(Danbury News Times Editorial) Metro-North: How about an advocate for the Danbury branch line?

July 25, 2014

Editorial as it appeared in the Danbury News Times

Metro-North leadership appears to be doing better at listening to its main customers — the people who ride the trains. Improving communications was one of four focus areas established by Joseph J. Giulietti in his first month as president in March when he drew up an 100-Day Action Plan.

Thursday Giulietti showed he was listening when he announced the appointment of a Waterbury branch line advocate who will be responsible for improving service on the line. The announcement came in a meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, state Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, making it more of an event.

That the Waterbury line needs attention is undisputed. Earlier this month, a forum hosted in Derby by the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council drew about 30 people who complained of an inconvenient schedule, dirty rail cars, overcrowded buses and a lack of late-train alerts.

We are pleased for Waterbury riders that they will have an advocate now, Mike Donnarumma, a Metro-North employee since 2007 who was named District Superintendent on the New Haven Line. He had worked for the Waterbury chamber and lives in an adjacent town.

But what about the Danbury branch?

The 23.9-mile line with eight stations from Norwalk to Danbury has nearly twice the ridership as the Waterbury branch — and the same complaints, plus other issues.

The Danbury branch needs a Metro-North advocate, too.

The line does have fine representation on the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council — Timothy Beeble, who lives in Bethel and uses the train to commute to work in Stamford. Beeble was appointed to the council by state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who herself is a strong supporter of improved transportation.

But a railroad employee who is dedicated to the needs and issues of the Danbury line would be an insider voice.

In May, the Danbury branch had 61,922 riders, close to double the 31,004 riders on the Waterbury line. The Danbury ridership was down 12.8 percent from the month before and it’s no wonder — a bus was substituted for the train 424 times.

Admittedly, that bus use was higher than usual as a new signal system installed on the line malfunctioned, causing railroad gates to lower at crossings when no train was in sight and, worse, fail to warn at times when trains approached.

Buses were used for some connections while the system was repaired. Finally at the beginning of July the work was completed and the added 8 to 10 minutes of commute time were removed from the schedule. Reliability and timeliness are crucial.

Now, for the economic good of all the towns along the line and the convenience of riders, more trips to and from Grand Central Station should be added.

Metro-North responded well by appointing an advocate specifically for the Waterbury line. The railroad ought to do the same for the larger Danbury branch line.