Regional Transportation Plan

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PART 6:



DANBURY BRANCH


RAIL PASSENGER


EXPANSION PLAN

 

 

 

 


 

Background information for this chapter:

APPENDIX 6A - STATION AND PARKING IMPROVEMENTS

APPENDIX 6B - RAIL FREIGHT IN THE REGION
--- APPENDIX 6C - HARLEM LINE RAIL SERVICE
APPENDIX 6D - HISTORY OF AREA RAIL LINES
--- WESTERN NEW ENGLAND RAIL OVERVIEW MAP

1. DANBURY BRANCH PHYSICAL OVERVIEW

The Danbury Branch Railroad Line from Norwalk north to Danbury has been serving the Greater Danbury Area since 1852. The regional goal is for commuter rail service on this line to become a more vital component of Western Connecticut's transportation infrastructure.

The Danbury Branch Line is a 23.6 mile single track, non-electrified rail line. The line has passing sidings in Branchville, Wilton and Norwalk. It has passenger stations in Danbury, Bethel, West Redding, the Branchville section of Ridgefield, a new station planned in Redding's Georgetown section, two stations in Wilton (Cannondale and Wilton), and two in Norwalk (Merritt 7 and the branch line terminal at South Norwalk).

The line parallels Route 7 for most of its length. All stations on the Branch, except Merritt 7, have high level platforms of varying lengths that can serve from two to five rail passenger cars.

Hudson Line in green, Harlem Line in blue, New Canaan
Branch in red and at right Danbury Branch also in red.

The State of Connecticut owns the Danbury Branch Line and its passenger stations, as well as the train equipment operating on the Line.

Metro-North provides the operating service, under contract to the Connecticut Department of Transportation. This line also carries some minimal freight service after commuter hours.

While the rail line between Danbury and Norwalk is state owned, the 14.3 mile potential service extension between Danbury and New Milford would use the property of the Housatonic Railroad Company, Inc. Thus negotiations will be needed for use of that line for public transit.

The Danbury Branch Line was first electrified with overhead catenary in 1925. Electricity as the power source on the Danbury Branch was terminated in 1961. Since then, diesel powered engines or (until about 1990) self-propelled diesel cars have been utilized.

The idea of reelectrifying the Danbury Branch has been seriously considered by state leaders on several occasions over the years, notably in 1971 and then in the early eighties. Electrification allows for higher speeds, the key to expanding market share.



Chart documenting advantages of electrification from current Branch Line Study.

Principal infrastructure improvements on the Danbury Branch Line in modern times included the installation of continuous-welded track, construction of the Merritt 7 station in Norwalk, relocation of Bethel and West Redding stations, and construction of high level platforms.



High level platform at West Redding Station.

Of great importance, an electronic"centralized traffic control" system for Branch Line train management will soon be in operation. This investment had to precede any serious service expansion.

This will replace the manual throwing of switches, and allow Branch trains to be visible in the Grand Central Terminal control room. This electronic technology is already in operation on the parallel Harlem Line in New York State.


2. DANBURY BRANCH CURRENT SERVICE

The Danbury Branch is part of the Metro North commuter railroad, an arm of Greater New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A map is available showing the Danbury Branch in context to the nearby and parallel Harlem Line and other MTA commuter rail services provided by Metro North.

CT DOT pays for about 65% of Metro North's main line operating deficit. However, on the Danbury Branch, it pays for 100% of the operating deficit.

Dual power diesel/third rail electric locomotives operate on the Danbury Branch from Danbury to South Norwalk. But only the diesel drive capability is used on the Branch. The third rail component is used in and near New York City.

Today on the Branch all trains have diesel engines: the last self-contained rail diesel cars stopped operating on the Danbury Branch about 1990.

In the broader picture, electrification in the form of overhead catenary extends from Connecticut into New York State southwesterly to Pelham, NY, after which the electric power source switches to third rail.

Extending electrified overhead catenary from New Haven northeasterly to Boston was completed by Amtrak in 1999 as part of the Acela Express high speed project.



