Friday, February 18, 2005
By Jim CameronSpecial to WestportNow
There was so much good news for commuters, both rail and road, in Gov. M. Jodi Rells budget address: new rail cars, promises of more station parking and even improvements to our highways. Gov. Rell really delivered, and for that she deserves a lot of credit.
But these improvements come at a price: a proposed six cents per gallon increase in the gas tax, and a planned $1 per ride surcharge for Metro-North. To her credit, the governor promised that ғ(commuters) should not be asked to pay for improvements until they actually see them, sit in them or park in them.
Her plan is to implement this ԓsurcharge in 2008, when she said the first 50 of 340 or more new rail cars will be delivered. I donԒt think that commuters would mind paying a buck more a ride if they could actually enjoy new cars. But the question is, can the badly needed new cars really be delivered that fast?
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Metro-North officials say they think so, if the Connecticut Legislature moves quickly. But ordering new cars isnŒt like going to a store to buy dog food. These are hardly an off-the-shelf item. Heres whatҒs involved, and heres why it will be a real challenge to do it in just three years.
First, these proposed new M8 cars must be designed. Right now, theyre just a concept. The M8Ғs must be powered using overhead AC power, but are designed after the third-rail powered M7 cars in use in Westchester. Have you ever tried to make an apple out of an orange?
Next, the new cars would have to be put out to bids. And while the State of Connecticut is mandated to get three independents bids for even paper clips these days, the M8 cars can actually be built by only one company—Bombardier, the financially troubled builder of the M7s, on which the M8Ғs will be designed. A one-bid contract for a billion dollars? Stay tuned.
Then the cars have to be built, hopefully first with a prototype to be thoroughly tested. After full production finally starts, the first new cars will be delivered for an extensive assessment and break-in period. Only then can they enter service for commuters.
When the MTA ordered the M7 cars now used in Westchester, it took five and a half years from design to delivery. Even CDOT, in a report to Gov. Rowland last year, suggested a five or six-year delivery cycle for the M8s. That means, even with legislative approval tomorrow (and donҒt hold your breath for that!), we probably wont be seeing new cars until 2010 at the earliest.
In her budget address, Gov. Rell preached for honesty and candor with ConnecticutҒs citizens œstraight talk, as she put it. IԒm all for that! But an unrealistic promise of new cars by 2008 doesnt meet that test.
Still, the Governor, did make one promise she can keep: no ticket surcharge on trains until we can ғsee them or sit in them, and IԒll hold her to it. If the cars arent here by 2008, there will be no surcharge.
I want these new cars more than anyone. IҒve been fighting for them on the Commuter Council for almost a decade.
Now, its time for the legislature to get moving҅ to sell the gas tax, approve the budget, appropriate the money and let CDOT get on with the task they should have started a decade ago of bringing Connecticut rail commuters the quality ride theyve been paying for.
Posted 02/18/05 at 04:14 AM Permalink
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Umm, yeah, right.
Where are those used cars from Virginia I heard her promise us via WCBS-AM radio about 3 months ago. Don’t hold your breath for those either.