Transportation News – Norwalk to Danbury Branch Line Update

October 8, 2014

Earlier this year, frustrated commuters staged a rally to complain about dirty passenger cars, failing locomotives and Metro-North’s indifferent management. Although most of the attention has been focused on the New Haven Line, the Norwalk to Danbury rail line has also come under much deserved scrutiny for its deficiencies. Despite recent improvements advertised by the DOT, commuter frustration with the Danbury Line remains at an all-time high, and underscores the need for more aggressive investment in our transportation infrastructure.

It is clear to anyone who commutes on our highways and tracks and crosses our bridges that they have not received the attention they need. A recent White House report declared that Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure is among the nation’s worst. The key findings are:

  • 41% of Connecticut’s roads are in poor shape
  • 35% of our bridges are structurally deficient

Poor roads and bridges and unreliable train service contribute to accidents, increase congestion and result in longer commuting times. These are serious inconveniences with a direct and negative impact on our residents’ quality of life. They make our commuting towns less desirable places to live and restrict economic and job growth. Connecticut’s economic health is dependent on our state highway system and public transportation network. The efficient movement of goods, services and people along one of the most densely populated regions in the nation, is part of what has made Connecticut so successful in the past. To regain that level of success we must treat every aspect of our transportation infrastructure as an essential component of a complete distribution and communications system.

Commuters in the region recognize the necessary role that the Danbury Branch Line plays in this system. It links nearly 400,000 people to their jobs and families and has become a critical economic asset to Connecticut. Unfortunately, the state has been slow to recognize its importance. Critical improvements to the line’s signal system have taken 14 years to implement, and have come only after my long and hard-fought battle to avert a complete shutdown of the branch line. The long awaited computerization of the signal system is nearing completion, along with much of the work at the grade crossings. The DOT will also conduct a study of roadway drainage at the grade crossings in an effort to keep them working reliably.

Still, many questions remain about the reliability of train service. Recent failures with Metro-North’s diesel locomotives undermine claims by Metro-North and the DOT that service is on track to improve. CT DOT reports the following:

  • On September 8, train #1860 was stopped due to an engine failure on Locomotive 231
  • This engine failed again on September 29.
  • A separate equipment failure occurred on September 9 on Locomotive 113.

These incidents occurred due to engine failures that allowed unburned fuel to enter the exhaust system thus exiting the roof exhaust with signs of fire and smoke. The diesel train #1860 was 13 years old and not surprisingly is in the shop for repair. It is scheduled for overhaul in 2015. The other train – Locomotive 113 – is six years old and has been repaired.

Mechanical failures on October 8 also led to an hour delay on the Danbury Line. The DOT reports August and September on-time performance at 98% and 94% respectively however, these incidents make it clear that Metro-North is still plagued by technical issues. Commuter frustration is unlikely to subside until these problems are addressed.

Making sure that this happens should be an important transportation priority. In order to achieve a more reliable and efficient transportation system, the DOT must evaluate all transportation expenditures to ensure that they generate the greatest return for our commuters. At the same time, we need to guarantee that every Connecticut citizen can get to where they need to be no matter their age or their economic circumstances.

In the ideal system, people should have the right to enjoy a good quality of life along with un-restricted opportunities to jobs with which to pay for it– at every level of the economic spectrum. There is no room in this model for allocating resources preferentially. Every state dollar needs to contribute to the highest general public good. By using our transportation funds for their intended purpose, instead of diverting them, we will be able to give Connecticut the transportation system it deserves.