Past, Present and Future of Danbury Branch Line

January 21, 2009

Good news from the new Commissioner of Transportation, Joseph Marie, for our Norwalk to Danbury train line is shining a bright light through the thick haze of the grim economic headlines that confront us daily. Those of us who have fought so long to ensure that a revitalized Norwalk/ Danbury Branch Line is a key component of Connecticut’s mass transit system are greatly encouraged by his and Governor Rell’s most recent efforts to upgrade our historic train line.

Just last month, the State Bond Commission authorized $2.5 million to design a centralized traffic control system. This vital appropriation was followed earlier this month by the federal government’s commitment to Commissioner Marie to help fund the remainder of this $75 million project. By the end of 2011 or early 2012 the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line will no longer be the only rail line in America where a trainman has to get off the train and manually pull a switch in order for one train to pass another. It also means that our north south spur could become compatible with the New Haven line, bringing our commuters greater capacity and more flexible schedules.

Fortunately, it has been nothing but good news for the future of the Norwalk/Danbury Train Line for the past several months. Back in October, two new midday trains were added to the Norwalk/Danbury weekday branch in response to growing customer demand. And – finally – running water and a restroom facility were installed at the Cannondale Train Station!

How attitudes have changed since I was first elected to the General Assembly as a State Representative! Back then, there was little interest in keeping the branch line operating, never mind improving it. In fact, in 1997 there was a serious effort to replace this branch line with a super highway and buses. I, and other like-minded advocates, launched a successful fight to save the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line – and we’ve been fighting ever since. Saving the train line was a necessary first step; securing funding for basic maintenance, never mind infrastructure improvements, proved to be even more difficult.

However, as a recent member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, and now as the leading Republican Senator of this important committee, I have promoted a change in attitude with regards to mass transit. Unlike my early years in the General Assembly, the state of Connecticut now has a stronger voice in the Metro North decisions. We have more parking at the Wilton Train Station and at two of our smaller stations have added plumbing with there was none.

What changed? Fortunately, Governor M. Jodi Rell believes in mass transit and understands the economic imperative the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line represents. Shortly after she took office in 2004, as advocates of preserving and improving our rail line, we began to see real progress for the first time in decades. In addition, after a series of revolving door DOT Commissioners, we now have a strong, powerful, ally in Commissioner Joseph Marie.

Clearly, the most obvious beneficiaries of this change in attitude are the commuters who count on the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line as their lifeline to the urban centers. But, they are not the only ones. Excellent train service and a much-improved Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line is a key to sustaining property values and improving the quality of life in Fairfield County by making it feasible for more commuters to avoid our overburdened highways. In the end, mass transit saves money, reduces pollution and relieves traffic congestion.

I am optimistic that the good news regarding the future of our Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line is going to continue. DOT has completed the first phase of its study to evaluate the feasibility improving train travel times by, among other things, re-electrifying the branch line. Currently, the train line is no longer electrified and uses diesel locomotives in a push –pull operation, pushing towards Grand Central and pulling toward Danbury. The second phase of the study is now underway. Among the long-term improvements contemplated is extending the branch line from Danbury to New Milford, and from Danbury to Waterbury. Ultimately, a successful outcome will be an expanded state-of-the-art Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line that provides excellent service on an appropriate number of train cars traveling between stations that provide quality amenities and sufficient parking. I encourage those interested in learning more to visit the website dedicated to the ongoing study at

It is interesting to note that the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line has been a mainstay of Fairfield County for well over one hundred years, its early history dating back to 1835 when the Connecticut State Legislature granted a rail charter to an enterprise then known as the Fairfield County Railroad. Even then, progress was anything but smooth, and by 1850 the charter was renewed and renamed “The Danbury & Norwalk Railroad”. In 1852, the D&N started running its two Hinkley Steam Engines – named “The Danbury” and “The Norwalk” – along its 23-mile line. In those days, the trains made two daily round trips for passengers – and one way took 75 minutes.

I encourage everyone interested in learning more about the fascinating history of the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line to check out information provided on the website maintained by the Housatonic Valley of Elected Officials at Meanwhile, I urge all of you to support ongoing efforts to modernize our rail line so that it can continue to serve Fairfield County for many generations to come.