HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — There was good news and bad news for Connecticut commuters Tuesday night, and some think they might be related – despite protests from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to the contrary.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, Malloy got a little testy as he was questioned about the timing of his announcement that bar cars are returning to the New Haven Metro-North Railroad line.
Some riders suggested it was timed to distract people from a proposed 5 percent fare hike.
“Good timing, good timing — I’ll just put it like that,” said Anthony Thomas of Bridgeport.
Of the claims, Malloy simply replied, “They’re wrong.”
“I’m not going to help write a story that’s not true,” he said, “So they’re wrong, and no. Those are the two answers.”
And as to the fare hike, Connecticut officials said it is necessary.
“People would rather there not be a fare increase. I fully understand that. But our budget right now does not allow us to close the budget gap without something like this,” said Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker.
The New Haven Line is unique in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system in that Connecticut owns the rolling stock and pays most of the expense.
Malloy said he can’t plug the $37 million budget hole without help from the legislature or cutting service, which he will not do, so riders will pay more. As for the bar cars, he said he had always planned to bring them back when the old ones went out of service two years ago.
“It’s part of our history. It’s part of our culture. It’s part of the fun, and quite frankly, these cars carry a lot of people,” Malloy said. “So it’s not like we’re wasting space.”
The state plans to purchase 60 new M-8 rail cars to add to the New Haven line to accommodate the rising number of rail commuters.
“It will get us to 465 cars,” Malloy said. “It’ll give us additional capacity of at least 6,000 people depending on how we use them.”
Of those 60 cars, 10 will be converted into cafe cars — a service that was retired from the line in 2014.
This first of the new bar cars will be a typical M-8 car retrofitted with café seating. It will become a prototype for the manufacturer.
The configuration will be a little different, with half café seating and half traditional. That first prototype should be on the rails next summer.
But by then, it is expected that riders will already be paying an extra $15.65 for a monthly pass between Stamford and Grand Central Station. With that in mind, some commuters were not too enthusiastic about the return of bar cars.
“That’s nice, great, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re raising the prices,” one commuter said.
Bar cars were retired in 2014 because they could not be coupled to a new fleet of train cars. The cars had faux-wood paneling and red leather lounges that some riders say evoked a 1960s “Mad Men” vibe of martini gatherings.
Malloy estimates the new cars will cost the state around $200 million, with the money likely being bonded over 20 years. Metro-North is expected to pay a percentage of the cost, WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau reported.
The first batch of cars is expected to roll out in fall 2019, with all of them on board by 2021.
According to officials, 40.3 million commuters traveled on the New Haven line in 2015 — setting an all-time record for ridership.
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