Shore Line East (SLE), the State’s rail service connecting New Haven Union Station to New London, is facing significant and troubling service reductions this legislative session.
The Connecticut General Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Governor’s budget both call for slashing the schedule of the Shore Line East down to only 44% of pre-COVID service levels. Shore Line East is the only rail service still operating at significantly reduced service, only 66% of the pre-COVID schedule.
The CT Commuter Rail Council (CCRC) feels that these additional service cuts would be devastating, will further erode ridership, and ultimately destroy the line. It is this current lack of service that is primarily responsible for the state of the line and the low ridership levels.
The CT Commuter Rail Council would like to clear up a few myths:
- Myth: The Shore Line East needs to show that there is ridership to support service
- Fact: Frequent, reliable service builds ridership, not the other way around
- Myth: The funding does not exist to increase or maintain service.
- Fact: The state is experiencing unprecedented financial stability with increasing surpluses. Not wanting to fund the Shore Line East is different than not being able to.
- Myth: The Shore Line East has been struggling with ridership even pre-Covid.
- Fact: SLE was a vibrant service, so vibrant that the state recognized the potential and pumped in millions of dollars to bring the electric M cars to the Shore Line East.
- Myth: The subsidy associated with the Shore Line East is too high.
- Fact: The best way to reduce the subsidy is to increase ridership, which only happens through increased service, as has been the case with every other rail line in Connecticut.
- Myth: The communities along the Shore Line East need to change their zoning to allow for transit-oriented development before service is increased.
- Fact: Developers will not invest near a train station with a rail line that is near death and facing frequent cuts.
- Myth: There was already a huge commitment by the State to reduce our carbon footprint.
- Fact: The best way to highlight this commitment is to build public transportation systems that actually get cars off our heavily congested roads.
It’s well known that frequent service builds ridership, not the other way around. The State cannot expect to build ridership by cutting service. At current service levels, there are already gaps of two to three hours between trains; a further reduction of service will make riding almost impossible for all except those that have no other alternative.
Additionally, the Shore Line East is an important tool for people with disabilities and those without a personal vehicle to navigate and access the Connecticut shoreline, one of the best parts of our state. SLE connects New York City and Fairfield County to the communities east of New Haven, helping boost local economies through tourism and transit-oriented development opportunities.
We recognize that the State of Connecticut has meaningful and necessary goals for zoning in and around our transit hubs. Holding a key rail line hostage to achieve those goals does nothing more than take Connecticut’s previous investments in new stations and new electric M8 trains and throw them down the drain.
Additionally, absent frequent public conversations about leading with a zoning-first funding plan, the impacted communities and rail customers will not make this connection. It is incumbent upon the governor’s office to communicate the consequences of refusal to evolve their zoning positions.
It will take years if at all to recover the trust and buy-in from residents to get them back on the train with the current proposed cuts in service. This could not be happening at a worse moment in our climate crisis as transportation sector emissions account for 1.7 billion metric tons and is the largest from any sector of the economy. We are grateful for the additional funding allocated to busing and the Hartford rail line. We need to stay the course on our best competition for I-95 congestion.
We hope that you will find the time to contact your legislator at CGA Find Your Legislator (ct.gov) and share with them your thoughts on investing in public transportation and the Shore Line East.
In 2023, the State of Connecticut should be investing in public transit, not cutting it.
Blaize Levitan of Guilford is Secretary of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, a 15-member state-appointed board, overseeing and advocating for Connecticut’s commuter rail service.