Signal upgrade means more efficient train line [Ridgefield Press]

September 3, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Bristol Press

Without fanfare, the Department of Transportation completed a years-long, $30-million-plus work project on the Norwalk to Danbury branch of Metro-North, which includes Ridgefield’s Branchville station.

The work was to replace 1800s-era railroad components like track switches with computer-controlled systems that can be operated from a booth at Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

“They replaced pioneer day technology,” said State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, whose district includes Ridgefield. She had been an advocate for railroad improvements.

“They had a man coming out of a rail car, pulling levers so trains could pass each other,” Boucher said.

Now there is a computerized signal system that allow trains to more easily pass, and its benefits are evident.

The bulk of the work was completed in the fall of 2013, but the railroad had to iron out the rough spots and that took until last winter and into the spring.

“The improvement turned out to be a major positive investment in the line. It enabled the dispatching of trains so they are spaced closer to together on a computerized system, and it has allowed for the speed of trains to be increased a little bit,” said David Hannon, deputy director of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, which represents 18 towns from Greenwich to Bridgewater including Ridgefield.

“It allowed for more train service to be added, so as a result, we’ve been able to ramp up the service,” Hannon said.

The branch line from Norwalk to Danbury is important because it links local residents with jobs in New York City.

Officials of the state Department of Transportation were gathering information on the total cost of the work, and how many jobs were created. It was not available at press time.

Officials of Metro-North said the Norwalk-Danbury branch was able to increase from 22 trains to 28 trains per day.

“The other thing is safety,” said Aaron Donovan, the Metro-North spokesman. “We have a much better idea within our control system where the trains are at any given time.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said this is the first step toward the ultimate railroad, which is to electrify the tracks.

Then, trains will be able to run on electricity as well as diesel fuel.

“These are changes that should have been made 30 years ago,” he said.

Marconi is likely to talk about the railroad branch during an upcoming charrette on plans to redevelop the Branchville station section of town into a mini retail hub.

“In terms of creating an efficient railroad with a more reliable service, it will go along way in improving the commute into New York that many Ridgefield people make every day,” he said.

Ridgefielders also catch the train to New York via the Katonah, N.Y., station, using a shuttle bus from the downtown dog park and the Jesse Lee United Methodist Church parking lot.