Danbury Branch patrons also have access to
the Amtrak rail passenger network shown above.

AMTRAK ACELA EXPRESS THRU CT: Origin in Boston, to Providence, New London, New Haven,
Stamford, Penn Station in NYC to Washington. No stop in Norwalk for Danbury Branch transfers.

AMTRAK NORTHEAST REGIONAL THRU CT: Boston origin south to New London,
New Haven, Penn Station in NYC to Washington. Springfield origin to Hartford, south thru New
Haven, Penn Station in NYC to Washington. No stops in Norwalk for Danbury Branch transfers.

Unlike the Danbury Branch, the nearby New Canaan Branch Line in Connecticut is entirely powered by overhead catenary.

Third rail power on the Harlem Line was extended north to nearby Brewster, NY about 1984. Diesel power only is then utilized to reach stations north of Brewster.

The Genesis Locomotive.

The Genesis Locomotive is common on the Danbury Branch today. According to rail expert David Chase of the URS Corporation:

The Genesis Locomotive is the primary locomotive used on the Danbury Branch. It is able to operate under diesel power until the train is near New York City, where it can pick up electric power from the third rail to complete the tunnel trip into Grand Central Terminal.

The Genesis is referred to as a dual mode locomotive. There is no capability for this locomotive to take electric power from the overhead catenary on the New Haven Line.

There are also new diesel locomotives operating on the Branch that are known as Brookvilles from that manufacturer. Note also, diesel locomotives are actually diesel-electric; the diesel engine turns a generator that provides electric power to electric motors mounted on the axles.


Source: Mark Foran of CT DOT

New Brookville locomotives also run on the Danbury Branch.

Current service on the Danbury Branch consists of 11 round trips per weekday (a total of 22 one way trips). These start in Danbury at 5:33 A.M. The first three morning trains terminate at Grand Central Station in New York City, these our precious "thru trains." The fastest of these is one hour and fifty-two minutes.

Of the remaining eight southbound Danbury morning starts, seven require a transfer in Norwalk and one a transfer in Stamford.


Source:richegreen.com

View to southwest at South Norwalk Station. Main Line Metro
North trains use catenary or third rail power. The Genesis locomotive
at right operates on the Danbury Branch and uses diesel or third rail power.

On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, six inbound and six outbound shuttle trains operate at approximately three hour intervals throughout the day. The earliest leaves Danbury at 7:42 A.M. and all require a transfer at Norwalk.

DANBURY BRANCH LINE
AVERAGE A.M. PEAK PERIOD BOARDINGS

Station

1977

1989

1993

1995

2000

2008

Merritt 7

NA

113

116

122

91

137

Wilton

292

239

229

241

193

155

Cannondale

92

95

111

116

119

160

Branchville

148

140

155

163

191

150

West Redding

40

25

53

56

52

59

Bethel

52

130

121

128

178

270

Danbury

60

66

102

107

142

241

Total

684

808

887

933

966

1172

 

RESIDENCE IN 2001 OF PARKING LOT USERS AT DANBURY, CT BRANCH LINE STATIONS
         
 
% at
Danbury
% at
Bethel
% at
Redding
% at
Ridgefield
         
Bethel 0 51 7 4
Bridgewater 0 0 0 0
Brookfield 16 5 0 2
Danbury 56 7 12 2
New Fairfield 12 0 0 0
         
New Milford 7 2 0 0
Newtown 3 30 0 2
Redding 0 1 76 29
Ridgefield 0 0 3 49
Sherman 1 0 0 0
Non Region 5 4 2 12
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%
         
Sources: HART summary of permits in Danbury, Bethel and Redding; HART/Metropool Survey for Ridgefield.


3. POLICY FOR SERVICE EXPANSION

All recommendations in this section were adopted by HVCEO in 2000. These policies will be extensively revised once CT DOT has completed it study of the Danbury Branch Line. Until then:

PHASE 1. Phase I service expansion adds additional peak hour shuttle service, additional midday service, and an additional reverse commute. This phase calls for more intensive use of the two shuttle trains currently in service on the Danbury Branch Line and the purchase of one additional shuttle train.

