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Rell: Connecticut Should Buy More Metro-North Rail Cars For $226 Million


August 03, 2010

HARTFORD Gov. M. Jodi Rell wants to beef up Connecticut's order for new Metro-North rail cars, which could help renew one of the nation's busiest commuter railroads but cost an extra $226 million.

Rell on Tuesday proposed buying another 80 of the high-tech M-8 passenger cars that the state will use to replace the worn 30- and 40-year-old trains on line between New Haven and New York's Grand Central Station.

That is in addition to the 300 M-8s the state already has contracted to buy. The first ones will go into service this fall or winter.

"These new cars represent one of the most important investments Connecticut has made in its transportation system in decades," Rell said in a statement. "Soon these sleek, comfortable cars will be in service on our rails, replacing cars that after many years of daily service in every kind of weather imaginable were clearly on their last legs."

The first 300 cars will cost $760 million, and Rell said Connecticut can save significantly by exercising its option to buy another 80 now rather than wait. The new $226 million order also would cover spare parts and maintenance tools, as well as testing and administrative costs for the new fleet.

"Filling out the fleet to 380 cars means we will have plenty of cars for Metro-North as well as equipment to serve Shore Line East and enough cars for service expansions in the years to come," she said.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R- Wilton, praised the move, saying improved transportation is critical to economic development in Fairfield County.

"Commute times are one of the top things that businesses and people look at when they decide about relocation," she said. "This is the era of mass transit. I want Connecticut to be a gateway to New England, not a cul de sac. This is the most heavily congested corridor in the country.

Kawaski Rail Car will assemble the cars in Nebraska during the next several years. The M-8s cost roughly $2.3 million each and were custom designed to run on overhead power wires or a third rail; both power systems are used at different points along the New Haven line. The cars have back-up heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems to prevent breakdowns. They will replace the M-2s and M-4s, the oldest train cars in Metro-North's fleet. Boucher said Connecticut should retain the best of the old cars to use as spares and for the branch lines in Danbury and Waterbury.

Rell's announcement was the latest in a recent series of major mass-transit spending initiatives in Connecticut.

Last week, she said she will seek $260 million in state funds to upgrade Amtrak's Springfield-to-New Haven line for a new commuter system as well as future regional high-speed service. She'll ask the State Bond Commission to authorize the money at its Aug. 11 meeting; the $226 million request for the M-8 cars will be on the same agenda.

Late last week, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, announced that the U.S. House had authorized $45 million for the New Britain busway. The allocation is part of $11.3 billion in next year's budget for bus and rail projects nationwide; the funding won't be final until the Senate and President Barack Obama sign off on it.

The state Department of Transportation is counting on landing another $220 million in federal New Starts grants for the busway. The most recent estimates put the overall cost at $573 million for a 9.4-mile, bus-only highway with 11 stops between New Britain and Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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