To the new DOT leader: Ride the Danbury line
Dear Joe Giulietti,
First, congratulations on your nomination to become Connecticut’s new Department of Transportation commissioner. Gov.-elect Ned Lamont made a good choice.
As the former president of Metro-North, you are well aware of the need to improve rail service in our state. In your three years heading the railroad you brought safety to the forefront — a badly needed focus after several terrible accidents on the commuter line.
When you first took over Metro-North’s operation in early 2014, the Hearst Connecticut Editorial Board requested a meeting with you. Your press person demurred, saying you couldn’t take time away from your desk in New York City. (Maybe you heard of traffic congestion on I-95 and the Merritt? You could have taken the train.)
Our meeting never happened.
Now that you will soon be the lead transportation person in the state, we would like to reissue you the invitation. Here’s an idea: Meet with us on the Danbury branch line to South Norwalk. We want you to see first-hand what it’s like and why this crucial branch needs more attention.
We’ll hop the train in Danbury, using our nifty MTA Tix app for tickets. Notice the options at the station — your car or the train. The place is ripe to become a transportation hub, where travelers could catch a bus or rent a bike. Maybe you could negotiate a deal for a car rental franchise to open. You’ll see that downtown Danbury is growing with hundreds of apartments newly built or planned near the station. Help make it more convenient for people to get around — that’s what it will take to attract graduates here.
Our first stop is Bethel, where 120 parking spots were added earlier this year to meet the demand. The town is working to create a transit-oriented district around the train station, a key to future economic development.
Be sure to look out the window on the ride south to Redding and on to Branchville in Ridgefield — the rock outcroppings, streams and ponds are bucolic contrasts to Manhattan.
We’ll go through the Cannondale, Wilton and Merritt 7 stations before reaching South Norwalk, where we’ll have to wait something like eight minutes (it can vary) to catch a different train heading to Grand Central. Sometimes you have to walk rapidly through the tunnel under the tracks to get to the right side for the connection — this can be confusing to the occasional rider.
From our Danbury start, it is 64.9 miles all the way to Grand Central, yet it takes nearly an hour just to get to South Norwalk. This is not the most efficient use of time. No wonder some riders will drive 20 minutes to the Southeast, New York, station and hop on the Harlem line, which has hourly trains.
Once you’ve experienced the Danbury branch (hoping the diesel aroma doesn’t permeate), you will understand why we need faster, more frequent service. What will it take? I bet you already know the answer — electrification of the line. The cost is estimated at $400 million, but it wasn’t included in the five-year plan for state transportation improvements in 2015. Only a small portion of the southern tip of the line will be electrified to enable work on the Walk Bridge over the Norwalk River. Move full electrification up on the project list, the benefits will be manifold.
All but one of the seven stations on the Danbury branch opened in 1852. (You might want to consider extending the line north to New Milford, which ran from 1886 to 1971.) We have a long relationship with trains and the stations in the hearts of our communities.
When accepting your nomination as transportation commissioner, you said Connecticut is “a state ripe for rail enhancement and upgrades on its Metro-North lines...” We heartily agree. And once you ride the Danbury line to South Norwalk, we hope you will see those enhancements should start here.
Contact Editorial Page Editor Jacqueline Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.