Class Year

2019

Residential College

Silliman College

Department

History

Advisor

Paul Sabin

Abstract

This essay explores the creation of the Metro-North Railroad in 1983 as a public agency to provide commuter train services on the New York–New Haven Line. The essay begins by bringing out the central role commuter rail services played in the negotiations over the New Haven Railroad’s bankruptcy in the 1960s. I argue that New Haven Line’s near liquidation during the bankruptcy prompted advocacy from commuters, urban planners, and politicians that pushed back against the trend towards automobile-centric urban transportation planning. In the next section, I use the New Haven Line’s subsequent operation in the 1970s under subsidy arrangements with another private railroad and a federally-run carrier to show that indirect subsidy did little to improve conditions since freight railroads—public or private—did not care about investing in commuter services, which did little to help their bottom line. Lastly, I argue that Metro-North succeeded in the 1980s at improving the railroad’s services because it effected the long overdue separation of commuter services from freight and intercity trains, which allowed for greater local control, customer-first management, and renegotiation of subsidies and labor rules. I go on to conclude that, despite its successes, the New Haven Line’s vital implication in interests ranging from the lives of individual commuters to the national economy has ironically hampered its progress as municipalities, the states of New York and Connecticut, and the federal government have failed to cooperate and adequately fund continued progress.

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