GREENWICH — As President Joe Biden eyes infrastructure as the “next priority item” on his agenda, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy sat down with state transportation and Metro-North Railroad officials Monday.
During a round-table discussion at Greenwich Town Hall, Murphy noted that the Northeast Corridor is the only rail corridor in the nation “that has any chance of making money.”
“But that’s jeopardized by this current pandemic, which has created real budget crises for our operators, and is threatened in the long run by an atrophying infrastructure that’s increasing transit times and making a lot of people think twice about locating themselves in Connecticut,” Murphy said.
Murphy outlined some of the money for transportation that was included in the American Rescue Plan Act, a pandemic aid package that Biden signed into law earlier this month. The law sets aside about $30 billion for transit grants, $970 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and $350 billion for state and local governments.
Meanwhile, Biden is expected to release a major infrastructure proposal this week. Murphy said he hopes that a bipartisan package will be possible, but he noted “there’s a big outstanding question as to whether we can agree on revenue sources for transportation.”
Still, Biden “has been successful in pushing Congress to enact his priorities thus far,” Murphy said. “And my hope is that he’s going to put just as much focus on infrastructure as he did on the Rescue Plan.”
Murphy and fellow U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal signed onto a letter to Biden last week requesting that the president’s infrastructure proposal include $55 billion or more for the Northeast Corridor over 10 years.
Murphy is a member of the Senate subcommittee that drafts an annual appropriations bill for the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Among the attendees of Monday’s roundtable was Catherine Rinaldi, the president of Metro-North. She said “at the height of the pandemic,” the railroad’s ridership was down by about 95 percent. Now, it’s down about 79 percent.
“We are now definitely on the upswing,” Rinaldi said. “We had a bit of a lull during the holidays when … COVID started up again. But really, since January, we’ve been seeing improvement pretty much every week.”
She said while there may be fewer “traditional commuters” taking trains during the pandemic, “intermediate travelers” — for instance, those who catch a train in Bridgeport and hop off in Stamford — are still riding the railroad.
Since last June, Metro-North has been operating at about 63 percent of its pre-pandemic service levels, Rinaldi said.
Joseph Giulietti, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and a former president of Metro-North, said federal funding has been critical to continuing rail service in the state.
“Your funding right now has put us in a position that I can safely say we’re OK to go for the next two years, and we have the projects in line to go in and fix up and increase the speeds on this corridor for both Amtrak and Metro-North,” Giulietti said.
He also said he is optimistic about more infrastructure spending in the near future.
“If I can impress nothing else in this meeting it’s that never have I felt that the stars have been more aligned than they are right now in terms of investment in infrastructure, in terms of relationships,” he said, referring to connections on both the regional and federal level.