In Phase 1 total daily train trips rises from 22 to 31. This investment is estimated to attract 400+ daily new riders. Costs are $5.3 million for capital and $1.3 million for annual operating. To allow for ridership growth, there is then a gap of three years before the Phase 2 Branch Line service expansion described below is implemented. 

PHASE 2 Danbury Branch service expansion, scheduled for year 7, builds directly upon Phase 1. It calls for one new through roundtrip to NYC, additional midday service and an additional reverse commute. This phase is projected to attract 242+ daily new riders, in addition to the 400+ attracted by Phase 1.

In this phase the number of train trips rises from 31 to 38, accomplished via more intense use of the three existing shuttles and the purchase of one additional equipment set for the through train. Phase 2 costs are $12.9 million for capital and $.9 million for annual operating.

Service Level

Weekday Through Trains

Weekday Shuttle Trains

Total Trains

Existing 

6

16

20

Phase 1 Danbury

6

25

31

Phase 2 Danbury

8

30

38

Phase 3  New Milford

6

14

20

Phase 4 New Milford

6

25

31

Phase 5 New Milford

8

30

38

 

PHASES 3 to 5. An additional three expansions, Phases 3 to 5, would extend rail passenger service to a new station near I-84 in northern Danbury, then further north to New Milford, CT. Estimated new ridership is 559. As an historical note, passenger rail service was last operated north of Danbury to New Milford (and on to Pittsfield, Mass.) in 1971.



Passenger trail in New Milford, Conn. on
its way to Pittsfield, Mass. February 23, 1967.

By restoring service to New Milford, the Norwalk to Danbury Branch mileage of 23.6 would be extended another 14.3 miles, to 37.9. Of critical importance, this is the direction of rapidly growing commuter flows in Fairfield and southern Litchfield Counties.



Existing Danbury Branch Line stations
shown in red, proposed stations in blue.

These northerly additions would be phased in slowly, from as early as year 3 (alongside Danbury-Norwalk expansion), to year 13, the last year of the expansion program. There is a minimum two year wait between each of these later phases as ridership builds. Total costs for these last three phases is $33.95 million for capital and $3.51 for annual operating.

Note also that from a 2000 Route 7 Transportation Planning Study it was estimated that the implementation of various phases of the proposed rail enhancements above would have the potential to reduce traffic volume on Route 7 by almost 2,000 vehicles per day.

Also of interest, energy use for commuter rail service per passenger mile is “greener” than energy use per passenger mile for the automobile.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2004 Transportation Energy Data Book the BTU per passenger mile for an automobile is 3,546 and for commuter rail per passenger mile is 2,569. The rail figure is a lesser 72% of the automobile amount.

And according to the 2009 CT DOT Strategic Long Range Plan "public transit is more fuel efficient per passenger mile than driving most single occupancy vehicles."

Preliminary CT DOT plan for expanding
Danbury Station parking to the south.

See parking plans for Branch Line Stations.

Note also that energy use for commuter rail service per passenger mile is “greener” than energy use per passenger mile for the automobile.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2004 Transportation Energy Data Book the BTU per passenger mile for an automobile is 3,546 and for commuter rail per passenger mile is 2,569. The rail figure is a lesser 72% of the automobile amount.

And according to the 2009 CT DOT Strategic Long Range Plan "public transit is more fuel efficient per passenger mile than driving most single occupancy vehicles."


4. COMMUTER FLOWS FAVOR RAIL MARKET

The Branch Line service pattern correlates with characteristic north to south commuter flows in congested Fairfield County, a journey to work pattern tied to residential income patterns and that continues to intensify. Consider also:

Stamford's downtown area has become a significant employment center in the southwest section of the state. Major corporate headquarters along with ancillary employment has moved into Stamford over the past years.

