DERBY — Riders of the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad weren’t impressed with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement Monday that the state will fund up to $7 million to design a signalization system for the line.
Signalizing the branch and installing sidings would allow northbound and southbound trains to run at the same time on the single-track railroad, allowing more frequent service.
The plans are aimed at improving service in the long term, but riders said their demands are much more rudimentary: clean trains and toilets, working temperature controls, station announcements and fewer busing substitutions.
“Electrification and signalization are great, but what about the basic needs that don’t cost millions of dollars?” said Corey Ferrell of Oxford.
More than 40 people attended a meeting of rail advocates and Waterbury branch commuters at the Valley Council of Government’s office Wednesday evening. It was organized by Jim Gildea, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council.
Kevin DelGobbo, adviser to Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, said the Department of Transportation’s plan to signalize the Waterbury branch shows its commitment to the line.
Riders said they appreciate that sentiment, but they’re looking for immediate solutions.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous what goes on this line,” said John Sanford of Naugatuck, who commutes to Wilton. “The bathrooms don’t work, the AC doesn’t work and the trains run every two-and-a-half hours.”
He also said there are no announcements when trains run late, which not only makes it hard for riders to make connections, but also leaves them wondering how long they’ll have to wait.
Busing substitutions are occurring on the Waterbury branch with increasing frequency — at least a dozen times per month, riders said. The bus drivers often don’t know the routes, they said. Also, riders complained of being crammed into standing room only buses.
“I’ve literally ridden to Seymour on the dashboard of a bus because we were so packed in there,” said Lauren Behan of Southbury, who uses the Seymour train station.
Jim Cameron, a rail advocate based in Darien, said breakdowns are common on the Waterbury branch because of the old diesel locomotives, made by a company called Brookville.
“The engineers refer to them as Brokeville because they consistently fail,” Cameron said. “So much of the busing on this line is because the locomotives have proven themselves unreliable.”
That unreliability translates into delays. Mike Stango of Waterbury, who occasionally commutes to Manhattan, said when he misses a connection in Bridgeport on the way home, he has to wait hours for a Waterbury branch train to return — or make alternative arrangements.
“A few times I’ve had to call someone to drive me home,” Stango said.
Gildea said he will push for change by taking riders’ concerns to the DOT, which operates the Waterbury branch under contract with Metro-North, and to legislators.