Legislators call for Danbury branch line upgrades

State Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) and State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton) are urging fellow lawmakers to make the Danbury branch line of Metro-North a priority. The two said they will be supporting a bill that improves performance, increases the number of trains and electrifies the branch.

Opening in 1852, the Danbury branch line still uses diesel-powered engines that push train cars to New York City and pull train cars to Danbury, the two legislators said in their release. The branch line is not electrified like other branches on the system, they added.

“Metro-North is the artery for the state’s most important zone of economic activity, and the Danbury branch line links two of its most important urban centers, Norwalk and Danbury, and all the towns in between. Yet it is the most antiquated rail line in the country, said Ms. Lavielle.

“Despite that, it is still one of the busiest, providing hundreds of thousands of passenger rides a year. If it were in better condition and ran more frequent service, it would be even busier, reducing congestion on the roads, freeing up parking on the main line, and fostering economic development,” said Ms. Lavielle.

Her message on behalf of her constituents and the commuters of Fairfield County, she said, is that fixing and upgrading the highly used New Haven Line and its branches must take priority over new investments that are designed to bear fruit over time.”

“This line is critical to the people in southwestern Connecticut,” said Ms. Boucher. “The thousands of commuters who count on this line to get them to and from work every day deserve to have a working and suitable train system. Right now it is not up to par and that is a problem. It has to be a priority.”

Ms. Boucher said it has taken 14  years to modernize the signal system, while other lines were moved forward into the 21st Century. “Now it is time to go even further and electrify the Danbury branch so it is compatible with the main New Haven line,” said Ms. Boucher.

In 2010, the legislators said, the federal government invested in the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line after a long, hard-fought battle to avert a shutdown of the line.

“Our continuing challenge is to completely modernize this branch line to meet not only today’s needs, but also future needs. For far too long, commuters who should have been using this line felt compelled to use the New Canaan, South Norwalk and Westport stations because of faulty, outdated equipment. This necessary upgrade will go far in alleviating stress on many other congested train stations throughout Fairfield County,” said Ms. Boucher.

The bill the two lawmakers have proposed is H.B. No. 5180, an act authorizing bonds of the state to electrify the Danbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad. Ms. Lavielle testified in favor of the bill on Monday, Feb. 4.

Judd Everhart, director of communications for the state Department of Transportation, said on Monday he could offer no immediate comment on the legislators’ proposal.

He said, via email, there was a study that covered the electrification of both the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines. The price tag for each was estimated at $1 billion. Because of that, he said, other incremental projects have been undertaken, including the ongoing signalization project and the addition of passing/sidings that allow trains to pass each other going in opposite directions.

Most of the Danbury branch is single-tracked, so trains going in opposite directions can’t pass each other without one of them pulling off onto a siding.

“Once completed, this project will allow the addition of more trains on this branch,” Mr. Everhart said.

“We believe this incremental strategy will allow the majority of the benefits of safer and more frequent commuter service, without the major capital outlay that would be required for full electrification.”