Sen. Kelly: People Would Take Trains If They Ran Frequently

February 10, 2015

Valley Independent Sentinel
Why? Kelly’s reasoning is simple: the problem is just so bad that it can’t be ignored any longer.

“The need is definitely there. We can all agree on this,” Kelly said Monday (Feb. 9). “This is a priority that has been neglected for too long and needs to be put higher on the list, in my opinion, of important initiatives, not only to get more people off the road but to help people find jobs.”

Kelly introduced a bill in the state Legislature earlier this month calling for improvements to the Metro-North Railroad’s Waterbury Line.

A public hearing on Kelly’s bill (and dozens of others) has been scheduled before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee for 11 a.m. Wednesday (Feb. 11).

A copy of the bill is embedded below:
Kelly Waterbury Line

Train Service Around Here Isn’t Great

The Waterbury Line runs trains — albeit slowly, when they’re not broken down and replaced by buses about 10 times a month — through the lower Naugatuck Valley, and stops at stations in Derby, Ansonia, and Seymour.

But service is so poor and infrequent — trains run only every two and a half hours or so each way on weekdays — that it’s transportation of last resort for those with better options.

Say you live or work in Ansonia and want to catch a train to meet up with friends in Bridgeport for an evening. Your choices: trains at 5:17 p.m. or 7:43 p.m. And if your business doesn’t end by the time of the 8:31 p.m. train back, you better have cab fare or be prepared to wait for the last train — at 11:13 p.m.

And it’s not just the casual traveler left in the lurch. Kelly says that when he’s out speaking to constituents from the area, most of them who commute say they’ll drive down to Stratford or Fairfield and park at a train station there to hop on trains to lower Fairfield County.

They simply can’t count on such infrequent service at stations closer to their homes, he said.

“If I miss the morning train or miss the train home at night, I’m stuck,” Kelly said of service on the Waterbury Line. “So people don’t take the train.”

“They talk about how hard it it to commute to their jobs in Stamford and all the time that they lose, both going to work and coming home,” the senator said.

Valley residents driving downstate to better train stations means more people on already busy roads, Kelly said.

“It we could get commuters off the roads earlier in their commutes, that would help ease congestion on 95 and Route 8,” he said.

Kelly said better train service would also offer a cost-effective way for those looking for work to get to jobs in lower Fairfield County.


Some recent developments have been encouraging, Kelly said.

For one, Gov. Dannel Malloy pushed through $7 million in bonding to fund the design of a system to get more trains running through the area.

Once that design is finished, the work to implement it will cost about $70 million more.

Kelly concedes the price tag represents a hefty investment, but noted that it pales in comparison to other projects already in progress, like the much-maligned $600 million busway from New Britain to Hartford.

“It is an investment, but what you’ve got to look at is what are the choices being made?” Kelly said.

Kelly called the busway project “disheartening” because it’s being built over what was once a commuter rail bed running from Waterbury to Hartford.

“We could have opened up a rail connection from Bridgeport to the capitol . . . and given everyone along that route the opportunity to find a job, not only in Stamford, but also north to Hartford,” said Kelly, a Republican. “And we lost that opportunity because of one decision to put $600 million toward a 9-mile stretch from New Britain to Hartford.”

During his “state of the state” address to state legislators last month, Malloy said the state needed to upgrade its rail service “to provide real commuter rail service, including the Naugatuck Valley.”

The specifics of Malloy’s plans remain to be seen. After the speech, a spokesman for the governor said Malloy will release more details in advance of his budget address to the Legislature later this month. The Valley Indy e-mailed the governor’s office Monday (Feb. 9) for comment but did not hear back.

Kelly said he’s not trying to “one-up” Malloy with his bill, just trying to call bipartisan attention to what is an obvious problem.

“I know he’s working on transportation for this session. I also know that the Republicans are also working on an initiative on transportation,” Kelly said. “So I would expect in the next few days to a week, you’re going to see the perspectives on transportation and how best to serve the people of Connecticut.”

Jim Gildea, a Derby resident and vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said Monday he was grateful to see Kelly show interest in the issue, and said he hopes to see the state approve the $70 million in work to get more trains running through the area — though the actual work would take a few more years.

The next item on Gildea’s legislative wish list: more diesel train engines for the Waterbury Line, the need for which was highlighted at a commuter forum in Naugatuck last month.

“Metro North indicated that they simply do not have enough equipment to properly maintain the diesel engines that are used on this branch and it is this lack of equipment that prevents appropriate backup relief and critical maintenance time to consistently meet day-to-day on-time percentage and busing reduction rates,” Gildea said.” Metro North currently employs three diesels that are shared between Waterbury and Danbury and they run on average 20 hours a day, every day.”