Will Haskell is 22 years old.  And he’s about two months into his first full-time paying job:  Connecticut State Senator, representing the 26th District covering much of the interior of Fairfield County.  His election victory in November over Sen. Toni Boucher, who’d been in office since he was born, was astonishing.

Jim Cameron

And he has certainly hit the ground running as he is sponsor or co-sponsor of 68 different bills that are “in the hopper” in the State Senate.  Of course, submitting a bill is the easy part.  A senator can submit a bill ordering anything, but it may never see the light of day… making it out of committee for a vote.

Sen. Haskell’s “progressive” proposals cover everything from voting rights to ghost guns, from a plastic bag ban to fracking.  But the proposed bill that first caught my eye concerned Metro-North, whose Danbury and New Canaan branches run through his district.  I’m thrilled that the senator appreciates the value of the railroad to his constituents, but his bill (SB 163) says nothing about the speed or safety of the trains.  It doesn’t talk about fares, lack of seats, insufficient station parking or electrification of the diesel line to Danbury.

No, the senator’s two sentence bill would address only one issue:  requiring Metro-North to provide free Wi-Fi on all its trains.  Wow.  That is a hugely misplaced priority.

There are so many more pressing needs for rail commuters in Connecticut:  the aging catenary, the signal system, grade-crossing safety, unreliable locomotives, etc.  But Sen. Haskell wants us to have free Wi-Fi.

Why?  Because the cell service along much of the line is so poor.  But does the senator understand that “free Wi-Fi” on trains relies on local cell service?  If there’s no local cell signal, the Wi-Fi won’t work.  And anybody who’s ridden Amtrak lately can testify about the slow speeds and unreliability of their technology.  So imagine a packed Metro-North train with 50 percent more passengers than an Amtrak coach and you’ll be lucky to get any bandwidth at all.  Don’t commuters have enough to complain about already?

There are legitimate reasons that Metro-North doesn’t offer Wi-Fi (as I’ve written about before).  The railroad considered Wi-Fi and even issued an RFP for vendors, including Cablevision.  But they balked at once again adopting a technology that would be leapfrogged.

Does anybody remember the 1990’s when Metro-North use to offer pay phones on trains?  They were made obsolete in months when cellphone prices dropped and everyone could afford one.  Once burned, twice shy.

Today’s “state of the art” 4G cellphones will be toast in another year or two when 5G technology starts getting built-out.  That 5G will give you connection speeds making today’s fast connection look like the early days of dial-up modems.  And, of course, we will all need new phones.

So, isn’t Metro-North busy enough with getting Positive Train Control’s sophisticated radio tech working right that we don’t need to burden them with a millennial’s dream of free Wi-fi?   If you really want to have high-speed internet on your daily commute, get yourself a wireless card from your cell provider and an unlimited data plan.

But please, Sen. Haskell, let’s get our priorities right when it comes to telling Metro-North how to run a railroad.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

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3 Comments

  1. Oh yeah, I remember those phones. They didn’t last long, but it made a nice quiet place to sit. There was also an 120v outlet in there and a little tray where you could work.

    I couldn’t believe Haskell beat Toni, she was fantastic, and reasonable. But that’s politics. And we will give Will a chance. Glad to hear he is still holding-out against this nutty School Regionalization Plan, instead of towing the party line like Jahana Hayes did.

    I will like to add that sponsoring a whole bunch of bills is not necessarily a positive to some of us. We don’t need more regulations, we need less. A lot less. Today, there are bills for raising the smoking age to 21, wearing seat belts in the back seat, limiting vaping selections, what type of grocery bags we can use. There is a town in CA in which people (by law) WALK on the odd side of the street on odd days and even side on even. What are we – Sheep!

    Who do these people think they are? Where in the CT constitution gives Hartford the power to tell us how we carry our groceries home?

    We don’t need them to Protect us, we are intelligent people. We just need them to “Get out of the way!” as Mr. Galt said.

  2. Maybe this is a generational thing (I am in my mid-30’s), but by FAR my largest complaint about the train is lack of WiFi. What decade are we in? Why shouldn’t our trains match the trains in the Bay Area? Your claims about the future of cell phones are misguided at best. Young people (…the future of the workforce) expect WiFi now, not in a few years. We need to get with the program.

  3. So do we never adopt any modern technology knowing a newer one is likely on its heels? I would say staying on 4G for a few years after 5G is introduced is still better than continuing to have no access. Also, let’s not conflate the fact that Sen. Haskell proposed a bill to achieve what should be low hanging fruit with the idea that he doesn’t also want to solve all the more challenging issues plaguing our MetroNorth.

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