It’s almost time to say all aboard Connecticut news commuter rail service, but passengers will have to wait an extra month for the CT Rail Hartford line to get up and running.
Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and state transportation officials had hoped to launch the new rail line connecting New Haven and Hartford with service to Springfield in May, but the official start date is now June 16.
“What we don’t want to see is replication of mistakes that other new lines have introduced and we want our folks to be very familiar with the system,” Malloy said.
Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the later start date is to ensure train operators are fully trained and that all the systems and technology are tested and working properly.
“They will thoroughly understand and operate and be familiar with this train operation by June 16th,” Redeker said.
On Thursday, state and local officials celebrated the grand reopening of the renovated Meriden Train Station with a ribbon cutting.
“For the first time in my office, I’ve got people coming in wanting to know how do I get into that space downtown,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati (D) said.
A short walk from the train station is a new building featuring both retail and residential space. The mayor said projects should bring four to five hundred new housing units to the downtown area.
“We’re hoping to attract those young people,” Scarpati said, “those millennials coming out of college looking for a more affordable place to live with high end finishes and the train right here.”
The price tag for the CT Rail Hartford line is $700 million, Redeker said. He told NBC Connecticut there’s already significant economic development happening around upgraded train stations like in Meriden and Wallingford.
“Just the development cost that already has been paid amounts to over $350 million,” Redeker said.
The new rail line will offer 17 daily roundtrips between the Elm City and the Capital City, with 12 between Hartford and Springfield.
At the ribbon-cutting, both Malloy and Redeker dismissed concerns about the 30-year-old rail cars the state is leasing from Massachusetts.
A report issued by Massachusetts transportation officials seven years go found the “floors are in poor condition” and “the coaches received minimal investment over their lifespan.”
“From day one I wrote grant in 2009, we never planned to open with new equipment, we planned to use used equipment,” Redeker said. “We always did.”
The used equipment coming to Connecticut includes 16 30-year-old train cars the state is leasing for $1.8 million a year. Each train on the new rail line with have three cars, Redeker said.
“If Massachusetts didn’t believe in the cars they would have disposed of them, in fact sister cars are still on the line and still in use, and I think that there was a misunderstanding about that,” Malloy said.
The rail cars have gone through inspections including safety tests, Redeker said. He added the state paid half a million dollars for a vendor in Rhode Island to decorate the cars with the new logo. The cars ready for service are waiting at the yard near New Haven’s Union Station.
“They’re attractive, they’re comfortable, they’re clean,” Redeker said, “they’ve got a brand new digital air conditioning systems, they’ve got state of the art anti-lock braking systems so they’re going to be safe.”
Redeker said the Amtrak regional trains that will also be used on the new commuter rail line are 40 years old. Down the raod, he said the state hopes to replace a significant portion of its railroad fleet.
“By doing that we’ll guarantee to Connecticut taxpayers the lowest cost for that purchase of that fleet because we’ll be buying in bulk,” he said.
When the Hartford Line launches in June, Redeker said it will not have positive train control, the advances technology mean to prevent derailments and collisions.
“But the components are being installed, the trains are equipped to be compliant,” Redeker said, “but the wayside signal system and the final implementation will happen before end of the year.”
Amtrak is up against the clock to meet the federal government’s deadline of installing PTC on the rail corridor by the end of 2018.
Nicola Armstrong is looking forward to more daily trains passing through Meriden.
“The times are like three hours in between, so with this new service it’s going to be more trains going to Hartford,” Armstrong said.
She plans to ride the new rail line with her two daughters to visit their grandmother in Hartford.
“The new system that’s coming up I think that’s going to be better because it’s going to be cheaper on the fare,” Armstrong said.