Creating a short passing lane along Metro-North Railroad’s New Canaan branch line would double hourly train service to and from Stamford, a key step toward boosting the town’s desirability and quality of life, a resident told members of the Town Council last week.
With a relative decline in jobs in Stamford post-financial crisis, access to Manhattan “is more important than ever,” Giacomo Landi said during the legislative body’s regular meeting Wednesday.
“I encourage each and every one of you to reach out to our [state] senators, representatives and governor saying that this is a vital town priority,” Landi said during the meeting, held at Town Hall. “In terms of who pays, New Canaan already pays a good multiple of our population in state income tax, but I am sure some wheeling-and-dealing will need to be done.”
A New Canaan resident since last summer, Landi added: “I am new to town, I don’t have all the background on why we are where we are. But we are here. What I do know is if we do not improve the rail line to and from New Canaan, we will see a much slower-growing local economy and real estate values, continued driving from New Canaan to Norwalk, Darien and Stamford to take the train, and much more pressure than we have now on local spending priorities, due to a reduced Grand List and deteriorating demographics.”
His remarks came during a public comment section of the Town Council meeting. Landi referred at the outset to a more detailed, 26-page study of train service woes titled “Moving the New Canaan Branch Line Forward” that he had sent earlier this month to the Town Council and others.
The Town Council agreed to send a collective memo to New Canaan’s delegation to the state legislature urging that funding for a “side rail” be included in a transportation bill before the General Assembly during the short session just underway.
New Canaan resident James Basch, in addressing the Town Council, said that Landi’s concerns regarding the branch line potentially are “much more impactful for our real estate values” than spending efficiencies.
“The reason why it is so important that our representatives hear from you folks is because there is likely to be an 18-18 tie in the senate which will be broken by Lt. Gov. [Susan] Bysiewicz on the 2030 bill,” Basch said, referring to the transportation bill.
“Which means that each one of our senators has a lot of leverage over what gets included in that bill and there could be a lot of last-minute wheeling-and-dealing and changes,” he said. “So [State Sen.] Will Haskell has a huge amount of leverage. If he says that I will not vote for this bill unless it is contingent upon siding, which might cost $40 million-plus, there’s a good chance that it gets incorporated in the bill.”
“Let this be the principal ask from the community this legislative session,” Basch added.
Town Council Chair John Engel called for input from fellow councilmen and said he would draft a letter to New Canaan’s delegation to Hartford.
Councilman Tom Butterworth, citing information from the first selectman, said that there’s a wide cost difference between getting a side rail for two cars versus an entire train on the branch line.
Engel said all that needs to be included in the memo “is that New Canaan’s top transportation priority is the siding, which will include the number of trains coming in and out of New Canaan.”
Councilman Mark Grzymski added that improvements also would “speed up the line during rush hour, which is a problem.”
Butterworth said the memo should refer to “siding and any other time-saving initiatives on the branch line.”
Landi in his summary also called for an “upgrade to signals and switches into the New Canaan station” to avoid or minimize frequent delays, as well as ensuring that 5G service coverage includes the branch line, improving the overhead cover on the platform at Talmadge Hill and building a parking garage at the Lumberyard Lot in order to reduce the waitlist time for commuters.
Councilman Steve Karl said the elected body’s memo through Engel “does not preclude” individual notes from members.
“It’s one of the most important things we have,” Karl said. “Everybody who came tonight, thank you for speaking about that because it’s a huge, huge issue we have.”