Lawmakers concerned about funding, timeline of Hartford commuter line

MERIDEN --  The CT rail Hartford Line is expected to launch next month.

“It’s about connecting people in the state,” said Representative Tony Guerrera (D-Rocky Hill).

But some lawmakers are questioning the Department of Transportation’s handling of the project, which they said is jeopardizing the deadline for the services to become operational.

The DOT still does not have most of the rail cars needed to operate on the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line because they have not yet requested millions of dollars in state funding.

“I can just speculate, probably it was a funding issue,” Guerrera said.

State lawmakers like Guerrera, who serves as the House chair of the Transportation Committee, believe there are many questions that remain unanswered.

Legislators want to know why the DOT negotiated a deal to repair and lease 30-year-old commuter coaches from Massachusetts at a cost of just under $4.5 million instead of buying new ones.

I’m not an expert on the useful life of rail cars so they should have the people who are come in and describe the mechanical upgrades they’re making and whether they can make this last,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-Hartford).

Lawmakers also want to know when the DOT is going to ask for money for them.

Guerrera has called for a hearing with the DOT to get some answers.

“We’re going to ask them about why we went with the used ones. Was it a lot cheaper? Was it a funding issue,” he said.

“What we are confident about is that chairman Guerrera and the transportation committee are going to start the process as soon as possible,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz.

Several new train stations have been built and opened since last summer, including one in Meriden, which will run on the Hartford line. It is already serving Amtrak trains, however, some lawmakers question whether the commuter line will be ready in May.

“They’ve had about 14 years to plan the grand opening of this line and there seems to be many delays, said Representative Devin Carney (R-Old Lyme).

Carney, who serves as the ranking member of the transportation committee, said he’s been skeptical about the plan from the beginning.

“As the DOT is proposing the cuts to other branch lines, this one they seem to take a priority and they don’t really seem to know what they’re doing right now,” he said.

One reason is because only a few of the rail cars have been delivered.

Guerrera said the DOT commissioner has assured him that all of the rail cars will be online within weeks, despite questions over some of the funding.

“We are still looking at the end of May, early June,” Guerrera said.

In a statement DOT Spokesman Judd Everhart responded to FOX61's inquiry about the 30-year-old rail cars.

He said "yes, they're 30 years old, but they can be rehabbed and any repairs made, and that can extend the life of the cars for years. It's not unlike bridges: they typically have a life expectancy of 50 years, but can be rehabbed and kept in a state of good repair for many years after that.”

The project is expected to cost about $770 million and long-term plans are to build several more stations.

This would require an extra $378 million.