Sidings to allow for more trains

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WATERBURY — Riders clamoring for more frequent service on the Waterbury Branch of Metro-North Railroad will get what they’ve been wanting for more than decade: passing sidings.

The state Department of Transportation has begun a project to signalize the single-track rail line, which runs from Bridgeport to Waterbury. As part of the project, the state plans to build passing sidings in Devon, Derby, Beacon Falls and Waterbury.

The branch is scheduled to be fully signalized by December 2018. The passing sidings also will be installed by that time, allowing two-way train traffic to commence.

“The signalization and passing sidings are a critical first step in advancing better service on the line,” Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said. “It appears that after years of neglect, the stars are starting to align for the Waterbury Branch.”

The upgrade will enable Metro-North to run trains between Bridgeport and Waterbury more often than once every two-and-a-half hours.

“With increased frequency, and the associated increase in ridership, communities along the Waterbury Branch will be able to revitalize their downtown areas as transit-oriented developments seek to locate near the stations,” said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the DOT.

Jim Gildea, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said more trains are needed in the evening. Currently, trains from Bridgeport to Waterbury run at 3:36 p.m., 5:57 p.m. and 8:25 p.m.

“If you miss the 5:57, you have to wait two-and-a-half hours, and the same with the 3:36,” Gildea said. “The 5:57 also is not great for those who get out (of work) at 4 or 4:30.”

He believes more frequent service will give riders more flexibility, which will attract new customers.

“This project represents the biggest news for the branch and the cities along the corridor,” Gildea said. “It’s a precursor to the ability to add real additional service during critical peak periods and will allow commuters and cities to take advantage of commuting alternatives along the branch.”

The sidings will allow trains heading in both directions to run at the same time. A train will pull onto a siding to allow an oncoming train to pass on the main tracks. Signals will be installed to direct traffic to prevent a collision.

The DOT owns the infrastructure and pays Metro-North to operate the New Haven Line and three branches in the state. Metro-North said it would be amenable to providing more service on the Waterbury Branch, but ultimately decisions about scheduling are decided by the DOT.

“They tell us how many trains they want us to run, and we run them,” said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for Metro-North. “DOT is the customer; Metro-North is the contractor.”

The signalization project is tied to implementation of Positive Train Control, which the Federal Railroad Administration has mandated on all passenger railroads.

The DOT plans to implement PTC by the end of 2018. PTC is a system that automatically enforces rules, such as speed limits, if the engineer fails to act.

For example, PTC would apply the brakes if the engineer failed to obey a signal to slow down. Also, PTC would prevent an engineer from exiting a siding onto the main track if another train is approaching.

The construction costs for signalization and PTC are “still being developed,” the DOT said.