MERIDEN — Rail commuters can now find more available trains to Hartford and New Haven after the state returned the Hartford Line back to full service Monday.
The state Department of Transportation restored the seven trips that were cut on the Hartford Line and Shoreline East in March 2020 to prevent spread of the COVID-19.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was joined by other elected officials and DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti at the Meriden Train Station to announce the reopening. CTrail, Amtrak and all state public transit mandate that all passengers wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
“Today is a big part of Connecticut’s comeback,” Bysiewicz said. ”We had to scale back and now we’re able to reopen as train travel rises. The Meriden station is a hub for central Connecticut.”
The three-year-old Hartford Line lost about 8 percent of its total ridership during the pandemic. The cost is difficult to quantify as most of the operating costs are subsidized but the subsidies were also cut. The state received funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that allowed it to restore 65 percent of service to New York and less on Hartford Line and Shoreline East. Pulling the seven trips from the daily schedule helped save money, Giulietti said.
Today the state readies itself to spend American Rescue Funds, and awaits what might be coming in a federal infrastructure bill. As plans and priorities are drafted, officials want the public to consider rail and other forms of public transportation as a viable alternative while the state’s highways and bridges are repaired and reconfigured. They also touted affordability and reduced carbon emissions.
The Hartford Line is a commuter rail service between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts, using the Amtrak-owned New Haven-Springfield track. The project is a joint venture between the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, with support from the federal government.
One aspect of the longer term northeastern rail strategy connects Boston to New York via both the Connecticut shoreline and an inland route through Connecticut and Springfield, Giulietti said.
“This line is going to be instrumental for that,” said Giulietti, who began his career as a conductor on the line.
Speakers also discussed economic development surrounding train stations. Meriden City Manager Timothy Coon pointed to the $50 million investment in its downtown as an example “with more on the way,” he said. Newly constructed apartment complexes have added more than 200 mixed-income units near the train station in the past four years.
Terry Borjeson of the Commuter Rail Council added that stations in Berlin and Windsor have spurred transit oriented developments in those towns.
“Connecticut is going through a lot of problems,” Borjeson said. “Infrastructure is a C minus, and our air and water quality is poor. There is going to be major changes and the rail is going to play a huge part.”
Despite the state’s recent uptick in COVID-19 numbers attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant strain, state officials expressed confidence that mask-wearing, deep cleaning and frequent air circulation makes rail “one of the safest ways to travel,” Giulietti said.
The commissioner was on call with the seven northeastern states who are watching the public health situation and the business trends.
“We’re seeing the trends are a Labor Day reopening,” Giulietti said. “On Labor Day, a lot of businesses make decisions about hybrid (working from home options) or bring people back in. Research shows they want to bring people back. It’s also a time when schools reopen, and parents return to work. The businesses are making that call.”
Giuletti expects a 70 to 80 percent return to full ridership by Labor Day.
State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, said Meriden’s central location on the line made it a valuable asset for residents and non residents.
“We have a number of young professionals that live downtown and take the train to New Haven and Hartford,” Santiago said. “It’s instrumental for keeping cars off the highways.”
Meriden resident Michael Culver rides the rail six days a week with his brother to a job at Frank Pappa & Sons Landscaping in Hartford.
”I’m down here every day catching the train,” Culver said. “It’s more convenient for me than going on the highway. More people will ride the trains now that there is more trains and not a long time to wait. I find it very convenient, I’m sure everyone else will too.”