How would you like a plan to remove thousands of trucks from Connecticut
highways, clean up the air and create new jobs?
Who wouldn’t? It’s a win-win-win plan that you’d expect Governor Lamont to
embrace, especially in this time of TCI (the Transportation Climate Initiative).
The solution? Invest in our state’s freight railroads.
Yes, there are still freight trains in Connecticut, just not very many. But there
could be more.
In its earlier days as a profitable, private railroad, the New Haven ran hundreds of
freight trains each day. But today the railroad is too crowded with (relatively
faster) passenger trains and the bridges and catenary lines are too low for
modern double-stack container trains.
But in other parts of Connecticut, freight still travels by rail on more than 500
miles of track, most of it owned by the state Department of Transportation and
leased to eight different private operators.
In western Connecticut we have the Housatonic, Pam Am Southern, Connecticut
Southern, the Naugatuck and Providence and Worcester Railroads, to name but a
These short line railroads already carry 3.8 million tons of freight annually in our
state, keeping 350,000 truck loads off our roads and reducing greenhouse
emissions by 75%. Diesel trains can carry up to 500 ton-miles per gallon. Trucks
manage about 130.
These freight railroads carry everything from chlorine-based disinfectants for
water treatment, food for our tables, huge electrical transformers and bulk
commodities. Their customers include such Connecticut businesses as Becton
Dickinson, Kimberly Clark, Home Depot.
There are even plans to turn an abandoned factory site in Naugatuck into an
inland port, receiving freight trains of goods to be offloaded onto trucks for local
Consider the mighty 19-mile-long Naugatuck Railroad. Founded in 1845, the line once ran from Winsted to Bridgeport, offering both passenger trains and freight
service. These days the line is much shorter, but they still hand-off long loads of
boxcars filled with construction debris bound for landfills in Ohio.
While marginally profitable, these freight railroads need help to continue, let
alone expand, their service to the state’s businesses if they are to meet federal
expectations of a 30% increase in rail freight traffic by 2040.
As their “landlord,” the state needs to invest in their infrastructure by rebuilding
bridges to carry heavier loads, lay new track, replace worn ties and improve
Eight years ago the state bonded $10 million to fund such repairs and the
railroads chipped in their own money, too. They had to, with $80 million of
needed work, most of which has gone unfinished.
Early in 2020, the Legislature approved an additional $10 million in investments,
but the Bond Commission has yet to approve the funding and issue the bonds.
When the Bond Commission met mid-April they found $467 million in total
funding for dozens of projects but the $10 million for freight rail wasn’t even on
The inestimable Ken Dixon asked the governor if his old “debt diet” was over and
the governor said no, that the new bonding was an “investment” in everything
from housing to economic development, thanks to interest rates being so low
Ten million dollars in state bonding is chump change. At their next meeting the
Bond Commission and the governor should get on with the job of investing in
Connecticut’s rail freight.
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for more than 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, sits on the Merritt Parkway Conservancy board and also serves on the Darien RTM and as program director for Darien TV79. The opinions expressed in this column, republished with permission of Hearst CT Media, are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.