By Andrew Larson, Republican-American
WATERBURY — State officials say adding service to the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad will help revitalize the Brass City and the corridor along the 28.5-mile passenger railroad, which runs between Waterbury and Bridgeport.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget includes $1.2 million to increase the number of daily trains from 15 to 22 starting in 2023. The seven additional trains will run during peak and off-peak hours, in the morning and afternoon.
Mayor Neil M. O’Leary, chairman of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, called the railroad, which has about 1,000 riders per day, “a critical link to lower Fairfield County and Manhattan.”
He said more people are leaving New York City and moving to Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley region — largely because of their proximity to passenger rail.
Lamont reaffirmed his commitment to the Waterbury branch during a news conference in the Waterbury Train Station parking lot March 24.
“We’ve discovered over this last year, as miserable as it may have been, that a lot of people realize Connecticut’s an amazing place…” Lamont said. “But we’ve got to make it easier for you to get to and from. Maybe you don’t have to be in New York City or Stamford every day, but we want you to be able to get there easier once or twice a week.”
State Sen. Joan Hartley, D-15th District, said the increase in service is possible due to a $116 million upgrade that involves signalizing the Waterbury branch, which is set to be completed by April. Three passing sidings have been built on the single-track railroad.
The line has also been outfitted with signals, which direct traffic and prevent collisions, and Positive Train Control, a system that automatically enforces safety rules, such as speed limits, if the engineer fails to act.
“What we’re talking about here is something simple: two-way train service,” Hartley said. “Hello! You can go north and you can go south. And yes, effectively that doubles our capacity.”
While bidirectional train travel isn’t a novel idea, Jim Gildea, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said the new trains will provide more opportunities for people to go to work and school, and to visit places.
“I think I have real credibility when I tell you how exciting this is and how amazing this is,” said Gildea, a Derby resident who has been using the Waterbury branch to commute to work for the last 10 years. “For the Waterbury branch commuter, this is what we’ve dreamed about and thought about. To be able to have seven more trains a day is a game-changer.”