Monthly Archives: June 2018

Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service

Borrowed locomotives decorated in Halloween orange and black. Rented coach cars lacking restrooms, with air conditioning that may not work. Nevertheless, some added commuter-rail service is operating on what Connecticut’s government calls the “Hartford Line”–in planning since 1994 with designs starting in 2003.

Gov. Malloy on June 15, 2018, in New Haven

GovMalloyNewHaven20180615

Source: Connecticut Governor’s Office

Plans versus progress: Plans in 2004 from the Connecticut Department of Transportation figured project costs at about $260 million. Actual spending so far in Connecticut and Massachusetts totals about $800 million, over $500 million of that from the state of Connecticut. The program is not finished and could take $500 million more.

Since 2006, Connecticut spent about $503 million renovating former Hartford and New Haven Railroad facilities between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA. Massachusetts spent about $45 million to renovate the Springfield rail station. Springfield and the local transit agency put in $6 million. The federal government has contributed about $248 million. Amtrak continues to own most tracks and stations and continues to operate many of the trains.

The Railway Era: Founded in 1833, the Hartford and New Haven sold to the New York and New Haven in 1872. Afterward, although those owners acquired other lines, they operated as the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad–often called the “New Haven.” Its 4-track main line runs from Grand Central in New York City to New Haven–with early, main branches to Hartford, New London, Danbury and Waterbury. That main line is now owned by New York and Connecticut. It is jointly operated as Metro North.

In the aftermath of a 1902 train crash in the Park Avenue tunnel connecting to Grand Central, New York City banned coal-fired locomotives. The New Haven developed technology for its main line: the world’s first long-distance electric railroad. Through the 1920s, the New Haven spread into downstate New York, western Massachusetts and across Rhode Island into eastern Massachusetts, reaching Boston and Cape Cod.

New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

NewHavenRailroadMap1929

Source: Pechristener on Wikipedia

After financial reverses during the Great Depression, the New Haven again prospered during World War II and for several years afterward. However, automobiles began attracting many riders. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 [Public Law 84-627] funded new, toll-free interstate highways, soon erasing passenger rail from most of the United States.

Era of struggle: During the 1950s, U.S. passenger rail services plunged into deep decline. Services halted for lack of demand, and business failures began. New Haven management filed bankruptcy in 1961. At the start of 1969, as directed by Congress, the New Haven was taken over by the Penn Central, a brittle amalgam of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central. A year and a half later, the Penn Central was bankrupt.

In 1970, Congress authorized Amtrak: the National Railroad Passenger Corp. It made Amtrak the operator and prime custodian for the Northeast Corridor–between Boston, MA. and Washington, DC–under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. [Public Law 94-210] In the Northeast Corridor, more than vestiges of the Railway Era passenger services survive, and in recent years they once again prosper.

Initial Amtrak system map, 1971

AmtrakRouteMap1971

Dashed routes not then stabilized

Source: Brian Roman, Amtrak Archives

Amtrak acquired most former Hartford and New Haven property between New Haven and Springfield, operating a few trains in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Ownership of Northeast Corridor tracks and stations became divided between Amtrak and agencies of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Those states supported commuter-rail services around New York City and Boston: major transit markets without sound alternatives.

New Haven-Springfield service: The initial Amtrak system offered passenger service between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA, but during the 1970s and 1980s it became as little as two trains each way on a weekday. The Bay State connected New Haven to Boston via Springfield and Worcester, while Bankers Express ran between Springfield and Washington, DC. In 1995, Boston service ended, and legacy trains were replaced by Northeast Direct service between Springfield and Washington–later called Northeast Regional.

There has also been one Amtrak train a day each way using that route between Washington and northern Vermont, subsidized since 1995 by Vermont. The Springfield Shuttle–operated by Amtrak and subsidized by Connecticut–began in 1995, connecting between New Haven and Springfield via Hartford. That service continues today. It has varied between two and eight trains each way per weekday.

