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Problems at Metro-North? A Man from Ukraine Can Fix That

“Talking Transportation,” a weekly column on transportation by Jim Cameron

In the waning days of WW II, the Americans sent a special unit into Germany to find one man, not to bring him to justice but to eventually put him in charge of the U.S. space program. His name was Werner von Braun.

Now I think, whatever the outcome of the Ukraine conflict, a similar effort should be made to rescue Oleksandr Pertsovskyi. Not familiar with his work? Well two million Ukrainians are benefiting from his skills. He may have saved their lives.

You see, Pertsovskyi is head of passenger rail operations at Ukrzaliznytsia, the Ukrainian national railroad which is moving women and children west to safety and bringing men back east to the front lines.

As the Wall Street Journal has detailed, the Ukrainian railroads have increased passenger loads by 500%, and sent trains on detours to avoid shelling, so far with no injuries. Their logistical flexibility has been amazing.

Pertsovskyi must be rescued and brought to the US. His first job should be as consultant to Metro-North.

Commuter rail in the US is silently celebrating the recent surge in gasoline prices, hopefully luring riders out of their cars and back to the trains. Even before Putin attacked the Ukraine Metro-North had promised to add more trains, but not until the end of the month.

Last week, ridership reportedly doubled from the week before, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the railroad’s website. After two years of daily reporting of ridership, the MTA has gone silent. Bus and subway numbers are still being updated daily, but not the LIRR or Metro-North. Why?

Pertsovskyi could get answers.

Why can he change the Ukraine national railroad in an instant but Metro-North can’t add extra trains the very next day when ridership soars and rush hour trains are standing room only? Blame it on the union contracts, which require weeks of notification before a timetable change.

This isn’t a problem unique to union-bound MTA. Experts tell me that NJTransit can only change its timetable twice a year. Pertsovskyi could fix that too.

Our politicians’ answer to high gasoline prices: cut or eliminate the gasoline taxes, Federal and state. That is a terrible idea, a lesson we should have learned in 1997 when pandering pols cut the Connecticut gas tax 14 cents a gallon.

That cost our state a half-billion dollars a year to pay for road and bridge repairs, keep our highways plowed and our trains running. We wouldn’t be talking about tolls if that gas tax hadn’t been cut.

Cutting gas taxes imperils the state’s ability to issue bonds. And any “temporary” gas tax cut will be hard to overturn. The Feds are not going to keep plowing money into commuter rail subsidies.

Pertsovskyi can’t fix that, but doubtless he’d be the first to point out that such a populist move to cut taxes in an election year is a short-term fix with long term consequences.


Photo: Oleksandr Pertsovskyi, CEO of Ukrainian Railways Passenger Company

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