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‘We need more trains’: Waterbury Rail Line upgrades bring parties together

New Haven

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Lawmakers from both parties, who are members of the Waterbury Rail Line Caucus, stood together in Hartford on Monday morning to discuss their plans to help the line’s infrastructure.

“We talk about economic development in this state day in and day out,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Republican from the Valley. “We talk about transportation infrastructure investment day in and day out. Well, this is the perfect example of both of those.”

Right now, they say, the Waterbury line is stuck in the “dark ages.” There are only 15 trains a day. If riders miss one, it can be a couple of hours until the next one comes along. The trains are aging, and there are places where the tracks force trains to slow way down.

The state has already promised $90 million to make some improvements, but officials in that area say the state needs to “finish the job.”

“By that we mean we need modern, clean, efficient rail cars,” explained Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, a Democrat. “Locomotives that can bring our people back and forth.”

The proposal includes upgrades to rail cars and putting more trains on the tracks during peak hours. Many of the trains that travel from the Brass City to Bridgeport and back are off-peak. Officials say this causes travel headaches for passengers who need flexibility.

Leaders of towns along the line say they have lots of land ready to be developed near train stations. They say those lots would be ideal affordable options for people who work in lower Fairfield County and New York, if only there were more frequent and reliable trains to get them there.

“Improving and expanding service on the line will encourage more commuters to use it, easing traffic on Route 8 and the mixmaster, and reducing the burden on roads and bridges,” said Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce President Lynn Ward.

Just last month, Governor Ned Lamont unveiled a transportation plan calling for more trains and high-level platforms in the valley region.

“And he has said the following words, which I hope he will remember and put forward when it is time to put money forward: ‘This part of the state has been ignored for far too long,'” Klarides said.

Some caucus members worry the words from the governor are just words, and what the rail line really needs is funding. With tolls now apparently off the table, there are many questions about funding transportation infrastructure improvements. Caucus members point out that there are federal loans available for rail improvement projects.

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