State OKs funds to improve Metro-North line

WATERBURY — State approval last week for $10 million in improvements to Metro-North will mean more service for the Waterbury line.

The signal and siding improvements will allow more frequent trains in both directions on the single-track line.

Jim Gildea, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, a nonprofit commuter activist group, estimates that the improvements will allow the railroad to double the frequency of trains when construction is completed in 2018.

“For commuters, [March 24] was an exciting time for us, as it was confirmation that CDOT and Metro-North are committed to providing the infrastructure necessary for more service. As proposed, the improvements would allow Metro-North to run weekday peak trains on the half-hour, and off-peak trains on the hour,” Gildea said.

Metro-North operates eight trains per day to and from Waterbury, and two trains cannot operate in the same direction at once. The planned improvements, which include automatic signals and passing sidings in Beacon Falls, Derby, Milford, and Waterbury, will allow multiple trains to operate in the same direction.

Gildea said any increases in service to the Waterbury line increase ridership, “and the numbers play that out.”

The $10 million figure represents only the portion of the improvement costs that the state has made available by bonding, or posting it as public debt. The $10 million is a special tax obligation bond and will be repaid through the state gas tax and motor vehicle registration fees, among other sources, according to the Office of Policy and Management website.

Garrett Eucalitto, undersecretary of policy and planning, said the state will require at least $60 million more, “which it will request next fiscal year,” to complete the construction. He said the $10 million available now will pay for equipment for the construction, which begins next year.

Gildea said that the railroad is already preparing for construction in Derby, where it has cleared trees for the proposed siding there.

He hopes that Metro-North’s recent purchase of several diesel locomotives and promise to purchase new passenger cars will provide additional rolling stock for the branch line, which he characterized as an “underlapped resource … as ridership has steadily increased.”

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