Streams

Connecticut's Aging Rail Technology Is Causing New Haven Line Breakdowns, MTA Says

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

WNYC

Its' a tale of two states.

Outdated technology along Metro-North’s New Haven Line in Connecticut led to multiple train breakdowns – including one last Friday when a train that stalled between Westport and Greens Farms because overhead power lines sagged and tangled, leaving passengers without air conditioning in the heat wave for nearly an hour.

All the while, trains on New York tracks ran smoothly.

The MTA said New York invested early last decade in a new overhead power system that automatically takes up the slack when wires start drooping in the heat. New York also bought new train cars that held up fairly well during the Northeast's bitter and snowy winter.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Connecticut did neither, and paid for it during both seasons.

The authority was forced to curtail service on the New Haven line by 10 percent in January when the old trains broke down faster than Connecticut's cramped work yards could repair them.

But Metro-North's Harlem Line, which runs newer trains purchased by New York in 2000, didn't have those problems.

Similarly, New York invested in overhauling its overhead power system for trains in the last decade. Towers that hold up the wires now have counterweights that lower and tighten the wires when they sag. Connecticut has no such system.

Last week, the MTA tried to prevent the overhead lines from tangling by ordering trains on its lines to slow from a normal cruising speed of 70 mph to 50 mph. It worked in New York but not Connecticut.

Anders said the overhead wires provide electrical current to trains by making contact with a four-foot wide metal bar on top of the trains. Last Friday's high temperature of 104 degrees caused the overhead wires in Connecticut to sag so much that they slipped off the side of the metal bar on some trains and tangled, cutting off power and halting the trains.

"It goes without saying that antique fleet and an antique infrastructure and power system is not going to perform well in any temperature or weather extremes, whether it's snow or heat," she said.

Connecticut has been trying to catch up. Governor Dannel Malloy agreed to spend $400 million on new overhead wires and $750 million on new train cars better suited to the cold weather. The new cars have started arriving but the new overhead power system won't be done until 2016.

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