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Catenary Improvements Continue on Metro-North's New Haven Line

In order to continue to provide reliable service, MTA Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) are replacing the overhead catenary wires that power trains on the New Haven Line. This project will fully replace the original catenary system first erected in 1907.

It's difficult to convey the magnitude of a construction job that began in 1991and won't be finished until 2021, but that is what is going on along the New Haven Line - the busiest rail line in America, with more than 330 trains a day! And the work is being done while trains are operating on time 96.8 percent of the time.

New catenary foundation being drilled in Fairfield, CT
New catenary foundation being drilled in Fairfield, CT

Currently, work is underway in two separate locations along the line in Connecticut and is fully funded by the state of Connecticut. The 8.9 miles in New York State, from Pelham to the state line, was replaced from 1990-1993 with $34 million provided by the MTA's Capital Program.

Work on the segment from Green's Farms to Bridgeport began in November 2007 and entails improvements to the overhead wire as well as replacement of four bridges in the same track segment. This $102.5 million job will continue for nearly two more years with completion set for the end of 2012.

To accomplish the bridge replacements, Metro-North had to take two of the four tracks out of service in a seven-mile area between Southport and Bridgeport for about 20 months. The timetables that went into effect at the end of summer reflect this track outage. The work requires commuters to board trains from temporary platforms, and occasionally from opposite-side platforms.

While the catenary work eventually will bring about even more reliable service, the railroad is constrained by the closure of half its track capacity in the work location. In order to lessen the impact of the track outage, a high-speed interlocking was installed near Southport. This longer interlocking allows trains to cross over from one track to another at greater speeds helping to alleviate congestion from the two-track outage.

While catenary wire replacement usually is done one track at a time, it was necessary to take two tracks out of service in order to replace four open deck bridges with closed deck, ballast-style structures, which provide a smoother ride. A fifth bridge, which carries the railroad over a road that has been closed, will be removed and filled in with new retaining walls.

Steel casing being installed for new catenary foundation in Bridgeport, CT.
Steel casing being installed for new catenary foundation in Bridgeport, CT.

The second segment of track where catenary reconstruction is underway is between Stamford and South Norwalk - an $82 million job. That work started in April 2005 and is scheduled for completion in July 2011.

Even after these massive catenary projects are complete, two more phases of work remain before the overall project's anticipated finish in 2021.  From 2013 to 2019, work will include replacement of catenary wires from South Norwalk to Green's Farms; major rehabili­tation of the drawbridge over the Norwalk River in South Norwalk and complete replacement of the drawbridge over the Saugatuck River in Westport.  The final phase will be replacement of catenary wires from Bridgeport to the Housatonic River, just east of Stratford Station. This is scheduled to begin in 2017 and last until 2021.

Although it seems that there is much still to be done, much has been accomplished. Thus far, 132 track miles of catenary wire have been replaced. When the entire project is finished, 217 track miles of wire throughout the New Haven Line will have been upgraded.

A cat­enary is a system of wires suspended between poles and bridges supporting overhead thick copper wires, normally energized at 13,200 volts. These wires provide the train with power by making contact with a train's pantograph, an arm-like device located on top of the train car that takes power from the catenary wire by means of a sliding contact shoe.

The old "stationary" catenary system is being replaced with a constant-tension catenary system that takes up the slack when the wire droops in hot weather and plays out additional wire when the metal contracts in cold weather.  With this new system, the wire stays at the correct height and lateral alignment above the trains and does not get snarled up.

This new system will provide customers with a more reliable service, and a better commute.