Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Connecticut electrification bill's impact doubted

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Both houses of Connecticut's state legislature have unanimously passed a bill calling for electrification of Metro-North Railroad's Waterbury Branch and the Danbury Branch by 2023, bolstering access between Waterbury, Conn., and New York's Grand Central Terminal.

But observers note the move isn't binding on Connecticut's Department of Transportation, while area rail advocates and railfans question the efficiency gains and cost-effectiveness of the proposal.

Running roughly 28 miles north to south, Waterbury Branch links its namesake municipality with Metro-North's electrified New Haven Line (part of the Northeast Corridor) east of Stratford, Conn. , with most trains terminating in Bridgeport, where transfers are available to either New Haven or (more often) Stamford and New York.

The bill also calls for electrification of Metro-North's shorter Danbury Branch, linking Danbury North Station with Norwalk, Conn., the latter also on the New Haven Line. Connecticut DOT last month published an Environmental Assessment Technical Summary report updating Phase 2 study of electrification feasibility for the Danbury Branch, which began in 2007.

Numerous Connecticut-area rail advocates and railfans appear skeptical of the proposal, however, particularly for the Waterbury Branch. One critic, posting on the website railroad.net, noted the state already has evaluated the prospects for electrifcation in a "Waterbury and New Canaan Needs and Feasibility Study," last updated May 7, 2013, concluded that electrification yielded only minimal travel time savings on the Waterbury Branch. (The 8.2-mile New Canaan Branch already is electrified.)