In the final weeks of her administration. Gov. M. Jodi Rell is watching in frustration as her plan to replace Metro-North's commuter train fleet goes off the tracks.
Democrats on the State Bond Commission last week blocked her bid to borrow $81 million for more Kawasaki M-8 cars. On Wednesday, the state announced that its first batch of M-8s was malfunctioning. The train cars will be delayed for at least a month before going into service on the New Haven line.
"We have worked so hard to get these cars in service," Rell said Wednesday. "Commuters have been very, very patient. I can understand their patience, like mine, is wearing a little thin right now, especially when we had been promised [the cars would be running] by the end of December. But some things can't be helped."
Connecticut has ordered 342 of the high-tech train cars to gradually phase into the Metro-North fleet, with Kawasaki's factory in Lincoln, Neb., expected to ship as many as 10 a month for the next three years. Rell wanted to complete the deal by ordering another 38 cars before she leaves office Jan. 5.
But Democrats who want to leave the decision to Democratic Gov.-elect Dan Malloy next month balked at Rell's request. Comptroller Nancy Wyman and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal didn't even show up for the bond commission meeting last week.
Rell conceded on Wednesday that with Blumenthal and Wyman boycotting, she couldn't get enough votes to overcome opposition from Republican Rep. Vincent Candelora and two Democrats, Sen. Eileen Daily and Rep. Cameron Staples.
On the same day, The Advocate newspaper of Stamford reported that a glitch had developed with the first six M-8s that are being tested at the New Haven rail yard. Those cars were supposed to go into service this month, but will be delayed until at least mid-January, Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker said Wednesday.
"We know what the problem is, we know what the fix is," Parker said.
Traction motors on the cars occasionally are triggering a "stop" signal on the M-8's computer controls, forcing the whole train to halt needlessly. Parker said that after Kawasaki makes software modifications, the six prototype train cars will undergo 4,000 miles of test runs between New Haven and New York's Grand Central Terminal. If those tests go well, the cars will go into service as early as mid-January, he said. Kawasaki will pay all the costs of the modifications, Parker said.
Democratic Sens. Donald DeFronzo and Bob Duff both criticized the DOT for not telling state legislators about the latest problem with the Kawasaki order.
"We have consistently impressed upon the department the need for information, and the department has consistently failed to keep us abreast of the situation," they said in a joint statement.
Parker acknowledged that the DOT knew of the glitch in early December.
Rell, a Republican, has promoted passenger rail heavily during her five years as governor. She promised upon taking office that she'd replace the creaky fleet of Metro-North, one of America's busiest passenger train systems. But repeated delays in the Kawasaki deal have pushed the replacement more than a year behind schedule.
Also Wednesday, Rell announced that she would hold another meeting of the bond commission, on Dec. 22, to try again to approve borrowing about $22 million for park upgrades, building repairs and other work in about a dozen towns and cities.
Last Friday was supposed to be the last State Bond Commission meeting of Rell's administration. All 30 or so items on her agenda got more "yes" than "no" votes, but when the meeting was over, there was confusion about what had happened during the voice votes. Rules require six "yes" votes for an item to pass; lawyers and staff analyzed tapes of the voice votes and concluded that nine items, including the train purchase, had received only five votes, and thus had failed.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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