Maybrook Madness

"Getting There," a weekly column on transportation by Jim Cameron

Anyone who follows this column knows I’m a “train guy”.  I’ve always been a supporter of mass transit and continue to be.  But sometimes I wonder just where the state’s priorities are when they chose to waste a million dollars on yet another crazy study.

This time it’s a study of the Maybrook line, a 14-mile, single-track of rusting rail running west from Danbury to Brewster NY and beyond.

Metro-North used to run their equipment (not passenger trains) over to their Croton shops via the line, but little else.  Now there’s going to be a study (yes, for one million dollars) of converting the line for passenger trains.

The idea was pushed heavily by former Danbury mayor Mark Boughton who promised it could “shave an hour” off commuting time to Grand Central. Oh, really?

Rather than crawling down the existing Danbury branch to Norwalk and then on the mainline to New York, Maybrook trains would go west from Danbury and connect with the Harlem branch of Metro-North, then head south through White Plains and into the city.

But Boughton’s dream has about as much of a grip on reality as Governor Lamont’s wishful 30-30-30 plan (30 minutes from Stamford to GCT, etc).  It just isn’t physically possible.  And I won’t need a million bucks to tell you why.

The average train from Danbury to NYC on the existing branch takes about two hours and 17 minutes (including a change of trains at South Norwalk).  The trains from Brewster NY to Grand Central take about an hour and 39 minutes.  But add in the running time from Danbury to Brewster (and another train connection there)  and you’re probably talking an additional 30 minutes, meaning a total time savings of less than ten minutes of commuting time via Maybrook.

Just how does that “shave an hour” off that commute?

But there are other problems to consider too.

In Connecticut the Maybrook line is owned by the Housatonic Railroad, a tiny freight railroad, not by Metro-North.  And parts of this single-track railroad now have a pedestrian and bicycle “rail trailrunning alongside making it unsuitable for double-tracking.  There are dozens of grade crossings and no signal system. And it’s not electrified.

Further, parking in downtown Danbury near the Metro-North station is limited and to get there you have to fight local traffic.  So why go to that trouble if you can just hop on I-84 and make the drive in 11 minutes instead of 30 minutes by train?

Plus, we’re already spending $715 million to widen I-84 west of Danbury to make the drive even quicker.

Putnam County NY officials are enthusiastic about this Maybrook idea (and are paying $200,000 of the study’s cost)  because so many Connecticut residents already make that drive, catching the train in Brewster or Southeast, but clogging up “their” parking lots with Connecticut-plated cars.

That’s why there’s already a frequent bus shuttle run by HART that connects Danbury and Brewster in 28 minutes. It’s hardly luxurious.  But what do you expect for $1.75 one way?

With so much of our existing railroad system in need of repair and replacement, why are we wasting a million dollars on yet another study of a politician’s pipedream that will prove unnecessary, impractical and too expensive?

Forget about this Maybrook Madness and let’s fix what we already have.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

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