Lamont proposes $6.2 billion statewide investment in rail lines

Commuters using the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad stand to benefit from a $6.2 billion investment that Gov. Ned Lamont is proposing across all the state’s rail lines.

The Lamont administration says new signaling systems, new rail cars, and new dual-power locomotives on the Waterbury and Danbury lines will mean more frequent service and more convenient trains that provide direct service to Stamford and New York City.

A briefing document for state legislators stated commuters will be able to take the same train from Waterbury or Danbury to all points on Metro-North, including New Haven and Manhattan.

Much of the initial attention after Lamont released his 10-year, $21.3 billion CT2030 plan last Thursday focused on proposed bridge and highway tolls. Connecticut has been actively debating adding electronic tolls to some of the state’s major highways for several years.

Lamont and the governor’s office are going to be emphasizing the recommended investments in commuter rail and bus service in the administration’s promotional campaign for the transportation funding plan.

Lamont said last week that he is not concerned about more controversial tolling component of CT2030 overshadowing the public transportation proposals. He plans to use the mass transit initiatives as a selling point.

Over the 10-year program, the Lamont administration is saying new, state-of-the-art rail cars and locomotives will be added, express service to New York Penn Station will be introduced, and partnerships with telecommunications companies will bring reliable, high-speed data service to trains.

As envisioned, roundtrip commuters will save at least 20 minutes per day between New Haven and the New York border by 2023, with even more time savings anticipated by 2030. If all projects are funded and completed, trip times from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal will be reduced to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The CT2030 plan proposes to procure 132 new rail cars and 30 locomotives for the New Haven line, the Waterbury and Danbury lines, Shore Line East and the Hartford line. The estimated cost is $985 million.

The purchases will include four new dual-power locomotives for the Waterbury and Danbury lines that can run on diesel and electric tracks.

In addition, the CT2030 plan anticipates a $140 million investment in rail maintenance shops and storage yards for the expanded rail fleet.

At nearly $2 billion, a bridge repair and replacement program on the New Haven line is the most expensive among the rail initiatives. A project to improve track speeds is estimated to cost another $832 million and the replacement of the signal system is projected to cost $350 million.

Lamont is also recommending spending $50 million for platforms for the Waterbury line. Fully accessible train stations at Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby-Shelton will make customer boarding seamless and allow simpler rail car designs, according to the governor’s office.

The Lamont administration is planning on financing its rail upgrades using a low-interest loan program from the federal government.

Under the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing Program, direct loans can fund up to 100% of a railroad project with repayment periods of up to 35 years and interest rates equal to the cost of borrowing to the government. Eligible borrowers include railroads, state and local governments, and government-sponsored authorities and corporations.

As planned, Connecticut would use its state-owned rail lines as collateral for RRIF loans, said Max Reiss, the governor’s director of communications.

The state government purchased the portion of the New Haven line from the New York border to New Haven in 1985 for $8.5 million. The price also included three branch lines to Danbury, New Canaan and Waterbury.

The CT2030 plan proposes to spend $348 million to purchase new transit buses and modernize maintenance facilities, $100 million to improve the Route 1 bus corridor that connects Stamford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, and another $8 million on signs, additional shelters and service displays with real-time bus service information.