With the start of Connecticut’s Hartford Line commuter rail June 18, 2018–contracted with TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts–the state also increased subsidies for the Springfield Shuttle. Amtrak now charges the same fares–as much as a 50-percent reduction–and accepts tickets issued through the newer CTrail-branded service. There are 16 commuter trains each way on weekdays. However, only 10 travel the span between Hartford and Springfield, which continues to lack former double-track segments.

To cut its property taxes, during the 1970s Amtrak ripped out segments of former Hartford and New Haven tracks. It neglected maintenance of rolling stock, bridges, crossings, platforms, signals and stations. The 1926 Springfield station was closed for over 40 years. The 1889 Hartford station, last renovated after a fire in 1914, is reached over a fragile viaduct, reduced to a single track when I-84 was built through Hartford during the 1960s.

Most federal support for the Hartford Line came from a so-called “high-speed rail” program touted by the Obama administration. Although rolling stock on the Hartford Line can reach speeds over 100 mph, tracks and signals do not sustain that. There are no express trains. The Hartford Line trains traversing the 62 rail miles between New Haven and Springfield stop at all of the nine current stations reached on their routes, except that Amtrak trains fail to stop at State Street in New Haven, a station Amtrak does not own. Their average scheduled speed is 39 mph.

So far, the Hartford Line commuter-rail program has reconstructed all but 23 miles of former double tracks between New Haven and Springfield, renovated or rebuilt several stations and put up a new station at State Street in New Haven. Four proposed new stations and several projects to renovate facilities and equipment have yet to start. There is no longer much federal assistance, and Gov. Malloy–a strong supporter of the program–did not run for another term in the November, 2018, state election.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2018


Initial Hartford Line schedule, Connecticut Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018

Mary Ellen Godin, Launch of Hartford Line praised as exciting new chapter in transportation, New Haven (CT) Record Journal, June 15, 2018

Rebecca Lurye, Despite new commuter line, rail upgrades lag north Of Hartford, Hartford (CT) Courant, June 12, 2018

Justin Schecker, Hartford Line passenger-rail launch rescheduled for June, NBC Connecticut (WVIT, West Hartford, CT), April 19, 2018

Nicole Ahn, Connecticut leases old rail cars for new Hartford Line, Yale Daily News (New Haven, CT), April 10, 2018

Gregory B. Hladky, 30-year-old rail cars Connecticut is leasing not worth repairing, Hartford (CT) Courant, April 6, 2018

Funding request for FY2019 and legislative report, Amtrak, February 15, 2018

Funding for New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail program, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2018

Ana Radelat, Northeast rail plan stymied by lack of funding, concerns in Fairfield County, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), December 11, 2017

Jim Kinney, Springfield Union Station rehabilitation: where did the money come from, and how was it spent?, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 23, 2017

Adam Burns, Serving the heart of New England: the New Haven Railroad, American Rails, 2016

I-84 Hartford project, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2016

Andres Felipe Archila and Joseph Sussman, Amtrak’s productivity in the Northeast Corridor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013

Don Stacom, Wheels slowly start turning on New Haven-Springfield rail improvements, Hartford (CT) Courant. December 31, 2012

James Redeker (Connecticut Department of Transportation), New Haven, Hartford and Springfield rail service, Legislative briefing, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington, DC, February 29, 2012

State rail plan, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2012

Mark Samuels (producer), Park Avenue tunnel crash in 1902, U.S. Public Broadcasting System, 2008

Mike Ferner, Taken for a ride on the interstate highway system, CounterPunch, June 28, 2006

Wilbur Smith Associates, Recommended acton, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail implementation study, Connecticut Department of Transportaton, 2004

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, U.S. General Accounting Office, April 13, 1995

John B. O’Mahoney, Railroad electrification a landmark, New York Times, May 16, 1982

Brian Roman, Initial Amtrak system map, Amtrak Archives, 1971

Railway map, New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

Too hot to handle: at Natick School Committee

In a classic 1938 film, Myrna Loy played Alma Harding, modeled after Amelia Earhart. Corey Spaulding–parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–probably would not be mistaken for Loy. Last January 8, however, her message proved “Too Hot to Handle.” Natick School Comittee members walked out of their monthly meeting moments after she started to speak and then-Supt. Peter Sanchioni interrupted, calling her remarks “unfettered lies” along with other jibes.

