Rell gets long-delayed ride on the railroad

NEW HAVEN–It was a long time coming, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell took her first ride Monday on one of more than 300 new rail cars being added to the Metro North New Haven line.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she said of the five-year wait for delivery of the first of the cars. “I’ve been bugging the DOT, literally, almost every day saying, ‘When? When are we going to get them in service, when are we ready to go?'”

The cars won’t really be ready to go until next month, when DOT finishes testing the first 22 of the 348 cars ordered. But Rell, who is leaving office in less than two months, said the state has fulfilled a promise to commuters.

“It was five years ago that we laid out this vision, and what we said was that we wanted to remake Connecticut’s commuter rail system,” she said. “This is what we promised our commuters, and this is what we’re delivering today.”

She rode in a car with “Governor M. Jodi Rell” painted on the side-a surprise for the governor, Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey A. Parker said.

“I wish I could put M. Jodi Rell on every single one of them,” Rell said.

Thanking the DOT, the commuter rail council and the legislature, Rell said the New Haven line is critical to economic development in Connecticut.

She said recent numbers show that this year for the first time, Metro North carried more passengers in one month than the Long Island railroad.

“So we’re going to make sure that our passengers have good, clean, exciting trains to ride.”

The new cars, designed by Kawasaki Rail Car, have high-backed red and grey seats and roomy restrooms. Each row has electric outlets for commuter use and the trains are pre-wired for Wi-Fi service.

“This is the most complicated car we’ve ever made,” said Hiroji Iwasaki, CEO of Kawasaki Rail Car, who joined Rell and Parker for the test ride.

Commuters had long complained about the existing 35-year-old fleet of cars, saying there are grungy, overcrowded and uncomfortable. But it remains to be seen what kind of economic effect this new fleet, which will cost the state $559 million, will have on the state.

“The overall capacity of the trains will go up,” said Parker, saying the total number of seats will increase. But focus groups conducted prior to the purchase centered on the new features existing commuters would like to see, he said, and not on whether the fleet would reduce the total number of cars on the road.

“We didn’t look at whether it would attract new commuters,” he said.

Regardless, Rell was in a triumphant mood as she rode from New Haven to the Fairfield station. She answered questions but made sure to look out the windows. “Beautiful scenery,” she said.

“Since my days even in the legislature, we’ve talked about transportation,” she said. “And every time we talked about doing something whether it was building new roads or buying new trains we’d come up against a brick wall.”

“I said we can’t give up,” Rell said. “I couldn’t be more proud if I was the mother of this train.”