Category Archives: Metro-north

Metro-North New Haven Line in the Winter

It’s old wiring, and some of the catenary support towers are original century-old installations.

The ancient infrastructure is way past end of useful life even with Metro North’s excellent maintenance practices. You get more frequent breakdowns with old mechanical systems and the old supports than the newer installations on the line. Do not forget shoreline weather factor. Winter unleashes steady punishment on all shoreline-facing structures during peak storm season. The differences between light/fluffy snow and heavy caked-on snow or sleet/ice are dramatic shoreline vs. just a couple miles inland during most Noreasters, and there’s often a stiff sea breeze even in less-severe weather and even with Long Island Sound somewhat more protected from the worst of the Atlantic elements than other places. Pressure + time takes its toll more rapidly than with inland electrification, and if the weather alone doesn’t bring down a wire here and there it corrodes it enough that you get more pantograph downings on brittle stretches. There’s also a lot of new-growth trees along the ROW that were allowed to sprout and grow above catenary height during the deferred maintenance era. Lot of downed limbs from wind and heavy snow/ice, and MNRR has limited options for clearing a wide swath around the ROW when it runs through people’s backyards… the trees are a natural sound and sight barrier that the neighbors would go ballistic if cut down.

That’s the price the NH line has to pay for being the most congested passenger rail corridor in the country, running high-speed service on one of the oldest ROW’s and the single oldest still-operating electric installation in North America (other extant ones may have been older, but they completely scrapped and changed their type of electric collection method after early experimentation).

And with all due respect, the new, improved, high-tech crap doesn’t perform as well or as long as the old stuff did. It may run faster, when it runs, and it may look prettier, but the simpler the design, the fewer the problems.

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Deteriorating Westport RR span needs to be replaced

Metro-North Railroad commuters know what to expect when the 118-year-old Walk Bridge in Norwalk fails to close after boats pass underneath — long hours stuck on a train waiting for repairs.

A federal Northeast Corridor advisory commission says the Walk Bridge, and three other 100-year-old rail spans in Westport, Greenwich and between Stratford and Milford, are seriously deteriorated and in need of replacement.

“These aging infrastructure assets are unreliable, technologically obsolete and increasingly prone to failures that create delays for riders,” the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission said in its first capital plan.

Established by Congress to develop recommendations for the rail corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston, the Northeast commission proposes spending billions of dollars over the next five years to replace bridges and improve the vital rail system.

All of the Connecticut bridges highlighted by the commission are beyond the definition of old. The Devon rail bridge, which spans the Housatonic River between Stratford and Milford, was completed in 1905 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Bridges built in the 1800s are, by definition, safety concerns,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, who, along with others, is calling on Congress to immediately allocate $555 million for rail safety projects.

“Many of these bridges can be labeled as structurally deficient,” Murphy said. “I think we have to show commuters we’re serious about putting money in safety upgrades. I worry accidents, in combination with Congressional inaction, is going to start chilling ridership.”

James Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, said the bridges are a disaster waiting to happen.

“It’s not a matter of if those bridges will fail, but when,” Cameron said. “So their replacement shouldn’t be an issue for debate but funding immediately, if not a decade ago.”

Victorian-era bridges

The four largest rail bridges in Fairfield County — the Cos Cob Bridge in Greenwich, the Saugatuck River Bridge in Westport, the Norwalk Walk Bridge and the Devon Bridge over the Housatonic River — are remnants of another time.

Only the Walk Bridge, built in 1896, is now scheduled for replacement, at a cost of $465 million.

The Cos Cob Bridge over the Mianus River was completed in 1904, and is the busiest moveable bridge on the New Haven Line, which last year carried nearly 40 million passengers.

Estimates to replace the structure range up to $800 million.

“This bridge faces serious challenges caused by aging components and deferred maintenance,” the Northeast commission said in its report, noting there is no funding “available or programmed” for replacement over the next five years.

The commission said if $50 million was available now, Connecticut could begin designing a new bridge.

The Saugatuck River Bridge was completed in 1904 and carries a replacement price tag of $350 million.

“Age and deferred maintenance have caused deterioration affecting both its electrical and mechanical components,” the commission noted.

Connecticut plans to spend $20 million over the next five years for interim repairs on the bridge until a replacement can be funded.

The commission said the Devon Bridge, also known as the Housatonic River Rail Bridge, suffers from “serious deterioration” and requires $850 million to $1 billion to replace.

“Connecticut has initiated work on short-term repairs, but the entire structure needs to be replaced,” the Northeast commission said, noting the state has earmarked $45 million to design a replacement.

Connecticut owns the commuter rail infrastructure within the state, including bridges, and is responsible for maintenance and replacement.

The rail tracks are used by the Metro-North Railroad, for its commuter rail service, and Amtrak, for its regional service.

`New Deal’ for transit

Connecticut applies for $11.1 million TIGER grant for new rail station

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) applied for an $11.1 million federal grant to design a new commuter-rail station in Bridgeport, the agency announced Wednesday.

The application was submitted through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) VII grant program.

The grant would pay for the design of a new station on the east side of Bridgeport, to be known as Barnum Station. Funding would be matched with $7.4 million previously authorized CTDOT bond funds, in addition to funds appropriated to transportation purposes in the biennium budget.
Including environmental review, design and construction, the Barnum Station project would cost about $146.1 million, CTDOT officials said. The station will feature two center island platforms, which are aimed at providing the flexibility to serve both local and express MTA Metro-North Railroad and Amtrak trains.

The Bridgeport Barnum Station Feasibility Study aims to discover whether it is possible to build a train station on Bridgeport’s East Side and to create a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) to create economic and housing opportunities.

Based on recent planning and development initiatives undertaken by the City of Bridgeport, as well as input received from area stakeholders, there is a strong desire for a new commuter rail station (“Barnum Station”) to be located along Barnum Avenue in East Bridgeport on the site of the former Remington factory. The new P. T. Barnum Station would improve transit and serve as a catalyst for redevelopment in the East Side, East End, and adjacent neighborhoods.

In order to respond to this challenge, the City of Bridgeport, in conjunction with the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council (GBRC) became a partner in the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium with a goal of developing livable communities with mixed-income housing and employment at key transit nodes.

The purpose of the Bridgeport Barnum Station Feasibility Study is to determine whether the construction and operation of a second train station is physically and operationally possible and compatible with the existing Metro-North Railroad (MNR) and Amtrak service and assess the redevelopment opportunities on adjacent parcels.

Results of the analysis indicate it is feasible to construct and operate a new Barnum Station on the site of the former Remington factory. Further, the Study shows that the station has the potential to be a catalyst for redevelopment and revitalization in East Bridgeport, including creating jobs and providing additional housing options close to transit.