CT: Cheshire Man to Oversee Metro-North's New Haven Line

July 25--Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hailed the appointment Thursday of a Cheshire man who will come onboard to oversee long-overdue improvements to Metro-North Railroad's problematic Waterbury branch.

In a statement, Malloy said the action by Metro-North officials to name Mike Donnarumma as district superintendent of the New Haven Line, with "a particular attention paid to the Waterbury Branch Line," is a critical move to vastly improving service to frustrated commuters.

"Commuters on the Waterbury line have expressed their frustration, and for good reason," Malloy said. "The state of this line is quite frankly unacceptable. If we want to give residents a better alternative to driving, then we need to ensure that they get the service they expect when they ride the train."

Donnarumma is a former employee with the state Department of Transportation. The DOT owns the 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.

"Mike Donnarumma has the experience to improve customer service and identify and implement improvements to all areas of this branch to ensure a better level of customer satisfaction that Waterbury Branch riders deserve," Malloy added.

Donnarumma also worked at the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce and the DOT before joining Metro-North in 2007.

On Thursday, Donnarumma joined Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti and DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker at a meeting with Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary to discuss the New Haven Line's Waterbury Branch.

"My goal is to provide the best service possible to the Waterbury Branch and to be a go-between to the customers and the railroad," said Donnarumma.

O'Leary said Donnarumma "will be an outstanding and effective advocate for continuing improvements in service on this line."

O'Leary lauded Malloy, Redeker and Giulietti "for their support on this vital issue for our region."

Major improvements to the Waterbury Branch already are in the works, including a new signal system and Positive Train Control. In the last four years, the state has spent almost $11 million in branch-specific upgrades of track, bridges and culverts to restore the line to a state-of-good repair.

The 27-mile-long Waterbury Branch has stations in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby/Shelton. Average weekday ridership is 460 commuters.

Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Rick Dunne welcomed news of Donnarumma's appointment.

"The appointment of Mike Donnarumma to this new position can only help Connecticut to understand the economic value of the Waterbury Branch to both business and commuters," Dunne said. "Governor Malloy's quick response to this issue shows his dedication to economic development in the Naugatuck Valley and Fairfield County. We are especially pleased by his attention and commitment to using this key asset to grow Connecticut's economy."

A public forum held earlier this month at VCOG's office in Derby, hosted by Jim Gildea, vice president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, found frustrated commuters referring to the Waterbury line as "an outhouse on wheels" and the "stepchild twice removed." Concerns ran the gamut from lack of maintenance to the antiquated diesel trains and filthy bathrooms to frequent breakdowns, lack of communication and sparse weekend service.

Gildea could not be reached for comment Thursday.

State Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, and state Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, attended the July 8 meeting and vowed to bring commuters' concerns about the line's substandard service to the state's attention.

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