Danbury looks for faster train to New York City
DANBURY — Plans to use an old passenger rail line by the Danbury Fair mall to connect Danbury to the Southeast, N.Y., station have been discussed for decades. Now, it could happen.
Mayor Mark Boughton wants to use the Maybrook line behind the mall to connect Danbury Metro-North riders to the Harlem line and directly into New York City.
This could shave an hour off the commute that forces passengers to transfer to the New Haven Line in South Norwalk, and then heads to Grand Central.
“This will turn our downtown into a regional transportation hub,” Boughton said.
The Maybrook line is about 12 miles long. Passenger service was discontinued decades ago, but it is still used as a freight line.
New railcars and upgrades will be needed before passenger service can return, but the specific improvements need to be determined.
“At this point, it’s just a concept,” Boughton said.
He doesn’t see this replacing the existing Danbury line because it has is a built-in ridership between Stamford or South Norwalk to Danbury.
But he sees the proposal as a faster option for those heading into Grand Central from Danbury. It takes about 85 to 94 minutes to get to Grand Central from Southeast and about 120 to 176 minutes to get from Danbury to Grand Central.
He said a consultant walked the entire line last year to assess it, but a feasibility study is needed to determine the ridership numbers of those shuttling or driving from Danbury to the Southeast station to take the train.
The study will examine the existing infrastructure to determine what upgrades are needed.
Boughton is trying to get funding from the regional councils of governments in New York and Connecticut so this study can be done. The study will take eight to nine months to complete.
Last year’s consultant estimated the total cost will be between $50 million and $70 million. Boughton said the hardest, and often very expensive pieces of developing these lines, is getting the easements along the route. Housatonic Railroad already has about 90 percent of them because it’s a working line.
Connecticut’s Department of Transportation estimates a project like this could cost $100 million.
“This proposal needs further review to determine its feasibility and potential use,” DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said in a statement. “The Maybrook line is completely overgrown in some areas.”
The Connecticut DOT owns the Metro-North lines in Connecticut and Housatonic Railroad owns the Maybrook line. The MTA owns the Metro-North lines in New York. Putnam County and Danbury might be involved.
“We’re all going to have to work together,” Boughton said.
Even though about half of the Maybrook line falls in New York, the MTA declined to comment on the proposal and directed questions to the Connecticut DOT.
Housatonic Railroad officials could not be reached for comment, but expanding passenger service on this line has been included in its passenger rail plan for a few years now.
The proposed route map shows a stop at Mill Plain between Danbuy and Southeast. It has come up especially as Housatonic Railroad looks to bring passenger rail service to New Milford and up to Pittsfield, Mass.
While the idea has been discussed before, Boughton said this seems to be the first time where discussions are happening across state lines with Putnam County and MTA.
“I don’t think anyone has taken it this far,” he said.
Boughton said he has received positive feedback from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Putnam County and Housatonic Railroad. He is scheduling a meeting to discuss it with the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
He said now is the time because the Harlem Line is growing and Putnam County is looking to expand its parking because of the increase in ridership.
The Harlem line had about 2.2 million riders so far this year, according to an MTA monthly report.
Gov. Ned Lamont is looking at faster train service.
“As Gov. Lamont reviews transportation projects in a more holistic manner with the potential of toll revenue coming online, we will determine potential next steps,” Everhart said in the statement.