Danbury Line riders invited to forum with DOT commissioner

Riders on the Danbury Branch rail line are invited to a forum next Monday with Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner James Redeker to discuss the train service improvements they would like to see on the Danbury Line.

Other interested  individuals and organizations are invited to the meeting arranged by state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) on April 10, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Wilton High School’s Clune Center at 395 Danbury Road. In addition to Lavielle, other area representatives planning to attend are Rep. John Frey, who represents Ridgefield, and Rep. Adam Dunsby, who represents Easton, Weston, and Redding.

“We’re holding this forum as a part of a bipartisan effort during the current legislative session to identify improvements that could be made cost-effectively to Danbury Line service in the near term,” Lavielle said in a press release. “The best way to understand what kinds of changes would really make a difference is to hear directly from commuters who ride the trains every day. That is why this will be a listening session and not a presentation. It’s an opportunity for people to bring their comments and suggestions about the service directly to Commissioner Redeker and their area legislators. If there are things that can be done now to improve their daily commute, we should see that the necessary steps are taken.”

Together with a bipartisan group 11 other House legislators, Lavielle has co-introduced HB 6553, which would require the reallocation of previously authorized bonds to make incremental service improvements on the Danbury Line. The other co-introducers are Reps. David Arconti (D-Danbury), Bill Buckbee (R-New Milford), Will Duff (R-Bethel), Adam Dunsby (R-Easton), Michael Ferguson (R-Danbury), John Frey (R-Ridgefield), Bob Godfrey (D-Danbury), Steve Harding (R-Brookfield), Chris Perone (D-Norwalk), Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), and Fred Wilms (R-Norwalk).

HB 6553 specifically does not request new bonding. Because of the state’s precarious financial situation, the legislators felt it was unlikely that any bill requesting the $400 million or more necessary for the full electrification of the Danbury Line would be passed this year. Rather than making train commuters continue to wait indefinitely for any further service improvements at all, however, they have taken the approach of trying to identify less extensive measures that could improve service in cost-effective ways and to begin making at least some progress now.

With that objective, Lavielle and her colleagues have been meeting with the DOT and the governor’s staff to explore these possibilities. The language of the bill is not specific in terms of upgrades and costs, to allow for input during the legislative session.

For its public hearing in the legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, HB 6553 received ample testimony from commuters living in Bethel, Danbury, Norwalk, Redding, and Wilton, offering suggestions for service improvements.  These suggestions included scheduling more afternoon or evening trains, improving connections with trains on the main line in Norwalk and Stamford, opening more doors at station stops, and providing more information on delays and service issues to conductors to help them respond to passengers’ questions.

Among area organizations and officials testifying in support of the bill were Elizabeth Stocker, Director of Economic Development of the City of Norwalk; Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton; Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi; the Economic Development Commission of the Town of Wilton; Ridgefield’s Economic Development Commission; Andrea Rynn, director of Public & Government Relations of the Western Connecticut Health Network; Jill Smyth, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy; and Francis Pickering, executive director of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

HB 6553 now awaits consideration by the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee and its Transportation Bonding Subcommittee. Suggestions received at the area forum on April 10 may help to shape the language of the bill.

The April 10 forum is meant to accommodate residents of towns all along the Danbury Line at a place that is on Route 7 and at a time late enough to allow them to attend after their evening commutes. Anyone who would like to attend is welcome to arrive at any time between 7:30 and 9:30.

For more information, call 800-842-1423 or email gail.lavielle@housegop.ct.gov.