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Conn. loses out on federal rail security funds

(The following story by Mark Ginocchio appeared on the Stamford Advocate website on November 6.)

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Under an agreement reached by state officials earlier this year, Connecticut will receive less than 1.5 percent of a $37.5 million federal homeland security grant for rail security it received with New York and New Jersey.

The lion's share of the grant, $29.5 million, or about 79 percent will go to New York and the remaining $7.5 million, or 20 percent to New Jersey.

It's inexplicable Connecticut would agree to the $510,000 it received in September, rail advocates said.

"That's just impossible to imagine. It's crazy," said Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency. "I would expect Connecticut would get more than this. This is just a crumb."

The money was awarded to the tristate region in April as part of the Transit Security Grant Program allocations.

Earlier this year, the state's congressional representatives in Washington urged the federal Department of Homeland Security to award its grants regionally, so states like Connecticut, which carry commuters into major cities, could get a fair share of funds.

After the money was awarded to the tri-state region in April, it was the state's responsibility to work out a deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New Jersey Transit.

Rail advocates should not be discouraged by the money the state received, agency officials said. The money was allocated based strongly on ridership and risk -- which stacked the odds against Connecticut.

"Obviously everyone wants to walk home with the largest slice of the pie," said Peter Richter, assistant transit administrator in the state DOT's Bureau of Public Transit. "But a bulk of the money went to the services closest to the (New York) city. We also have the smallest ridership."

The New Haven Line carries about 110,000 passengers a day. The MTA, including the subway, Long Island Railroad and Westchester County, N.Y., stations of Metro-North Railroad serves about 8 million passengers a day.

New Jersey Transit carries about 750,000 passengers a day and the PATH trains run by Port Authority carry about 200,000 riders daily.

Richter said the state's commuters also stand to benefit from the money used by New York because so many New Haven Line riders use Grand Central Terminal and New York City's subways.

Of the $510,000 Connecticut received, $290,000 will go to the New Haven Line, and the remaining money goes to the Shore Line East Commuter rail serving commuters east of New Haven.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, said in a statement, state "commuters will benefit both from the funding Connecticut will receive, and from the funding for the transit system in New York -- the city widely recognized as the terrorists' prime target."

But those assurances did little to calm rail advocates who think the state should be getting more money.

"Remind me not to have (the DOT) at the table when I need a negotiator," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford. "This is just a miserable result and evidence that the state continues to fall short of the needs of its ridership."

Richter believes the state will receive more federal money for transit security in the future. He declined to say specifically how the state would use this year's money.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council said getting more money in the future is a necessity.

"Terrorists seem to flow to the points of least resistance and this just makes us more vulnerable," Cameron said.

Monday, November 7, 2005

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