New DOT boss has trained for the job for more than 40 years
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.
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 seem to be 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 a post office superintendent, he gave a long, 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.”
Hands-on in crisis
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.
In 1998, he relocated to South Florida to run Tri Rail, anticipating he would only stay a few years. He stayed 16. In 2014, he came back north to run Metro North amid a safety crises, burnishing his reputation as a hands-on and at times undercover boss.
After his retirement in 2017, he worked as an independent consultant for several state transportation agencies and studied ways to improve speeds on Metro North’s New Haven line.
At odds with boss?
Indirectly, Lamont asked Giuletti to join his transition team for transportation after the November election. The request led to a conversation and finally a job offer.
“To get someone of the caliber of Joe Guilietti who is highly respected in the transportation field is real get for the governor,” said Joe McGee, vice president of the Fairfield County Business Council.
Ironically, it is Giulietti’s transition team work that may put him at odds with his new boss. 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 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.”
High subsidies or cheap dollars?
Giulietti, who expanded the Florida’s Tri Rail System, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, from 28 trains a day to 50, believes when it comes to transportation, “if you built it, they will come” - a phrase he repeated more than once Friday.
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, DOT spokeman Judd Everhart said, exceeding expectations.
Opening the CTRail line, 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, Everhart said.
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.”
Giulietti and Redeker have not met since the announcement of Giulietti’s appointment on Dec. 20, Everhart said.
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.
Despite that, he will face the struggle of trying to find upwards of $1 billion a year needed to unlock several times that amount in potential funding from Washington — to bring the state’s aging infrastructure up to good repair. That in includes more than 300 structurally deficient bridges.
Rail, too, needs improvements to grow. Schedules between the New Haven and CTRail lines need to be aligned for a shorter journey from Stamford to Hartford, McGee and Cameron said, and that requires track work. The CTRail line needs more train cars. Bringing the Metro North rails up to a state of good repair — at least a $100 million project — could improve reliability and cut times, McGee said.
“This has got to be one seamless system that works for the rider,” he said. “Now we have someone who’s real expertise is in rail and how to make rail work well, and that’s a real economic driver for Connecticut.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Giulietti’s father was a police sergeant. He was a post office superintendent.