Officials talk rail with governor candidate

From left, Ansonia Democratic Town Committee Chair Tarek Raslan, Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and Kevin McDuffie, chairman of the Beacon Falls Planning and Zoning and candidate for the 105th House District, talk about the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad July 23 at the train station in Beacon Falls. –JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — The endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, Ned Lamont, was greeted by town officials Monday afternoon as he toured four train stations on the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad.

Lamont, whose hometown of Greenwich is home to a bustling train station, visited “stations” in Beacon Falls, Seymour, Derby and Ansonia that consist of little more than a platform and parking lot.

Despite the Waterbury branch’s austerity, town officials touted recent progress and the potential benefits of future investment in Metro-North’s northernmost railroad.

The state Department of Transportation has begun a $70 million signalization project on the Waterbury branch, which includes installing passing sidings and Positive Train Control. The sidings, one of which is being built in Beacon Falls, will allow trains to travel in both directions at the same time on the single-track line. Meanwhile, the PTC technology will automatically apply a train’s brakes if the engineer fails to act.

“Until we get PTC in place, we can’t run the trains on the rails,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s deadline for installing PTC on all passenger railroads across the county is Dec. 31. Metro-North has said it’s on track to meet the requirement. Construction on the sidings is already underway.

Lamont mostly listened during his stop in Beacon Falls.

Bielik said more frequent and reliable train service is necessary to reap the benefits of transit-oriented development. As it is now, trains head up and down the Waterbury line roughly every two hours.

Better service could attract people from New York City to Derby, which is known for having some of the best hiking trails in the state.

“This is one of the most natural and beautiful towns in the Naugatuck Valley,” said Tarek Raslan, chairman of the Ansonia Democratic Town Committee. “This could really be a playground, not just for local people, but the New York City day trippers who can come out here, have a blast and patronize the businesses.”

But more frequent service is needed to make that feasible.

“If we could get it so at least once a day from Derby it goes express to Grand Central, that makes it somewhat viable,” Raslan said.

Bielik said Seymour and Beacon Falls are working on a joint transit-oriented development project that involves building a corridor between Route 42 and Route 67 in Seymour. The project is reliant on a federal grant, which has yet to be secured by the towns.

“Along that corridor, (Seymour) is talking about relocating their own train station to make it a TOD-based hub with residential, maybe light industrial, maybe light retail, or a combination of things along that strip, but unless you have the transit piece of it, it’s all pie in the sky,” Bielik said.

Lamont seemed to sympathize.

“Is the infrequency of the train service discouraging?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” town officials said in unison.