An Amtrak Acela train bound for Washington, D.C. Federal Railroad Administration

Even though it’s summer, there’s plenty of news to share on the transportation front:

Passenger pledge: Following on last week’s column about the “Great Summer Meltdown” on Metro-North on the hottest day of July 2011, one of the good things that resulted was the CT Rail Commuter Council’s endorsement of what we then called “The Passenger Bill of Rights.”

Our requests of the railroad seemed reasonable: heat in the winter and AC in the summer, updated info when there are delays, back-up transportation when trains get canceled and in all conditions, courteous employees. We even were cheeky enough to say passengers deserved a seat, an idea rejected by the railroad.

We asked Metro-North to codify these “rights,” but they only partially agreed.  But good luck finding any mention of the railroad’s “Passenger Pledge” 12 years later.  A search of their website turns up nothing, though they say it’s still in effect.

Congestion pricing: The feds have given New York City the final clearance to move forward with their congestion pricing plan to limit vehicular traffic in midtown Manhattan.  Final details are yet to be announced, but the plan would call for tolls of up to $23 for all vehicles driving south of 60th St. with the billions  raised helping fund mass transit.  The plan may go into effect as early as next spring.

More Acela delays: The next generation of Amtrak’s Acela trainsets, dubbed “Avelia” were supposed to enter service on the Northeast Corridor last year.  The new, longer trainsets tested just fine at better than 150 mph on the feds’ test track in Colorado, but they’re not faring as well in real-world tests on our old tracks and overhead catenary wires between Washington and Boston.  At highest speeds the pantographs lose contact with the wire, so further testing will be needed.

Meantime the original Acelas — now more than 20 years old — are not holding up.  Four of the 20 trainsets have been pulled from service, cutting two round trips between New York City and Washington, D.C.

New Canaan branch work: Work continues on rebuilding the New Canaan branch running north from Stamford, now closed until September.  So far commuters haven’t been too inconvenienced as New Canaan officials say most are just driving the few miles south and grabbing trains out of Darien where there seems to be adequate parking in the station lots.  Metro-North is still running bus shuttles connecting all branch line stations, but ridership is low.

Vehicle miles tax trial:  The VMT trial I wrote about a couple of weeks ago is now up and running here in Connecticut, fully subscribed with over 200 volunteers testing the idea. 

Full disclosure:  I’m one of those who signed up and so far the test has run seamlessly while providing me with great metrics on how many miles I’ve driven, how much state gasoline tax I’ve paid and what the pricing might have been under a Vehicle Miles Tax.  Turns out my hybrid Toyota Prius would pay less under a VMT plan than pay a gas tax. The trial runs through October.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.