According to public records, at the Natick School Committee on January 8 Spaulding began by saying, “I am the mother of a child who was mercilessly bullied into suicide here in Natick.” Outbursts at the meeting made other comments hard to follow. About two months later, Dr. Sanchioni resigned. The School Committee cited “personal, family and medical reasons.” Another two months on, he was hired as the school superintendent for Tiverton, RI, apparently at a lower rate of pay.

Freedom of speech: In the interim, Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter–also a parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–filed a civil rights lawsuit. Sutter had sparked another Natick School Committee walkout in February, telling members that “my boys and family…needed to move out [of Natick] due to the retaliation and retribution we received at the hands of the Natick Public Schools.”

Supported by the Massachusetts ACLU and represented by Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld in Boston, Spaulding and Sutter won an order from a state court enjoining the Natick School Committee from enforcing rules against “improper conduct and remarks” and against “personal complaints” applied to comments at meetings. The court ruling stated that Natick policies and actions were likely to be found invalid under both Massachusetts and federal laws.

Over recent years, public comment became a regular feature at meetings of many local boards and committees. The Brookline School Committee adopted the practice in 1993. The Brookline Select Board later adopted it. Governing boards and committees in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and many other suburbs of Boston follow similar practices. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees publishes guidelines for public comment. Guidance is also available in other states and from national organizations.

What can one say to members of a local governing board or committee in a public comment? When and how does freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, apply? Boundaries of civil rights in particular situations are explored in court decisions, but so far few decisions directly concern public comments made to local boards and committees.

The Natick case: Members of the Natick School Committee rise to attention at the start of a meeting–like a McCarthy-era vestige–and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In situations described in the recent court ruling, a committee chair led in squelching criticism. Interrupting Karin Sutter’s remark last February 5 about “retaliation and retribution…[by] Natick Public Schools,” the committee chair said, “…you cannot speak defamatory about the Natick…this is Open Meeting Laws…you are out of order.”

In such situations, the court ruling found “restrictions…aimed to prohibit…speech…critical of the Natick Public Schools…quintessentially viewpoint-based…[and exercised] on an ad hoc basis.” Citing the Open Meeting Law was merely a distraction, according to the ruling, because “First Amendment or Article 16 principles [of the Massachusetts constitution]…would take priority, and the statute would have to be read in a way that is compatible with the rights that they provide.”

To support and explain its findings, the recent court ruling cited several prior judicial decisions and opinions, particularly –

*** Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015
In that case, a local ordinance regulating signs was overturned, reversing an Appeals Court, because it was found to be “content-based” and not “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

*** Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012
In that case, an institutional policy was found to be content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral, and it was upheld against a free-speech challenge.

*** Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016, memorandum of opinion and order
In that case, an injunction issued against a so-called “group defamation ban” by a city council, because under “strict scrutiny” it appeared likely to violate First Amendment rights to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.

Thomas P. Billings, the judge hearing the Natick case, was appointed in 2001 by former Republican Gov. Swift. He has heard several cases with interactions between state and federal laws, including DirecTV v. Massachusetts in 2012–involving issues of taxes, telecommunications and interstate commerce. The state ruling in the case was upheld when the Supreme Court declined a challenge. [U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 14-1524, 2014]

Were Brookline’s current School Committee policies subject to similar scrutiny, bans on “individual personnel issues” and on “inappropriate conduct or statement[s]” in public comments could prompt objections similar to those from Justice Billings about Natick School Committee policies, in his recent ruling for the Natick case. [Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Policy Manual, Public Schools of Brookline, pp. B.11-13]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2018


