Testimony favors branch line improvements

The Wilton Economic Development Commission submitted written testimony last month in support of legislation introduced by state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) to improve service on Metro-North’s Danbury branch line. She has submitted HB 6553 to reallocate transportation funding for improvements on the rail line. The bill is co-sponsored by 11 Republican and Democratic representatives representing towns on or near the Danbury branch.

In its testimony to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, the Economic Development Commission supported the idea of a shuttle train service up the line from South Norwalk. A shuttle to provide more frequent service along the more heavily used segments of the line is being explored by the Department of Transportation, which says this type of service could be provided at a fraction of the cost of electrification of the line.

“As residents and commuters from the Town of Wilton, we advocate that the provision of this added service be carried at least through our two stations, but there are reasons to consider several of the stations on the line as the northern terminus of the shuttle: Wilton, Cannondale, Branchville,” the testimony says. “Wilton adds a substantial downtown area with offices for national corporations, Cannondale is convenient to both Wilton and Weston, and Branchville adds Ridgefield and Redding as convenient commuting possibilities. All three stations offer free or lower cost parking options, encouraging a stable base of commuter demand.

“We believe this added service would be an important interim step towards the long-term goal of full Danbury Line electrification, and this testimony argues for the investment as a cost-effective stimulant to the regional economy along the Route 7 Business Corridor where all of the Danbury Line stations are situated,” the testimony continues.

The commission pointed out there are only 14 diesel trains operating in each direction on weekdays, while there are 47 each day between South Norwalk and Grand Central Terminal. By contrast, the New Canaan line, which serves fewer stations and towns, is served by 20 daily electric trains in each direction, feeding into 97 trains between Stamford and Grand Central.

Strengthening the reliability and convenience of the Danbury line, the commission concluded, will advance economic progress in the region.

At the public hearing last month, testimony was also provided by commuters from Bethel, Danbury, Norwalk, Redding, and Wilton as well as a number of officials of those towns.

Lavielle recognizes in the current economic climate electrification of the line is unlikely, which is why this legislation seeks to use already authorized bonds to address problems that can be fixed more quickly with much less funding.

Other suggestions that came up at the hearing 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, a press release from Lavielle said.

“It is still early in the session, and there is precious little transportation funding to go around, so I don’t want to give anyone false hope,” Lavielle said. “But if there is anything we can do to improve the situation for Danbury Line commuters now, we must do it. I will be working together with my colleagues throughout the session to do everything I can to move this legislation forward.”

Co-sponsors include 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).