State DOT plans to purchase new rail cars

WATERBURY — The state Department of Transportation plans to purchase 110 new rail cars to replace its aging fleet of coaches on four of its commuter branches, but so far only about half of them are funded.

The DOT has funding to acquire 60 cars for Shore Line East and the newly-opened Hartford Line, but the agency lacks money for the remaining 50 cars that would serve the Waterbury and Danbury lines, Thomas Maziarz, DOT chief of policy and planning, wrote in an email.

The DOT needs additional cars on the Waterbury branch, which runs between Waterbury and Bridgeport, to realize the benefits of an ongoing $70 million signalization project. The project involves installing passing sidings on the diesel-only railroad, which would allow trains to run in both directions at the same time.

The project is meant to increase the frequency of train service, but Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Gildea believes a lack of new trains would defeat its purpose.

“It is vital that these passing sidings are completed as quickly as possible and the legislative delegation across the corridor pushes the Department of Transportation and Metro-North to not only complete this project, but ensure they have the equipment necessary to increase service,” he said.

The signalization project was scheduled to be finished by December 2020, but the completion date has been pushed to June 2021.

While the DOT waits to secure funding for the full fleet of new trains, the agency said it’s trying to work out plans to allocate two of the new train sets purchased during Phase I — for the Shore Line East and the Hartford Line — to Waterbury, according to Maziarz.

The first batch of new trains could arrive by 2023-24.

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said no new rail cars have been ordered and details are “up in the air.”

A consultant is working on a request for proposals with specifications for the cars, which will include input from a customer advisory panel that will include up to three representatives from the Americans with Disabilities Act advocacy community, the bicycle and pedestrian community and a representative of the Connecticut Rail Council. There will also be riders from each line.

The DOT plans to advertise the RFP in 2020 and will determine the order quantity at the time, Nursick said. Contract options for additional cars will be included, he said.

The DOT said the new cars will be “reliable, comfortable, attractive and sustainable for the next 30 or more years.” Its cars in use are about 80 years old and frequently break down.

Anyone who wants to serve on the customer advisory panel is asked to fill out the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/newrailcars.