To complete our couple “to do” list for the summer my wife and I finally took the new CT Rail Hartford Line from Springfield to New Haven. We’d taken the train a few times on this route already, just not since the opening of the new Union Station in Springfield and the addition of 7 new round trips per day from New Haven(for a total of 13 if you include the Vermonter). Roughly half of the trains are managed by Amtrak and half by CT Rail.
To simplify, the main difference between the current situation and what was available in the past is more frequent service available at half the price. Not every train makes every stop; we learned that only some trains stop at State Street and Union Station in New Haven. Oops. Union Station is a major hub for continuing service to New York and elsewhere but it is in a less pedestrian friendly location if you want to explore the city of New Haven.
We considered an Uber but decided to walk to the Yale Museum of British Art just to experience that part of the city on foot. It reminded me a little of Springfield’s New North, but once we crossed over I-95 things started to look more civilized. The cast of characters along Church Street looked a lot like what you’d see wandering through the streets of Springfield and we were clearly viewed as marks by impromptu panhandlers. Once we hit the Green things were very different, lots of people going about their daily routines, some spectacular architecture and some buildings only an idiot would slam into such a sublime location.
As we neared the museum we were entertained by two middle aged men conversing about the differences between libertarians and conservatives; who’d a thunk it? Pretentious dweebs on an Ivy League campus; thank goodness they seemed headed for the Art Gallery and not the British Museum! We needed coffee, but avoided Starbucks and Dunkin only to end up in a local place, but in a hideous brutalist storefront. Now fully caffeinated we were off to the museum.
We started on the 4th floor. We went to lunch. We came back to the 4th floor. What a collection. As we crossed paths with our loud talking poli-sci debaters we were informed that portraiture was insufficiently engaging and they would be moving on to the Turners; thanks for sharing. Knowing we were taking the train home we had imbibed a bit at lunch which we took just a pleasant few blocks from the museum. We caught our return train at the State Street station and decided to get dinner at our favorite Springfield place just around the corner from the station.
Just a few days later the Hartford Courant published an editorial by a former art director at the Wadsworth Atheneum (America’s oldest art museum) which talked about the wisdom of Hartford, Springfield, and New Haven working cooperatively and forging bonds between them. He took the words right out of my mouth. In geographic size the three metros together cover only half the area of metro Denver, but with the same population. The art expert in his editorial described this tri-region as having the 5th most impressive and extensive collection of art in the United States. If its 41 colleges, including Yale, Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Wesleyan, UMass, and UConn, were all in, say, metro Birmingham, Alabama, which again by itself is half again as large as the these three southern New England metros together, it would be impossible not to admit that it rivaled even Boston in higher education.
That the three regions line up north to south makes them easy to connect by transit; the entire length is just a few miles of double tracking between Windsor and Hartford away from being an express corridor all the way from Greenfield to New Haven. As I have written here before, most commentary on the improvements of rail and transit infrastructure whether emanating from Greenfield and Northampton, or Springfield and Hartford, have focused on the connection to New York City. Very soon, I believe, more and more people will come to the realization that its most profound legacy will be that it allowed us to become re-acquainted with ourselves.