Benjamin Wish obtains preliminary injunction ordering school district to stop suppressing free speech rights, Todd & Weld (Boston, MA), June, 2018

Decision and order (preliminary injunction), Spaulding v. Natick, Middlesex Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 18-1115, June 5, 2018 (made quotable and searchable)

Marcia Pobzeznik, Superintendent appointed in Tiverton, Fall River (MA) Herald News, May 9, 2018

Susan Petroni, Mothers of former Natick students file lawsuit to defend free speech rights, Framingham (MA) Source, April 23, 2018

Caitlyn Kelleher, Natick superintendent of schools resigns, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 1, 2018

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), February 5, 2018 (video with sound)

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), January 8, 2018 (video with sound)

Natick Public Records (unattributed pages on a commercial Web site), 2018

Select Board’s policy on public comment, Town of Brookline, MA, 2016

Memorandum of opinion and order, Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016

Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015

DirecTV v. Massachusetts, Suffolk Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 10-0324-BLS1, 2015

Glenn Koocher, et al., Public participation at school committee meetings and guidelines for public comment, Section BEDH, Guide for Present and Future School Committee Chairs, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, 2014

Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012

What does free speech mean?, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, 2007

Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Town of Brookline, MA, 2005 (in Policy Manual, section B, pp. 11-13)

United States v. Carolene Products, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 640, 1938 (Footnote 4, outlining what is commonly known as “strict scrutiny”)

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Walter Pidgeon (Jack Conway, dir.), Too Hot to Handle, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938

Teacher salaries: gains and losses

Public-school teachers in several states have been challenging unfairly low pay and inadequate resources. Reflecting its suburban liberal views, a recent New York Times report charted changes in public-school spending across the United States since the Vietnam War era. A longer span would have shown how unusual the recent funding lapses have been–breaking a rising tide of investment in public schools extending since at least the 1920s.

Public elementary and secondary school spending

UsPublicSchoolSpending1929-2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Major changes in U.S. public education are often faintly remembered. For European-American, English-speaking students, the norm of basic literacy and arithmetic skills was a revolution during the early nineteenth century. The extensions to high-school education and participation of African-American students, native-American students and foreign-language speakers took over a century more. A high-school education became a national norm only in the 1950s.

Percent elementary and secondary school enrollments

UsSchoolEnrollments1900-1990

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Costs of living: Few reports on recent strikes and protests over teacher pay and school spending consider how costs of living warp the comparisons. Because of steep costs for housing, utilities and food, when an apparently middle-class $58 thousand average yearly pay for Hawaii teachers is adjusted for the state’s high cost of living against the U.S. average cost of living, it shrinks to about $33 thousand–near the edge of poverty.

The following table shows average salaries of K-12 public-school teachers by states. They are adjusted by statewide costs of living: equal for a state matching the U.S. average cost and proportionately scaled for states with higher or lower costs. The table also shows percentage changes in teacher pay–using constant, U.S. inflation-adjusted dollars–over 47 years that the U.S. Department of Education has analyzed data.

