Metro-North RR power disruption cost state $62M
Connecticut's economy lost $62 million during the recent 12-day disruption of commuter rail service along Metro-North Railroad's busy New Haven Line, according to an analysis by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
The analysis, obtained by the Associated Press, determined Connecticut's gross state product, a measurement of the state's economic output, declined $62 million. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated Connecticut's gross state product in 2012 at nearly $230 billion.
"It reconfirms the point that we're making of the absolute critical nature of the rail system," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County,. The council supports spending at least $2 billion on upgrades to the line and enhancing the ability of trains to travel at higher speeds between New Haven and Manhattan.
"These numbers illustrate why. This is extraordinary," he said of the estimate.
The report also determined the service disruption on Metro-North led to a net loss of $2.5 million in state revenue, while lost productivity was the equivalent to 260 jobs, including 200 private-sector jobs lost and 25 construction-sector jobs lost.
Among the assumptions used in the calculation were an estimated loss of rail ticket sales of $5.3 million and an estimated $3 million for expenses associated with running diesel-powered trains once per hour on a limited basis and buses for alternative transportation.
David Hendricks, a Stamford commuter and member of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said because of technology that makes it possible to work outside the office, it is difficult to measure the full economic impact of the outage.
The analysis highlights the importance of maintaining the New Haven Line's infrastructure and establishing procedures and practices to avoid or limit the length of service disruptions, Hendricks said.
"The impact is often greater on students and other people who need to be in a particular place to do their work," Hendricks said. "But just because fewer people today need to be in a specific place to do their work, that doesn't mean that shutdowns don't affect economic output."
Laure Aubuchon, Stamford's economic development director, said that the outage likely affected commuters farther east on the New Haven Line in terms of lost productivity.
"There was no big event here such as a convention where additional hotel and restaurant revenues would have been affected," Aubuchon said. "That might be the case further up the line."
On Sept. 25, a failed electrical circuit cut power to part of the New Haven Line, forcing Metro-North Railroad to reduce rail service by half. Tens of thousands of commuters had to make other arrangements as the railroad tried to get by with a handful of diesel-powered trains, and then limited electric train service.
The report estimates 62,500 Metro-North commuters were affected during the eight workdays of the rail disruption.
The line returned to full service between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal on Oct. 7, thanks to a new electrical substation activated in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Peter Goia, economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, cautioned that economic models are not as sophisticated as they may seem. But he said he wasn't surprised by the $62 million estimate considering, he saw the traffic backups firsthand while driving along Interstate 95 during the disruption.
"It was a parking lot through Norwalk to Bridgeport," he said. "You've got people either late to their jobs, or they're coming in frazzled and are less productive. Anybody who was trying to make a business meeting on time, going south for it. It was impossible."
McGee said he has urged Connecticut's Department of Transportation to include a wide-ranging economic impact study of Connecticut's commuter rail system in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's "Transform CT" initiative, an 18-month series of public hearings and events to help come up with a long-term plan for improving highways, bus and rail systems.
McGee said the disruption shows how much of an impact the rail service has on Connecticut communities and workers, and how there needs to be a more comprehensive analysis of what the system is worth.
"It's not just a matter of Manhattan ad executives using the rail to get to work," he said. "Everyone takes the rail."