Delivered with a thud last month and underscored by state transportation officials during a recent forum in town, proposed severe cuts in train service on the New Canaan branch line has prompted residents to decry the effect it would have on property values and the ability of visitors—for example, those traveling up from New York City to see the Philip Johnson Glass House—to get here.
Less obvious though no less important is the effect that proposed elimination of weekend service as well as off-peak weekday service to New Canaan would have on local businesses, merchants and service providers say, largely because those who work here rely on the train.
Steve Karl, vice president at Karl Chevrolet, said that as a business owner in New Canaan, “the news of limiting the train service to our community is the last thing we want to hear.”
“By cutting back the off-peak service and the complete elimination of weekend service it affects our business in a number of ways,” Karl told NewCanaanite.com. “First of all, the employees who use the train to commute will be affected and these are some of our hardest working employees who rely on the train every day. Secondly, due to the proximity of the train station to our store, we frequently sell vehicles to clients who travel by rail to pick them up at our location. The most popular day that these transactions occur is on Saturday when most of the public is off and available to shop. These sales not only bring revenue to our town, but additional tax revenue as well, that goes directly into our town’s coffers.”
Echoing what many business owners are saying, Karl said that if weekend service is eliminated, “it will surely result in wide ranging economic hardship for our community.”
“Our hometown businesses, stores, and local tourism all rely on the weekend service to bring customers and employees to our doors. These cuts are not only ill advised, but come at a time when our community can least afford them.”
The DOT last week announced a series of public hearings on the proposed service cuts, as well as possible increases in rates such as for rail and bus fares. The nearest one to New Canaan will be held 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27 in the auditorium on the first floor of the main building at the UConn Stamford Campus.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, who has taken a leadership role in fighting against the cuts, is urging New Canaan residents and business owners to attend and make their voices heard, as well as to write to Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker with their concerns.
Moynihan said he plans to write personally to Redeker. The DOT commissioner during the forum described the proposed cuts to rail service on the New Canaan branch line as an imperfect solution to a severe money problem. The state can save money by cutting the number of trains on branch lines, Redeker said, because the state subsidizes branch service more than it does on the main New Haven Line: $4.42 per trip on the New Canaan Branch, $17.04 on the Danbury Branch, and $24.46 on the Waterbury Branch. The subsidy per ride is $49.52 on Shore Line East (east of New Haven). The subsidy on the New Haven Line is $3.25 per trip.
Nearly 100 percent of elm restaurant‘s employees rely on Metro-North Railroad to get to work and back home again, according to owner Laura Barker.
“Weekends are key for our business and other local businesses,” she said. “Everyone with a vested interest in a vibrant downtown community must fight this proposed change.”
Doug Stewart of Walter Stewart’s Market, one of New Canaan’s best-established and generous local businesses said that the proposed loss of train service “would have a substantially negative impact on our Deli and Produce departments as we have at least six to eight employees who rely on daily metro north service, seven days a week.”
For Ben and Elaine Young, owners of the New Canaan Dance Academy on Forest Street, the effect on employees would be total.
“All 13 of our faculty come in from New York City, and arrive and leave on the weekdays during off peak hours, and faculty come out to run classes and rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays,” Ben Young said.
Likewise, Lorah Haskins of The Studio for Performing Arts said all of the Forest Street business’s instructors come in from New York City via off-peak trains, then take them again to get home in the evenings.
“We also offer lessons and classes all day Saturday and again, would need those trains,” Haskins said.
“If we lost train transportation for them, we would have to move our business to Darien or Greenwich, where we could be guaranteed reliable public transportation. We have loved the support of the New Canaan community and would hate to have to leave. Having these trains is the only way we can get our teachers to us, and without them, we’d lose our quality teaching staff entirely. I hope this is something that can be resolved without the dramatic impact on our community.”
For Karl Chevrolet President Leo Karl III, the prospect of reduced service is a “crucial issue for all New Canaan residents” whether or not they ride the train themselves.
“With a tight labor market, especially for service sector jobs, the train is the most affordable transportation option for many employees,” he said.
“Most local businesses would tell Metro North we need more trains, not fewer—especially an in-bound train prior to 8 a.m. The earliest train gets into New Canaan at 8:38 a.m., so train service is not viable for anyone working at local businesses open for coffee—and an outbound train between 515 p.m. and 7:28 p.m. Currently, an employee of a local business that is open until 6 p.m. has two choices—leave early to catch the 5:15 p.m. train or hang out for 90 minutes to take the 7:28 p.m. train.”
For Leo Karl, Metro-North Railroad should see investments, not cutbacks.
“Metro North needs to be held accountable for their own actions which have conspired to contribute to lower usage and ridership,” he said.
Those include slower train speeds to Stamford compared to Darien and lack of earlier inbound service to New Canaan.
“By limiting their service, Metro North will force more and more riders to seek alternate transportation or to head to stations on the main New Haven line,” he said. “This will be a huge negative for New Canaan.”