lowering track levels following a long period where they were actually raised to compensate for wear and tear.  

“It’s a major undertaking and it’s tremendous feat of modern engineering to see that happen. But, it’s also very invasive in terms of the impact that it has on our customers,” Giulietti said. “Thankfully, you don’t have to do it very often, but when you do have to do that, it causes major disruptions.”

Amtrak, according to Giulietti, has promised the state that there will be less construction on Shore Line East this summer and that soon there might not be any more “undercutting” for at least 10 years.