It's déjà vu all over again for the Metro-North Railroad. Right now, about 125,000 users of the rail commuter line going through some of the wealthiest towns in the United States is pretty much shut down. The Metropolitan Transit Authority managed to scrounge up some diesel trains that will run into New York City from Connecticut, but the number cannot meet the demand.
Is the disintegration of this essential transit system something that came out of nowhere like a plague of locusts? No. The predecessor to Metro-North, the New Haven Railroad collapsed structurally and financially in the early 1960s. In fact, this Peter Arno cartoon from the "New Yorker" was published exactly 50 years ago this week in 1963:
"Great Scott, Now what's Happened"
A lot of externalities (such as the competing Connecticut Turnpike) have led to this decades long balancing act. Yet, the problem of a dedicated and stable revenue stream to support this railroad has never been truly explored. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Democrat Connecticut) will try to get some money out of the federal government. Or he may not.
There's a a clear alternative to money-grubbing and penny-pinching. the distance of the line from New Haven to the New York State border is chockablock with a community created gift that keeps giving: land values.
As just one anecdotal example, there is a hole in the ground in Stamford Connecticut where redevelopment hopes and dreams lie buried along with the staggering potential value of that land, which is assessed at about $25 million yet contributes less than $500,000 a year in taxes. Multiply this one eyesore by 100,000 more parcels of land up and down that rail line and you'll see a self generating funding stream for the Metro-North that will help pay for improvements and maintenance.
Stamford's Hole in the Ground.
Unfortunately it still is firmly cemented in the mindset of policy makers that landowners who have done nothing to contribute to the construction and maintenance of the Metro-North happily pocket hundreds of millions of dollars every year that ought to go– and CAN go – into the public coffers of those entities that have created the value including the Metropolitan Transit Authority.