Average teacher pay, adjusted for costs of living

State Adj. Pay Change
Michigan $74,100 -1.5%
Pennsylvania $69,002 +15.7%
Illinois $67,725 +0.2%
Ohio $65,992 +6.9%
Wyoming $65,558 +10.9%
Iowa $64,892 +3.3%
Georgia $64,260 +16.8%
New York $64,227 +19.9%
Massachusetts $62,560 +38.2%
Delaware $62,532 +4.0%
Connecticut $61,686 +22.0%
Texas $61,603 +12.8%
Minnesota $61,465 +3.1%
Wisconsin $61,093 -4.5%
New Jersey $61,033 +18.7%
Nebraska $60,203 +10.5%
Kentucky $59,690 +17.2%
California $59,653 +18.8%
Indiana $59,300 -10.9%
Arkansas $59,170 +20.0%
Nevada $58,560 -3.1%
Alabama $57,830 +11.6%
Tennessee $57,662 +7.0%
Rhode Island $57,474 +17.9%
Missouri $57,404 -3.6%
Kansas $56,847 -1.9%
Louisiana $56,600 +10.8%
North Carolina $56,296 +3.5%
Maryland $55,598 +11.1%
Alaska $55,455 +0.4%
North Dakota $55,325 +20.0%
Idaho $55,058 +7.3%
Montana $54,731 +5.2%
Oklahoma $54,203 +2.3%
Washington $54,026 -8.6%
Mississippi $53,901 +15.3%
New Mexico $53,487 -5.2%
Virginia $53,377 -1.5%
Vermont $53,286 +17.6%
New Hampshire $53,201 +14.7%
Florida $53,169 -8.6%
Arizona $52,987 -15.3%
Utah $52,754 -3.8%
District of Columbia $52,250 +15.2%
South Carolina $52,193 +9.2%
Oregon $50,935 +8.8%
West Virginia $50,924 -7.0%
Colorado $48,579 -6.7%
Maine $48,047 +5.0%
South Dakota $45,824 +3.7%
Hawaii $32,730 -5.0%

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Contrary to impressions colored by recent teacher strikes, Kentucky, Arkansas and Arizona do not come out as drastically unfair states. Instead they rank 17, 20 and 42 nationally on teacher pay–adjusted for state costs of living. Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine are at the bottom of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $33, $46 and $48 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living: notably Maine, Washington, Nevada and Delaware.

Similarly, California, New York and Massachusetts are not top-paying states–as popularly reported–when considered against costs of living. Instead Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois are at the top of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $74, $69 and $68 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living.

Gains and losses: In the Change column, the table reflects gainers and losers among the states. The public-school teachers of Massachusetts have been by far the greatest gainers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, rose about 38 percent between 1969 and 2016. Over that period, the public-school teachers of Arizona have been the greatest losers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, fell about 15 percent–most of those losses since 2009. In 1969, Arizona ranked 20th nationally in unadjusted teacher pay, but in 2016 it ranked 45th.

State public-school spending per student

Not adjusted for state costs of living

UsStateSchoolSpending2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

On average, annual pay of U.S. public school teachers reached about $59,500 for school year 2016, adjusted for statewide costs of living, an increase of about 8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the previous 50 years. However, there are many more stories to be told about gains and losses. Although they involve economics, they more often reflect politics.

While Massachusetts has seen an economic success-run, thanks to high tech, it has been strong teacher unions that tapped the wealth. The state now ranks ninth from the top in teacher pay, but if the state had made only an average increase in teacher pay it would rank fifth from the bottom. No force in government is compensating for enormous gaps in average public-school teacher pay between the states: as adjusted for costs of living, about $33 thousand a year in Hawaii versus $74 thousand a year in Michigan.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 5, 2018


Robert Gebeloff, Numbers that explain why teachers are in revolt, New York Times, June 4, 2018

Ricardo Cano, Pay raises for teachers and staff vary across Arizona school districts, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), June 3, 2018

David M. Perry, Why the Arizona teachers strike should terrify anti-union governors, Pacific Standard (Social Justice Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA), May 3, 2018

Michael Hansen, Hidden factors contributing to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky and beyond, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), April 6, 2018

Digest of Education Statistics for 2016, U.S National Center for Education Statistics, February, 2018

Current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education by state during 2015, Figure 1 in Cornman, et al., January, 2018 (category bounds $9,000 $11,000 $13,000 $15,000 per year)

Stephen Q. Cornman, Lei Zhou and Malia R. Howell, Revenues and expenditures for public elementary and secondary education during school year 2014, U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, January, 2018

Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools by state, U.S. Digest of Education Statistics (preliminary), Table 211 for 2017, January, 2018

Costs of living data by states for 2017, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, January, 2018

Thomas D. Snyder, ed., American education: statistical portrait of 120 years, U.S. Department of Education, 1993