New DOT boss has trained for the job for more than 40 years

December 29, 2018

Joseph Giulietti has walked every mile of the Metro North railroad track in his three decades working in Connecticut’s rail industry.

After bootstrapping his way up from foreman and engineer, the 66-year old, former Metro North president sees commuter rail as a state’s economic driver. That belief will now drive his policy as Connecticut’s next Department of Transportation commissioner, where he will also supervise the state’s roads, harbors and airports.

The choice of Giulietti is a sign of that rail is a centerpiece of Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s plan for Connecticut’s revival. Lamont highlighted his opinion that “substantially reducing travel time from New Haven and our other towns to New York City” is crucial, with Giulietti’s appointment.

On an average weekday, 135,000 people board Metro North trains, DOT data shows.

“I am really looking forward to working with this governor. He comes off very, very progressive,” Giulietti said in an interview Friday. “I believe this is a relationship that is going to work very well because I know what he wants to see going forward.”

Giulietti, who grew up in New Haven, played coy with his exact priorities for DOT, but improving rail speed and reliability on Metro North appeared high on the list.

That could be achieved by analyzing and adjusting the Metro North tracks to minimize curves and drawbridges that cause trains to slow down, Giulietti said. A deal with the Long Island Rail Road to allow Metro North trains into New York’s Penn Station in 2022 or 2023 could expand the line’s near-bursting capacity, too.

The son of New Haven police sergeant, he gave a hearty laugh when asked why he wanted the job of Transportation commissioner.

“You can’t find someone who is more invested in the state,” he said. “I enjoy a challenge.”

Giulietti is widely respected among transportation observers for improving Metro North’s safety after a series of accidents in Bridgeport, New Haven and the Bronx in 2013 and 2014, bolstering his reputation and the railroad’s as a result.

He got his first job at Penn Central, which ran the Connecticut rails in 1971, when he was a Southern Connecticut State University student, thanks to a neighbor who was a union leader. Giulietti wanted to be a teacher and was in the SCSU education program, until the school ended it.

After college, Giulietti became a locomotive engineer and moved to Boston with his wife, another SCSU graduate. He returned to his home state in the late 1970s to become Stamford’s trainmaster system superintendent, dealing with a host of daily disruptions as the railroads transitioned from focusing on freight to passengers.

Some of Giulietti’s other ideas could put him at odds with his new boss, however. He served on Lamont’s 15-member transition team on transportation, whose progressive recommendations do not necessarily align with Lamont’s agenda.

The group, including Giuletti, supported highway tolls on all cars and trucks, while Lamont has repeatedly said he only wants to toll tractor-trailer trucks. It also called for a possible increase in the gasoline tax, which Lamont opposes.

The team also said the state should consider expanding Tweed-New Haven Airport and and possibly Sikorsky Memorial Airport, perhaps under an expanded Connecticut Airport Authority.

”It’s all items that are being discussed,” Giulietti said. “We’re sitting down and making recommendations and I’m sure you are going to be hearing from the governor on those items.”

Giulietti, who expanded South Florida’s Tri Rail System from 28 trains a day to 50 during his 1998 to 2014 leadership, believes when it comes to transportation, “if you built it, they will come” - a phrase that he repeated more than once.

He applauded Connecticut’s investments in the Springfield-to-New Haven CTRail trains, which cost $769 million to build, and an estimated $44 million to run in this, its first year.

That’s a subsidy per passenger that could exceed $60, but if ridership multiplies and the line spurs massive development, it will pay off. “At some point in the future, those will seem like cheap dollars,” Giulietti said.

The investments expanded the CTRail line to 17 round trips a day between New Haven and Hartford, more than the old limited Amtrak-service. Weekday ridership since June averaged 1,945 boardings, Judd Everhart, a DOT spokeman said, exceeding expectations.

Opening the CTRailLine, as well as CTFastrak buses and completion of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge on I-95 in New Haven, stand among DOT’s top accomplishments during the Malloy administration.

These feats, performed by a Department short staffed by nearly 500 people, prompt some to wonder why the current DOT commissioner, Jim Redeker - himself a former rail man for NJ Transit - could not continue his work, as he told some people he had hoped to do.

“I think that Jim Redeker was an excellent commissioner and I am disappointed that Gov.-elect Lamont did not keep him on,” said Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group and a Hearst Connecticut Media columnist. “He has been the best commissioner in the last couple of decades.”

But state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, co-chair of the legislature’s transportation committee, said, “Everyone wants to come in with a new slate, their own people, make sure there is no legacy detractions.”

Giulietti will have a new tool unavailable to Redeker: a lock box, approved by voters in the November election, guarding the state’s special transportation funds from other budget raidings. Since 2005, roughly $500 million was diverted from the Special Transportation Fund by lawmakers that instead put the money toward general government spending.

Giulietti will still have the struggle of trying to find millions of dollars needed to unlock billions in potential funding from Washington. Looming will be the state’s aging infrastructure, including more than 300 structurally deficient bridges.

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