Connecticut budget woes loom large for commuter rail service

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NEW YORK — A looming Connecticut budget deficit means potential fare increases and service cuts for the state’s transportation system.

In early February, the Connecticut Department of Transportation announced seven public hearings, starting Feb. 20, to gather input on proposed rail fare increases and service reductions to cope with the state’s $3.5 billion deficit. If approved, as-is, commuters would see a 21-percent fare increase over the next three years.

The rail service proposals include eliminating weekend rail services on the New Canaan, Danbury, and Waterbury branch lines that connect with the New Haven Line, and reduced off peak and weekend Shore Line East service, with slight changes to New Haven Line service.

The threat of no weekend service on the three Metro-North branches that connect with the New Haven Line could occur as early as this July. Future projects that would be put on hold or canceled include portions of the soon to be implemented New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project, replacement of up to 200 rail cars intended for the Shore Line East, Waterbury, and Danbury lines, and work on the New Haven and Stamford railroad station parking garages. Ironically, rail branch line ridership is up by 14 percent in Connecticut in recent years.

Connecticut owns the New Haven Line within its borders from Greenwich to New Haven which Metro-North operates under a contract. Two-thirds of the fares cover operating costs, with New York and Connecticut providing subsidies on the New Haven line. On the lighter traveled branch lines, Connecticut pays all of the more than $30 million in subsidies for the three branch lines. The state transportation commissioner, James P. Redeker, said additional funds were needed to continue providing weekend service on the lines, with possible weekday cuts outside rush hours.

Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy has said the state’s current $100 billion 30-year transportation infrastructure upgrade program will go into deficit and the state will no longer be able to borrow money to finance road and rail projects. This fund is based on gasoline taxes, but tax revenues have been declining for years and are now dropping because of more fuel efficient cars and lower fuel prices. According to a Malloy administration’s analysis, the transportation fund would start dropping into deficit in 2019. If no action were taken, the projected transportation fund deficit would hit $388.1 million by 2022.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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