Should Passenger Train Service be Restored in Northwestern Connecticut?

March 25, 2014

I recently conducted an online survey to find out what people think about expanding railway service into the northwest corner of Connecticut. A total of 892 people shared their thoughts with me. I want to thank everyone who responded, and share what I learned from the participants.

The majority of people at 82 percent said they support railroad service expansion. However, most people said they would not ride the railroad very frequently.

When asked about extending service from Danbury to New Milford, almost 25 percent of respondents said they would never ride the train and 29 percent said they would only ride it a few times per year. When asked about riding if service were offered between New Milford and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 23 percent said they would never use it and over 40 percent said they would only ride it a few times per year.

When asked about what they would use new railroad service for, the majority said weekend trips. Only a small group said they would use the railroad to commute to work. Fewer than 17 percent of people would use service between Danbury and New Milford for commuting, and only 6 percent said they would travel to work using service between New Milford and Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Most people at 63 percent responded saying they would completely support railroad service expansion regardless of where the funding comes from, but some had hesitations. Approximately 27 percent said it would depend on how much is subsidized by the state, and 10 percent said they would not support any expansions.

Most interesting to me were the hundreds of written comments I received. Many people raised great points both supporting and questioning railroad expansion.

All Aboard

There were many who strongly supported expansion. One person wrote: “Commuter rail projects help spur job growth, create stronger economic ties between communities, and offer consumers a low-cost travel option that cuts down on highway congestion and air pollution.”

Another brought up how expansion could benefit seniors: “This is a wonderful opportunity to enable seniors, especially those that may prefer not to drive, to access the beautiful country that Connecticut and Massachusetts offer for leisure time activities such as walking, hiking, cross country skiing etc.”

Business owners also voiced their thoughts: “We have a farm market and I believe this would help to grow our business and allow for a local food supply to our city cousins.”

Off Track

Some people said railroad expansion would not move Connecticut in the right direction. One person wrote: “I don’t think this particular railway service would be a financially viable option for this area.”

Others said they would rather fund other projects: “If money is available, let’s use it to fix our roads which are woefully in disrepair, especially after this winter. I cannot believe there would be enough consumer use of railroad service if it were expanded.”

Some expressed concerns about associated costs for local towns: “[I have] big concerns over the ability of small Northwest Corner communities to be able to pay for upgrades to crossings.”

Unanswered Questions

Right now there is no set plan for railroad expansion, but there is a lot of talk, which means people are left with lots of questions. Survey participants raised many of these important questions including:
Is there a market for this expansion? Could a railroad survive? What do we know about towns that have invested in or added rail service – do home values or tourism increase?

This small survey helps me better understand the priorities of people in Connecticut, so that I can advocate for what is in the best interest of our community. As the conversation continues, I will seek answers for the questions survey participants raised, and hope to keep you informed along the way.

Survey Response Results