Tag Archives: John Hartwell

Clear The Tracks!

First it was the Merritt Parkway.

Now, alert “06880” reader John Hartwell notes, Eversource is removing trees near the Green’s Farms train station, on both sides of New Creek Road.

Greens Farms train station 2 - John Hartwell

Greens Farms train station 3 - John Hartwell

Greens Farms train station - John Hartwell

Area resident Nico Eisenberger was surprised to see the same scene. He understands the need to trim trees from power lines, but wonders who made the decision to clear-cut so many trees — and would love to know how it was made.

Greens Farms train station - Nico Eisenberger

According to Hartwell — a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council — Foti Koskinas (the deputy police chief who oversees maintenance and operations of the Green’s Farms and Saugatuck train stations on behalf of the town ) could not find a tree company to work on trees he was concerned about, near high voltage wires.

Because the property belongs to the state, Koskinas asked the Connecticut Department of Transportation to take a look.  At a meeting including Koskinas, tree warden Bruce Lindsay and the DOT, Metro-North and EverSouce determined that the trees could not be trimmed. They needed to be removed.

Two sets of trees are being taken down: scrub trees on the parking lot side, and 70-foot pines on the station side.

Hartwell has been told that Lindsay is working on a landscaping plan. On the station side at least, trees with deep roots are needed to hold the hill in place.

Good Service!

It’s easy to mock Metro-North for those “good service” messages — when, clearly, it’s not, even if the entire East Coast is reeling from one meteorological catastrophe or another.

Today was different.

Alert “06880” reader John Hartwell reports:

It’s just after 10 a.m. I’m taking the train to New Haven to avoid I-95. The platforms are clean and snow-free, and the trains are running on time. We all like to complain about Metro-North, but I’m glad it wasn’t my job to be up early this morning  shoveling snow!

(Photo/John Hartwell)

(Photo/John Hartwell)


Snow Guy

Alert — and somewhat perturbed — “06880” reader John Hartwell followed this driver from the Sherwood Island Connector to Riverside Avenue. (John took the photo at the Bridge Street light.)

John Hartwell snow car

He reminds readers that it is illegal to have snow on the top of vehicles (because it can blow back); drivers can’t have their vision restricted; brake lights must be visible — ditto for license plates.

And “06880” reminds readers: Common sense dictates you should not be an idiot.

John Hartwell Has Been Working On The Railroad

John Hartwell knows trains.

A longtime — and satisfied — commuter from Dobbs Ferry on Metro-North‘s Hudson Line, he was chagrined to find, after moving to suburban Boston, dirty trains without platforms, stations or parking.

The New Haven Line does have platforms, stations and (limited) parking. There are some new (lower capacity) (sometimes unheated) rail cars. Metro-North has slipped a notch or three from its better days.

And though Hartwell — who long ago moved from Massachusetts to Westport — is no longer a rail commuter, he plans to do something about the railroad mess.

In 2008 he ran for the State Senate. Transportation was a huge issue. He lost to Toni Boucher, but the next year earned an appointment to the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Created by the state legislature, it’s an independent advocacy board for the Metro-North and Shore Line East railroads. When the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is operational, that will be represented too.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

Hartwell — now the council’s vice chair — admits that his major concern at first was the railroad’s economic impact on Fairfield County. But he quickly realized that in addition to maximizing Metro-North’s assets, the railway needed plenty of work — at many levels.

The basic infrastructure — tracks, bridges, catenaries — is 100 years old. An upgrade will cost between $3 billion to $7 billion. But no one — not politicians or taxpayers — wants to pay for it.

Senators Blumenthal and Murphy want to help, Hartwell says. Yet both lack clout. Their very senior predecessors — Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman — “did virtually nothing.”

The railroad “is vital to the economy of Fairfield County, which is vital to the economy of the state,” Hartwell says. “But we always go begging, hat in hand. Hartford sees Fairfield County as an ATM. They want to get money from us, not give it to us.”

The Westport train station -- one of many important stops on Metro-North.

The Westport train station — one of many important stops on Metro-North.

Metro-North’s management is aging too. Formed 30 years ago from the ashes of Conrail, many of its top managers are retiring. Strong replacements don’t seem ready to take over, Hartwell claims.

