Improving railroad service for Valley commuters and others who use Metro-North's Waterbury branch will be the focus of a public meeting Wednesday.
The organizational meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Valley Council of Government's offices at the Derby train station on Main Street, Derby, near the entrance of Home Depot.
The goal of the meeting, officials said, is to draw attention to Metro-North's under-utilized, 27-mile long Waterbury branch, which passes locally through Ansonia, Derby and Seymour.
Meeting organizer Jim Gildea, a Derby resident and vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, is encouraging train riders to have elected leaders, the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North officials hear commuters' ideas about how to improve service.
"For years, the Waterbury Branch Line has had to deal with a lack of planning and investment in the line, an unusually high number of busing substitutions, a lack of friendly commuter service times or any real weekend service," Gildea said.
Gildea said the DOT has delayed the start of train control upgrades on the line, which were mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and are geared to expand the ability to schedule more, and more frequent, commuter trains. The upgrades originally were slated to begin this summer, but there now is no firm date being given by the DOT, nor has the agency secured the necessary rights-of-way to complete the project, Gildea sad.
"For too long the Waterbury branch commuters have had to deal with substandard service and less attention than the other branch lines of the New Haven Line," Gildea said. "It's time we organized as commuters to ensure our voices are heard by our legislators and the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North Railroad, as they are responsible for the service that is provided to the line."
Rick Dunne, VCOG's executive director, echoed Gildea's sentiments and frustration, and said vast improvements to the Waterbury line would greatly aid in economic growth in the Valley.
"For too long we have failed to plan for branch line expansion, with the result that now when that capacity is desperately needed it doesn't exist," Dunne said. "We need to start working immediately to expand train service in this corridor so that we can reduce the average commute between Waterbury and Stamford from 2 1/2 hours by car to a one-hour train ride. Only then will large Fairfield County employers again be able to seriously consider expanding the number of jobs they bring to the state."
Other officials and longtime commuter advocates expected to be on hand for Wednesday's meeting include Newington Town Council Majority Leader Terry Borjenson, a member of the Commuter Rail Council, and Jim Cameron, past chairman of the council and founder of the Commuter Action Group.
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