WATERBURY — The message local officials have for the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee is simple — the millions of dollars the state is spending right now to improve the Waterbury Branch of the Metro-North Railroad will be for naught unless there is frequent and reliable train service.
The Waterbury branch runs about 27 miles from Waterbury to Bridgeport with stations in Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby. The rail line only has eight outgoing trains per weekday, and seven incoming trains. The rail line is notorious for experiencing delays and equipment failures.
The state is in the midst of a $90-million project to install signalization, positive train control and sidings on the rail line to allow for two-way train service.
As this project continues, local officials want to ensure that the momentum doesn’t wane and plan to tell the Transportation Committee as much on Monday during a hearing on Senate Bill 155. The legislation directs the Department of Transportation to recommend a schedule of rail infrastructure projects for the committee’s consideration in the 2021 session.
“I think it’s certainly a huge first step forward,” said state Rep. Rosa C. Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who co-chairs the Waterbury Rail Line Caucus, about the bill.
Funds for new locomotives and rail cars top the list of infrastructure projects needed for the Waterbury line, according to Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess.
Local officials estimate eight locomotives and 24 rail cars are needed to meet the long-term service needs of the rail line. Hess said it’s imperative the state move forward with procuring the locomotives and rail cars because it will take four to five years before they are in service.
The additional locomotives and rail cars 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 — a goal local advocates want to reach in 2025.
Advocates are also pushing for a commitment of funds for a rail and maintenance shop and storage yard for the rail line, the immediate implementation one new southbound train in the morning and a northbound train in the evening, and another train in each direction during peak hours by Dec. 31, 2022.
Hess said the improvements to the rail line would provide an economic boon for municipalities along the rail line and beyond. He said there are about 275 acres of land available for development along the rail line, and frequent train service can be a catalyst to developing the land.
“The state needs to know that the gold is in the Valley,” Hess said.
Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said the proposed Waterbury rail line improvement program is the single most important infrastructure project impacting Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley region.
“Investment in the Waterbury rail line will revitalize downtown areas across the Valley, and spur transit-oriented development around stations all along the rail line,” he said. “In addition, new trains and expanded service will increase ridership, and provide an on-time and regular train schedule for our residents who rely on rail to commute every day to and from work.”
As local officials prepare for Monday’s hearing, House Bill 5164 is being proposed through the legislative’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. The bill would authorize state bonds to finance the infrastructure enhancements, the purchase of new locomotives and rail cars and other initiatives for the rail line. The finance committee hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the bill yet. This bill was co-sponsored by state representatives Kara Rochelle, D-Ansonia, Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, and Ronald A. Napoli, D- Waterbury, who are all members of the Waterbury Rail Line Caucus.
How to submit testimony
The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 155, “An Act Concerning Rail Infrastructure Improvements,” Monday at 11 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Residents can email written testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org and reference “Raised Bill LCO #1588” in the subject line. Written testimony must be in PDF format, and residents must include their name and town.