East Side Access Project Grand Central Terminal side

Cameron on Transportation: CT Commuters to Get Screwed by New LIRR Station Below Grand Central

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We all know what happened when Boston decided to bury its downtown elevated interstate highway, known as the Central Artery. What was intended to be a seven-year, $2.6 billion project ended up taking a decade and costing $14.6 billion. Head’s up: New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the parent company of Metro-North — has similar designs for our beloved Grand Central. Nicknamed the East Side Access project, the goal is to bring some Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central. The plan would use the lower level of the already built 63rd Street subway tunnel, allowing some LIRR trains from Queens to enter Manhattan and then follow a new, very deep tunnel under existing Metro-North tracks beneath Park Avenue.

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Arguably the Most Famous Train in American History: Cameron on Transportation

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The 20th Century Limited was arguably the most famous train in American history, running between Grand Central Terminal and Chicago, offering the finest in accommodations and services for 65 years. The first of these trains ran in 1902, making the journey in 20 hours, four hours faster than before. By 1905, the running time was reduced to 18 hours. The operator, New York Central Railroad, offered each passenger $1 per hour for any delays because it was so confident in its on-time performance. That was when a one-way fare was about $50 for a sleeping section.

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Amtrak Has Been Failing Spectacularly in Operating CT Trains: Cameron on Transportation

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I’m usually a huge Amtrak fan. But not today. Sure, I love to zip along to Boston at 145 mph on Acela, enjoy a land cruise through the western scenery on “The Southwest Chief” or even poke along for 27 hours from Chicago to New York on “The Cardinal.” If you’re a rail fan, what choice do you have but to take Amtrak? But Amtrak is also responsible for running commuter trains, including two lines in Connecticut. And here they have been failing spectacularly.

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In Connecticut: Lower Rail Subsidy, Higher Fares Than Elsewhere

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How much should it cost to ride mass transit? Are our fares too high? Would lower fares increase ridership? If so, why not make the trains free? As I’ve noted any number of times, fares on Metro-North in Connecticut are among the highest commuter fees in the country.

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Arrive in the Canadian Maritimes in a High-Speed Ferry from Maine: Cameron on Transportation

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There is perhaps no more beautiful part of the East Coast than the Canadian Maritimes: the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The problem is that getting there is a hassle. You have to take either an expensive flight with a change of planes or a two-day drive. But there is a third option: “The Cat,” a high-speed car and passenger ferry that runs daily from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. But it may soon move farther away.

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The History Behind the SoNo Switch Tower Museum: Cameron on Transportation

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Do you ever wonder how trains move on a busy line like the New Haven division of Metro-North? How do they switch from track to track, make their scheduled stops and try to stay on schedule? It’s all controlled by computer-assisted dispatchers working near Grand Central Terminal, handling 700 trains per day. But until the 1980s, the dispatchers were decentralized, working in one-man towers along the line. Each tower handled a section of track, manually throwing massive switches to send trains on their appointed routes following a master schedule.

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On Metro-North (and Other Commuter Lines) ‘On Time’ can mean Six Minutes Late: Cameron on Transportation

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Last spring, Japanese railroad officials apologized for a huge mistake:  one of their trains left a station 25 seconds early!  This was the second time such an egregious error had been made and I imagine that the offenders were severely disciplined. Meanwhile back on Metro-North’s New Haven line, the railroad’s latest OTP (on time performance) statistics stand at about 82% — a new low. To make matters worse, what the Japanese railroads and MNRR consider “on time” are two different things.  “On time” in Japan means the 7:12 am train departs at 7:12, not 7:11 (as in this horrendous incident which prompted the apology) nor at 7:13. “On time” means ON TIME. Metro-North, however, defines a train is being on time if it arrives or departs within five minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Hacks for Grand Central: Cameron on Transportation

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There is possibly no more beautiful railroad station in the world than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. As the destination of more than 55,000 daily rail commuters from Connecticut, it’s a place where many of us spend a fair amount of time. I’ve been riding in and out of Grand Central for more than 50 years. So to help you maneuver the station’s labyrinth of tunnels, ramps and stairs, here are some of the secrets of Grand Central. Underground access

Sure, you can enter Grand Central from street level, but in bad weather you can get there underground from blocks away.

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End the Summer With a Daytrip to the Danbury Railway Museum

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Looking for a summer day trip to find some fun that will teach your kids about transportation? Just hop a Metro-North train (or drive, if you must) to the Danbury Railway Museum. I usually find railway museums a bit depressing as they tend to be dusty monuments to the past. But not this one. In addition to a beautifully curated collection of memorabilia, it also still has a working railroad.

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Beware the ‘Automotive-Construction Complex’: Cameron on Transportation

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How did Americans develop their love affair with driving? Visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington and the transportation exhibit “America on the Move” will sell you on the commonly held theory that when Henry Ford made cars affordable, Americans loved them and demanded more and more highways. Of course, that exhibit is sponsored by General Motors, which donated millions to put its name on the collection. But University of Virginia history professor Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in American Cities contends that’s a myth. Just as outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex, Norton says an automotive-construction complex took over our country, paving from coast to coast.

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‘Hello Everyone. My Name is Jim Cameron, and I Am a … Rail Fan.’ — Cameron on Transportation

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True confession (as if you didn’t know): I am a rail fan. But don’t call me a “foamer!” People who love trains come in all shapes and sizes, but “foamer” is a term they universally hate. “Foamers” is how railroad employees refer to rail fans because they think we “foam” at the mouth anytime we see a train. To them, railroading is just a job. To us, it’s a passion.

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Other Than DC-to-Boston, Long-Distance Train Travel’s Days Are Numbered: Cameron on Transportation

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We are all familiar with Amtrak’s local operations in the Northeast: The sleek Acela zooming along to Boston at up to 145 mph and the slower, traditional trains making local stops along the Connecticut coast. But Amtrak is a national railroad and some of its long-distance trains face delays of several hours — not minutes. The problem is Amtrak owns and operates the trains, but not the tracks. From Washington to Boston, the Northeast Corridor is owned, maintained, dispatched and operated by Amtrak. The one small exception is here in Connecticut, from Greenwich to New Haven, where the track is owned by the state, but run under contract by Metro-North.

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Train Ticket Scofflaws Avoid Eye Contact With Conductors and Are Seldom Challenged: Cameron on Transportation

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In mass transit, there is no such thing as a free ride. But there are various ways of making sure everyone pays their fair share. For example, Connecticut’s innovative bus rapid-transit system CTfastrak, which runs between New Britain, Hartford and Storrs, requires passengers to pay before they board. Riders can purchase tickets — $1.75 for two hours of use — at the bus stations or online. This reduces the bus “dwell time” at each stop as passengers can board through any door.