Waterbury line adds automatic safety system; rail service boost coming

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A Metro-North train arrives at the Naugatuck train station in April 2016. Archive

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

Metro-North’s Waterbury Branch Line is one step closer to upgrading rail service in the Naugatuck Valley.

The 27-mile, single-track Waterbury line has six train stations — in Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby. Metropolitan Transportation Authority began the installation of the positive train control, signalization and passing sidings in April 2019 and finished Nov. 20, MTA public information officer Joana Flores stated in an email Tuesday.

“Through positive train control, Metro-North trains automatically communicate in real time with central dispatching offices — sharing information on train position, speed and the actions of the locomotive engineer,” Flores stated. “If a train is traveling too fast, the system automatically takes control of the train to slow it down while alerting the engineer.

“PTC systems are designed to prevent train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into established work zones and movements of trains through misaligned switches. PTC automates key operational functions and reduces the potential of human error to contribute to train accidents.”

Trains have operated under a manual block system, an industry standard for rail lines without an automatic signaling system, since Metro-North began its service on the Waterbury line in 1983. The system required a rail traffic controller at Metro-North’s operations control center to authorize each train’s crew to proceed between various points. The new signaling system is a big improvement, Flores said.

“The new centralized traffic control system is a significant upgrade, allowing automatic signaling and protection of train traffic which also provides additional capacity and safety on the line,” Flores said.

N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess. Contributed

Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation partnered to design and install the new safety system, Flores noted.

The DOT provided all funding for the new system and directed Metro-North crews to bring it online. The work was a priority for DOT and is part of a $116 million capital improvement project, Flores said.

She said installation of the siding enables Metro-North to run additional train service and provides greater operational flexibility to reduce congestion during peak periods, allowing it to “flip the railroad” and run on the opposite side in an instant.

“Before the upgrades, many of these functions and processes occurred manually, and depending on the situation, could be time-consuming as crews followed the safety protocols in place,” Flores stated.

Workers will add another track to the Waterbury line and service will increase to 22 trains each weekday beginning in the summer of 2022. The project was funded with $1.23 million in state money matched by federal dollars, Gov. Ned Lamont stated in a news release in early November.

“Everyone in the valley is thrilled with the fact that for the first time in June 2022, we will have two-way traffic on the Waterbury Branch Line, which in effect creates a real commuter line,” Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.

Reliable rail service can change the demographics of the valley and make the transit-oriented Parcel B project more attractive, he noted.

The development of Parcel A, the Naugatuck Event Center, and the vacant lot at the corner of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road, known locally as Parcel B, would bring a mix of residential and commercial uses to boost the vibrancy of downtown. Borough officials waited to send out a request for proposals to seek a developer until they knew they would have reliable train service. Now they plan to send out an RFP in January, Hess said.

“It’s a very important step on the revitalization of downtown Naugatuck,” he said.