Behind the New Haven rail fiasco

Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line, the busiest commuter line in the United States, came to a halt on Sept. 25. Con Edison’s 138,000 volt feeder cable in West Mount Vernon, N.Y., failed, cutting overhead power to electric trains on an 8-mile stretch.

Over 60,000 people who use this line to travel between New York City and Connecticut have been scrambling ever since to find a way to work or school.

Amtrak’s service between New York and Boston has also been affected. Acela express trains were canceled until Sept. 30, and other Amtrak trains had delays, since diesel engines had to be coupled and then uncoupled to equipment.

Con Ed workers are erecting transformers at Harrison, N.Y., to bring some power back to the overhead catenary wires. But even with this temporary fix, only half of the usual trains will be able to run.

Con Ed’s management had taken an additional feeder out of service, leaving no back-up when the cable failed.

Utility Workers Union Local 1-2 spokesperson John Melia pointed out that Con Ed has cut its union workforce. “This catastrophic failure is a symptom of [Con Ed’s] whole mindset, which is we will operate it in a ‘just-in-time’ fashion,” said Melia. “Things like this are going to happen over and over again.” (Bloomberg.com, Sept. 27)

Last summer, Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke tried to bust the utility workers’ union, forcing a four-week lockout that ended only when a dangerous storm was imminent. That’s how reckless and vicious these capitalist utilities are.

Looting the New Haven

The New Haven line was electrified between Woodlawn, N.Y. — where it connects with the line to Grand Central Terminal — and Stamford, Conn., in 1907. Electrification was extended to New Haven by 1914.

This was the first alternating current electrification of a U.S. railroad and one of the first in the world. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which completed this pioneering project, had a virtual monopoly on transportation in southern New England.

J. P. Morgan, the most powerful U.S. banker at the time, was looting the New Haven. Morgan stooge Charles S. Mellen, New Haven’s president, set up hundreds of dummy companies. These outfits siphoned off funds and provided a least $1 million in commission fees to Morgan’s bank, which is now the $2.5 trillion monster called JPMorgan Chase. Beginning in 1907, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis exposed this fraud. (“House of Morgan” by Ron Chernow)

This financial skullduggery included building the parallel New York, Westchester and Boston Railway, which was abandoned in 1938, except for a segment in the Bronx that is used by the no. 5 Dyer Avenue subway line. It cost the New Haven over $50 million, of which a quarter was never accounted for. (“New Haven Railroad” by Peter E. Lynch)

The New Haven plunged into bankruptcy twice, in 1935 and 1961. Another crooked New Haven railroad president — Patrick McGinnis — was later sent to jail for looting the Boston & Maine Railroad.

These troubles prevented the New Haven from electrifying the line from New Haven to Boston, which was only completed by Amtrak in 1999.

Socialist China’s high-speed rail

Ironically, the day before Metro-North lost electrical power, the Sept. 24 New York Times lavished deserved praise on China’s high-speed rail network. Close to 50 million people a month ride these trains, some of which average 186 miles per hour.

Train tickets are cheap so workers can buy them. “Li Xiaohung, a shoe factory worker, rides the 430-mile route from Guangzhou home to Changsha once a month to visit her daughter,” reported the Times. It takes less than two and a half hours.

China has already built 5,900 miles of high-speed rail and is expected to have 11,000 miles by the end of 2015. The more than $100 billion a year that’s being spent on the state-owned high-speed rail system has meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Chinese workers. Only the Chinese Revolution made this possible.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon spent $105.7 billion last year to occupy Afghanistan.

The U.S. rail network has shrunk, and Amtrak provides just a fraction of the passenger service that was available 60 years ago.

The capitalist United States is decaying while the socialist People’s Republic of China is rapidly growing.

Poor and working people in the U.S. need a revolution, too. Union-busting Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke got $14.84 million last year. (BloombergBusinessWeek) That equals the total wages of 984 minimum-wage workers, if they were lucky enough to work all year at 40 hours per week.