Du
e to high housing costs in and near Stamford, many of those new employees continue to find their housing to the north in the Greater Danbury Region. Accordingly, a key goal of HVCEO is to facilitate commuting by rail to Stamford from Branch Line stations.



Employment in Stamford is an
increasing draw for Danbury Area commuters.

Consider that between 1990 and 2000 Newtown grew 21 % while resident commuters to Stamford grew by 31% (to 449), Bethel grew 3% while commuters to Stamford increased 15% (to 484), Danbury grew 14% while its commuters to Stamford increased 42% (to 1274).

Continuing with 1990 to 2000 change, New Fairfield grew 8% while its commuters to Stamford increased 52% (to 270), Brookfield grew 11% while commuters to Stamford increased 24% (to 183). And New Milford grew 15% while commuters to Stamford increased 118% (to 337).

The above data indicate that as families move out of dwelling units, increasingly their replacements are commuters to Stamford. As a result the commuter rail market is growing faster than the population growth rate.


5. CT DOT 2008 PASSENGER SURVEY

CT DOT conducted a Danbury Branch Line passenger survey on Wednesday, September 24, 2008. Five departures from Danbury, the AM peak commuter trains, were surveyed. The first three (5:34, 6:20, 6:52) were destined for New York City and the last two (7:27, 7:57) for South Norwalk.

Some of the findings:

TRIP PURPOSE: For the New York bound 88% of respondents stated their trip purpose was work. For the Norwalk bound 91%.

TO AND FROM STATION: To reach the boarding station; drove alone 72%, dropped off 15%, walked 7%, carpool 4%, by bus 1%. As for leaving the arrival station; walked 56%, 14% subway, 12% company shuttle, 6% drove, bus 5%.

DESTINATION: As for destination via the three early New York bound trains South Norwalk accounted for 5%, Stamford 18% and 70% continued on to Grand Central Terminal.

As for the following two South Norwalk bound trains 19% were destined for Merritt 7, 15% to South Norwalk, 44% to Stamford and only 15% continued on to Grand Central.



Stamford, CT Transportation Center

INCOME: The majority of respondents, 56%, had an annual household income of $125,000 or greater. Another 27% had an annual household income of $75,000 to $124,999.

The New York bound were more affluent than the Norwalk bound.

IMPROVEMENT PREFERENCE: Would increase use of the train if there were more frequent service; answered 86% likely and 9% unlikely. Would increase use if travel time were reduced by about 20%: 81% likely and 11% unlikely.

Would increase use if more parking at stations; 48% likely and 39% unlikely. Would increase use if better shuttle bus service to and from existing stations; 30% likely and 54% unlikely.


6. TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT

A key to passenger rail planning in the modern era, and an important scoring criteria in federal rail improvement grants, is to encourage land use changes in the vicinity of rail stations that will be supportive of transit use.

This concept is known as 'transit oriented development" (TOD).

Transit oriented development is defined by Connecticut law as a mixed use neighborhood within walking distance of a transit station. According to Public Act 07-6 of 2007:

Transit-oriented development means the development of residential, commercial and employment centers within one-half mile or walking distance of public transportation facilities, including rail and rapid transit and services that meet transit supportive standards for land uses, built environment densities and walkable environments, in order to facilitate and encourage the use of those services.

The Danbury Branch has the following TOD planning resources:

HVCEO 2009 BRANCH LINE TRANSIT
ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT OVERVIEW

HVCEO 2010 BETHEL RAIL STATION TRANSIT
ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT FEASIBILITY STUDY


CT DOT 2010 TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT OVERVIEW

At the request of Bethel, in 2010 HVCEO
prepared a feasibility study for transit oriented development
at Bethel Station. TOD potential was found to be favorable here.



MTA passenger rail stations in the New York
Metro Area. New transit oriented development near these
stations will enhance the Connecticut and tri-state rail systems.


 

Contents | 1.  |  2.  |   3.  |  4.  |  5.  |  6.  |   7.  |  8.


 
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