State Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redecker said recent criticism of Metro-North's Waterbury branch is a little off-track.
Redecker's comments come prior to a meeting held Wednesday that was organized by Derby resident and Vice Chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, Jim Glidea, where frustrated commuters expressed dissatisfaction with the Waterbury line.
In a letter to Gildea, Redecker said "I am dedicated to listening to customers and their concerns, and applaud any opportunity to engage with customers." Redecker said Gildea "apparently intentionally" excluded both DOT and MTA officials from the July 9 meeting held at the Derby train station.
Gildea said DOT and MTA officials were properly notified.
"The (state) Department of Transportation got the same exact notifications that the legislative delegation and commuters who were in attendance received and in fact, received the first notification of the meeting that I sent," Gildea said. "The people who wanted to be there, were there."
The DOT owns the entire New Haven Line, including the three branches to Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan. The line is operated by Metro-North, under contract to the DOT.
About 40 commuters, legislators, local officials and members of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council attended Wednesday's meeting. Many frustrated riders complained of a lack of maintenance, shoddy weekend service and frequent break downs forcing them to be bused to their locations with drivers who don't know the routes. One rider referred to the Waterbury train as "an outhouse on wheels," while another said the line is treated like "the poor stepchild twice removed."
Gildea held the meeting to hear from the people who ride the rails each day, in particular the Waterbury line, which passes locally through Ansonia, Derby and Seymour.
Gildea had said Waterbury branch commuters for years have dealt with "substandard service and less attention than the other branch lines." He added that a lack of planning, attention and investment into the line, on the state's part, has lead to a decline in ridership.
Gildea also said the DOT pushed out and delayed the start of positive train control upgrades on the line, which were originally slated to start this summer. To date, he said there is no firm date being given by the DOT, nor have they secured the necessary rights-of-way to complete the project, Gildea sad.
Redecker respectfully disagreed with Gildea's criticisms and said the state is not ignoring the Waterbury line, and in fact, has spent "almost $11 million in branch-specific rehabilitation of track, bridges and culverts to restore the line to a state-of-good repair."
Redecker said an announcement this week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to invest upwards of $7 million for a full signalization system geared to enhance safety and pave the way for more trains and improved service, shows the state's "solid commitment to continuous improvement of the Waterbury Branch service," despite Gildea's comments about "a lack of attention to the line."
Gildea said he was not inclined to respond to every point made by Redecker in his letter.
"What I would say is that last night's forum clearly showed the commuter base that rides the train on a daily basis is frustrated by the day-to-day service, and it would be more comforting if there was some acknowledgement of that sentiment and an attempt to address the core service issues, rather than attempt to perform damage control," Gildea said.
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