Commuters, officials cheer Amtrak honoring Shore Line East tickets

New London — Amtrak will continue to honor monthly Shore Line East tickets from New London to New Haven on the morning Acela train and will not require state reimbursement for now, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., announced Friday morning.

Commuters and officials gathered at a news conference on the Union Station platform to applaud the announcement, amid travelers waiting with luggage for the arrival of their train.

"This is a tremendous benefit to commuters here in New London, and I don't think it would have been possible had Senator Blumenthal not gotten involved and done this," said Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.

At a press conference last week, commuters and officials expressed their concerns that Amtrak would no longer honor monthly Shore Line East passes on the Acela Express train 2151, from New London to New Haven, after September.

The Connecticut Commuter Rail Council had also taken up the issue.

The Acela Express 2151 leaves New London at 6:24 a.m. and arrives in New Haven at 7:04 a.m. on weekdays, according to Shore Line East's schedule. A monthly Shore Line East pass costs about $204, while a one-way Acela train ticket typically costs about $55 or more.

"Here's what essentially happened: Amtrak listened," said Blumenthal on Friday. "They heeded our message, and to their great credit have said now that they will extend this cross-honoring service indefinitely."

Amtrak made an announcement in a press release earlier this week that it will continue to honor the monthly SLE tickets on that Acela train.

Blumenthal thanked Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman for responding. He said Amtrak has said it will continue to honor the Shore Line East monthly passes on the morning Amtrak Acela 2151 without requiring payment from the state.

"It is an act of very well-guided and wise public service by Amtrak, because it has the capacity to do so right now," he said. Blumenthal added that he will work with the state Department of Transportation to make sure expenses are allocated fairly.

He said after the conference that Amtrak has committed to not requiring reimbursement from the state for now. At some point, if ridership increases, both Amtrak and the state may need to discuss the arrangement, but he is confident it can be resolved.

Blumenthal told the audience that the announcement means commuters will have a way of reaching their work in New Haven and returning later in the day, at the least expensive cost.

"We should believe in rail — and always be on time," he said to laughter, as the bells of an Amtrak train arriving at the station punctuated his remarks.

Finizio and Blumenthal were joined by commuters and officials, including Frederick Fournier, a deputy general manager for Amtrak; John Hartwell, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council; James Coleman Jr., the chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum and the owner of Union Station; Richard Grahn, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association; and City Councilor Erica Richardson.

"We are absolutely thrilled," Richardson said after the conference.

Richardson, who commutes to New Haven through Shore Line East, said many commuters have to be at work in New Haven by 7:30 a.m., and the morning Acela is the only train that gets them there on time. 

The announcement gives commuters "peace of mind" that they will be able to get to work on time and provide for their families, she said.

Commuters presented Blumenthal with photos of them at the train station holding signs that thanked him for his efforts.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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