HARTFORD — Leaders from the Naugatuck Valley last week pushed hard for additional state funding for the Waterbury branch line of the Metro-North Railroad.
Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess and Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary told state lawmakers on the Transportation Committee that much of the economic future of the Naugatuck Valley corridor rides on upgrading the rail line and expanding commuter service on it.
The two mayors testified Feb. 24 on legislation that proposes to direct the state Department of Transportation to recommend a schedule of rail infrastructure projects for the Transportation Committee’s consideration in the 2021 legislative session.
Regarding the Waterbury branch line, Hess told committee members that action, not another study, is what is needed now.
“We don’t need a study. This has already been studied five times. The studies said we should have what we are asking for,” he testified.
Local officials, state legislators and business leaders from the Naugatuck Valley are supporting a request for $150 million for purchasing new locomotives and rail cars, plus another $40 million for developing a rail maintenance yard.
State Rep. Larry Butler, D-72nd District, testified that legislators from Naugatuck Valley communities have supported funding for improvements and rail cars for other commuter rail lines over the years.
“Now, we’re saying it is our turn,” the Waterbury legislator said.
DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti testified that he is aware of that sentiment, but offered no commitments last week.
An upgraded Waterbury branch line and improved train service will unlock the enormous potential for transit-oriented development along the Naugatuck Valley corridor that will economically benefit both the 19-town region and the state, said state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Waterbury Rail Line Caucus.
The Waterbury branch line runs approximately 27 miles and connects with the New Haven line. It includes stops at stations in Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby. There are eight outgoing trains per weekday, and seven incoming trains.
The state government has already committed $90 million to an ongoing project to install signalization, positive train control and sidings on the Waterbury branch line to allow for two-way train service. The completion date is June 2021.
Hess and O’Leary said the state needs to increase commuter service on the rail line to follow-up on that sizable financial commitment.
“Your investment is totally wasted if we don’t have the trains,” Hess said.
Advocates of the Waterbury branch line say eight locomotives and 24 rail cars are needed to meet its long-term service needs. They estimate those additions would allow for trains to run roughly every 30 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak hours and every 60 minutes during off-peak hours.
Hess said delivery of new locomotives and rail cars will take four to five years once ordered, a timeline that DOT officials confirmed.
More immediately, O’Leary and Hess said there needs to be one new southbound train added in the morning and a northbound train in the evening.
“We lack the number of trains needed in peak commute times. The biggest fear of passengers is missing a connection. If you miss a connection, you wait two hours or more for the next train,” said O’Leary, chairman of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.