Sept. 03--Commuters who ride Metro-North's Waterbury Branch line will have a chance to air concerns and raise questions at a forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the train station at 195 Water St., Naugatuck.
The forum, sponsored by the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, will be held at the offices of the Naugatuck Historical Society, within the Naugatuck Train Station.
State Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker is expected to be on hand, along with host Mayor Robert Mezzo,state legislators and Metro-North officials.
The forum is intended to allow riders to address issues about the Waterbury line, which some frustrated commuters have referred to as "an outhouse on wheels" and the "stepchild twice removed." Concerns aired during a public forum held at the Derby Train Station earlier this summer ran the gamut from lack of maintenance on the antiquated diesel trains and filthy bathrooms to frequent breakdowns, lack of communication and sparse weekend service.
According to a press release from the CCRC, ridership on the Waterbury line has "soared," having more than doubled over the last decade, but little in the way of improvements to the service has been done.
The 27-mile-long Waterbury Branch has stations in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby/Shelton. Average weekday ridership is about 460 commuters.
"There are countless Waterbury Branch commuters and potential commuters who rely on the branch line to get them to and from their place of employment and other destinations," said CCRC Vice Chairman Jim Gildea. "Ensuring that the Waterbury Branch line has steady, reliable and increased service times, both during the weekday commute and also on the weekend when ridership is at the same level, is an achievable goal that should be pursued diligently."
Sam Gold, executive director of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley, said improving the line will be beneficial in many ways.
"The Waterbury Branch line is the Naugatuck Valley's most significant and unrealized asset," he said. "If the proper investments are made, the train will become competitive with driving for many more people. Not only will getting drivers on trains reduce road congestion, poor air quality and the need for expensive highway widening, it will also revitalize our community centers and bring to them new investment, vitality and livability. Reliable and regular train service will also help us compete for a generation of young workers who increasingly prefer trains to cars."
In an effort to start making long overdue improvements to the line, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in July appointed former DOT employee Mike Donnarumma of Cheshire as district superintendent of the New Haven Line, with "a particular attention paid to the Waterbury Branch Line."
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.
Major improvements to the Waterbury Branch are in the works, officials said, 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.
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