“Clearly, Metro-North is failing,” he says. The woes of the past month — a 2-hour stoppage just east of the Westport station, in 2-degree weather; a long delay caused by human error that shut down the entire system — have just put a spotlight on a railroad that has been sliding downhill for a long time.

Trains run slower than in the past. There are fewer seats. “There’s a lot of frustration,” Hartwell notes.

Connecticut Commuter Rail CouncilHe wants the Rail Commuter Council to establish “a much stronger relationship” with the state legislature than now exists. Local representatives Boucher and Gail Lavielle have been “very supportive,” Hartwell says. Many other legislators are far less receptive.

The Council has heard plenty of complaints. But they are always looking for constructive ideas. To voice your opinion directly, email johnhartwell@gmail.com.

A League Of Its Own

In 1949, Westport stood on the brink of change.

No one knew what the 2nd half of the 20th century would bring — but the town had already begun moving toward something different, modern and new.

A group of women wanted to influence the future.  They were smart and energetic — and, despite their many responsibilities as housewives and mothers, they found time to work for Westport.

That year — sitting around a tea set in Mrs. Wolcott Street’s Myrtle Avenue home — they formed a chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Over the next 6 decades, the organization grew — in numbers and influence.  The LWV helped determine the structure of the nascent Representative Town Meeting (RTM); later, the League made sure there was open space on the Post Road, and led the crusade to “green” it.  Look at the Post Road today in Westport — compared to neighboring Norwalk — and you’ll see the lasting effect the LWV has had on our town.

League of Women Voters members, 1966.

Two years ago John Hartwell — an LWV member (it’s not just for men anymore!), who was taking video production classes at Norwalk Community College — was asked to tape a coffee celebrating the Westport chapter’s 60th anniversary.  Four former LWV presidents were scheduled to speak.

A detached retina forced John to cancel.  To make amends, he promised to interview the 4 ex-presidents in their homes.

The stories he heard — and the careers the LWV launched — amazed and inspired him.

Julie Belaga

For example, after her League presidency, Julie Belaga served in the Connecticut Legislature, ran for governor, served as New England director of the EPA, and was appointed by President Clinton to the Export-Import Bank.

Jackie Heneage went on to serve 2 terms as first selectman — the 1st woman ever elected to the post.

Pat Porio had a long career after her service as president.

By the time John interviewed the 4th woman — 5-time LWV president Lisa Shufro — he realized there were many more voices to be heard.  He vowed to direct a video — and asked Lisa to produce it.

Sixteen more interviews followed.  There were visits to the house where the League was founded.  Hours and hours of footage — and hundreds and hundreds of stories — had to be edited down to the final 43-minute product.

Two themes emerge from “A League of Their Own.”  One is how the LWV empowered so many women.  For example, Martha Aasen went on to become the national organization’s official observer at the UN; she then worked full-time there.

Ann Gill was a major force on Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission for years.  The list goes on and on.

From left: Marty Hauhuth, Ann Gill, Barbara Butler, Mary Jenkins, Jacqueline Heneage -- LWV members, and accomplished women all.

The 2nd major theme is the impact the LWV had on Westport.

The video debuted at the League’s annual meeting in June.  It was shown at the Westport Library in September, and Senior Center earlier this month.

Always, the feedback was the same:  Wow!

Women interviewed for the film were impressed how well their stories were told.  Other viewers remarked how much they learned about the League — and Westport.

Seeing and hearing about women who have gained so much from the LWV — and in turn have given so much back, to their town and country — brought tears to the eyes of some.

You can watch the film now:  click here.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society this Sunday (October 30), for a showing.  Afterward, 2 of the League’s living legends — Jackie Heneage, and Selma Miriam (a leading proponent of Project Concern, and the founder and longtime owner of Bridgeport’s Bloodroot restaurant and bookstore) — will talk, and answer questions.

The video’s title is a pun on the League of Women’s Voters — and the 1992 film about women’s professional baseball — but it aptly describes the role of this organization in the life of our town.

For 6 decades, Westport’s LWV has been in a league of its own.

A screenshot from "A League of Its Own."