The idea to speed up rail passenger service from Danbury, Conn., to New York City has been periodically discussed and proposed going back decades.
The ongoing planning study looking at shorter commuter rail travel time between Danbury to Putnam County and on to NYC via Metro-North Railroad is just the first step to support development of any potential capital transportation improvement project.
The next step would include attempting to qualify this project for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) capital funding under various programs. This could include Urbanized Formula 5307, State of Good Repair 5337 or Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) CMAQ (Flexible Congestion Mitigation Air Quality) or other FHWA programs (these funds can be transferred to the FTA for funding transit projects).
Another option is requesting permission to enter this project into the FTA national competitive Capital Investment Grants (CIG) 5309 New Starts or Core Capacity programs. This is a three-step process. First step is obtain permission from the FTA for entry into either the New Starts or Core Capacity programs. This would include completion of the federal environmental review process (NEPA) resulting in the FTA issuing a finding.
FTA will determine if the project will require a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) versus a simpler Environmental Assessment (EA). This could easily require one to two years. There would also have to be an agreement between the FTA and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Putnam County and state of Connecticut for budget and scope of work for the overall project.
The second step would be obtaining the FTA permission to enter and complete final design and engineering. This would require one to two years. The third step would be negotiating an FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for the project. This would include a final project scope, budget, schedule, project management plan and fleet management plan. The scope of work might also include construction of/or improvements to existing tracks, sidings, signals, power, power substations, sidings, stations, commuter parking, land acquisition, business relocations, utility, water or sewer relocation agreements, local feeder bus services and operating agreements with other freight and transit operators. The project may require the purchase of additional rolling stock and modifications to existing or construction of new rail yards for maintenance and storage of equipment.
Another requirement is a positive cost benefit analysis. A financial plan would have to be developed. This could include identifying local match against any future FTA capital grants to support advancement of the project. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Metro-North Railroad, Putnam County and state of Connecticut would also have to ensure that they have adequate local operating assistance dollars to cover farebox revenue shortfalls. Riders only pay for a portion of the cost for any trip. The NY MTA and Metro North would also need to have the resources to maintain all the capital investments financed by the FTA.
All federally funded capital project investments have useful life requirements. They are usually based on industry standards. This would serve as documentation that any new or extensions to existing rail lines will stay in service for the intended useful life. The third step might require between one to two years.
The FTA in offering MTA and or Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) a Full Funding Grant Agreement would cap the level of federal participation for the project. In addition to providing local match against federal dollars, MTA and or CTDOT would be on the hook for any cost overruns above and beyond the agreed upon FFGA project cost. Based upon my personal experience from working for the FTA on similar projects, the process from start to finish could easily up to 10 years before you board the first train on any new route from Danbury to NYC.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.