State plans $4 million for branch line

A press release from Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office on Tuesday said $4 million for the design, engineering and construction of a new dock yard on the Danbury Branch Rail Line in Norwalk will allow the state to increase capacity and service on the Danbury line. But it does not appear to be that clear-cut.
The money is part of a $24.9 million package approved by the state Bond Commission on Tuesday, July 28, to fund the first batch of projects under Malloy’s Let’s Go CT! transportation initiative.
Two other projects would affect this general area:

  • $10 million was approved for the design and engineering of widening I-84 in Danbury between exits 3 and 8.

  • $400,000 to review how the state can implement a bus rapid transit corridor for Route 1 between Norwalk and Stamford.

Information collected by the offices of state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) and state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) indicated the project would add sidings and extend electrification in Norwalk on the southern end of the Danbury branch in an area formally known as the “Dock Yard.”
The project is needed because of construction on the century-old Walk bridge. “Currently trains turning at Norwalk make the reverse move on the bridge itself,” the information said. The new dock yard will offer more room to store, turn and start both Danbury and New Haven line trains without blocking mainline tracks.
There is no start date yet for the project because the DOT is applying for a federal discretionary grant to help pay for it.
According to Lavielle, who spoke with Department of Transportation engineers, the long-term improvements resulting from this project “are destined for the main line. … it will make it possible for the Danbury line to operate while the bridge work is being done.”
She added that although a short piece of the Danbury line — about a half-mile — will be electrified as a result of the project, it won’t improve overall service because the cars on the branch line are not electric.
She emphasized she would like to see a far greater investment on the part of the state in the Danbury and New Canaan branch lines.
“I am not satisfied with the ordering of priorities” in the governor’s transportation plan, she told The Bulletin on Tuesday.
“There are no plans in the next five years for this Danbury line,” she said. “It seems to be a gesture to pacify people when other things are being done.”
“This had to happen now,” she said, because of the bridge work.
Lavielle testified to the needs of the branch line on April 27, when the first version of the transportation bonding bill came before the Finance Committee. The bill included bonding authorization for 31 transportation infrastructure projects.
“Conspicuously absent from the list is the electrification of the Danbury Branch Line, which currently provides 700-800,000 rides a year in a highly traveled, very economically active corridor,” her testimony said. “Despite recent improvements to its signal system, service on the line breaks down constantly, with important incidents every week, sometimes every day. Many commuters … often feel literally like hostages to a railroad that doesn’t work.”
In a statement she issued on Tuesday, Boucher agreed that “electrification is the next big step. That upgrade will be crucial for making the Danbury line compatible with the mainline of Metro-North in Stamford, New Haven and New York. It will take some time and a big effort. But, as I have learned from the past, a squeaky wheel is required and we have more of them every year.”