Bear with me, this is long. I'm with Dutch, I don't think this would or could be an Amtrak service. If it were to be an Amtrak route, it would have to be state supported/funded. As I've thought about this, I don't see Amtrak wanting to run it; they already run North-South from NYP-Albany and from NH-Hartford. Some other posters have thought so, too. Amtrak has not even been included in any of the official conversation to this point.
And the issue with anyone running the Danbury route, both north and south of there, is:
1. Slow, and not likely to get much faster, even with proposed improvements/max build option on the Danbury improvement study.
2. As Dutch has pointed out, Danbury and below is MNRR, and thus, ACRE territory. Now, I'm not sure if this proposed train were to be added to the Amtrak national timetable if ACRE restrictions would apply.
3. The segmentation of ownership and operating rights by freight/passenger. Right now, CDOT owns the line from SoNo to Danbury, and from New Milford to State Line. HRRC owns the middle; Danbury to New Milford. HRRC also owns Danbury to NY State Line and Danbury to Derby Jct. HRRC has the freight rights north of Danbury, west to NY (Beacon) and east to Derby; P&W south to SoNo. NY owns the Maybrook/Beacon ROW in its own boundaries; I'm unsure if they still retain any rights in the CT portion of the stretch between Dykemans and state line (i.e. do their rights only extend to the State LIne).
4. CDOT is studying expansion north of Danbury, and has also included Pittsfield in the next phase. They've been dithering over this for at least 10 years, and HVCEO has studied it previously.
5. HRRC would have to gain operating rights (if they're not already included in the current freight operating rights) for passengers north of New Milford. I'm guessing if they wanted to run passengers from New Milford to Danbury, they'd need only FRA approval. They'd have to find some accomodation to use Danbury station with MNRR, and approval from CDOT as well, both for Danbury station and north of New Milford.
6. HRRC, in an interesting aside in their press release, also noted they have operating rights over the Maybrook line to Brewster, NY. Maybe so, but I doubt MNRR would want anything on their ROW (ACRES again) in NY without cab signals, etc., especially passenger. What would they do, build a transfer platform where Dykemans/Towners used to be?
7. Travel times from NY will be horrendous, most if not all of the way in commuter type seating (3x2). I think the estimate at current service levels to Danbury, connections, etc. is something like four hours. Potential transfers include either Stamford or SoNo, and Danbury. And there'd be no luggage service; just the overhead racks.
8. If Amtrak were to run the service from NYP, the running times might be better. You'd have limited stops similar to the Regionals (New Rochelle and Stamford), and adding Danbury. But would this service run straight from Danbury to Pittsfield? I doubt an Amtrak-level train would stop in New Milford, Kent, etc.
9. Also, does Amtrak have servicing facilities in Pittsfield? You know, cleaning, maintenance, crew base, etc.?
10. I don't see HRRC being interested in Amtrak running on their ROW and introducing a third party they have to deal with outside of CDOT, and MNRR through CDOT. They're looking at getting capital investment in infrastructure, maybe rolling stock, and maintaining control of their exclusive territory.
Those are the issues as I understand them. There is going to be some serious wheeling and dealing for any type of passenger service north of Danbury, besides all the issues of upgrading the line, both north and south.
These issues aren't insurmountable, but there is just so much at play here. I would look at these solutions:
1. CDOT contracts Amtrak for SLE, and MNRR for east of New Haven and branch service. Now, as I've said, I don't think HRRC wants Amtrak up there. They contract the service with Amtrak since Amtrak owns the NEC east of New Haven. So they'll pursue a contract with HRRC, determine what upgrades are needed, and start the process. HRRC owns the middle of the Berkshire/Danbury line. Even if CDOT allows them to operate over the northern portion, I don't think they could or would arbitrarily terminate that agreement; it would be a taking from a presumably profitable business, disrupt service, etc. The two parties need each other.
2. I've always thought, and I think Ridgefielder is on to this, that service to Brewster from Danbury (almost like the old NYC Harlem "around the horn") would be useful, connecting Danbury to White Plains via rail. Even going back to 1997 when I last lived in Danbury that traffic from 84 to 684 was nuts. However, it's problematic, requiring reverse moves. The old connection to the Put is long gone. They'd have to find some type of area with adequate space to put in a horseshoe curve to run anything. This would have to be MNRR since it would require their track in NYS, but MNRR would need cooperation from HRRC.
3. There's really no solution to a two-seat ride without Amtrak. MNRR does not have that type of equipment, and I believe the cost to run an excursion service from GCT to Pittsfield would either be of no interest to MNRR, or no interest to HRRC. So you're stuck with two operators, most of it in commuter equipment.
4. I've always found the whole branch operation process problematic, outside of New Canaan. It's low ridership, there's not much of a market to GCT on either line (likely zero from Waterbury), and CDOT pays 100%. Waterbury is a shuttle only to Bridgeport, right? Does the GCT service to Danbury make stops before Stamford? Now, Dutch will retire before this ever happens, so he won't have to worry about his job
, but what if CDOT were to withdraw the branches from their operating agreement with MNRR, and give them over to another operator, i.e. HRRC? You could ditch any GCT service from Danbury; a transfer at Stamford or SoNo would suffice. Any mainline operation necessary could be run similar to the SLE service to Stamford; MNRR crews/pilots. Catch the express to Stamford, walk across to the excursion equipment. Or sell a joint ticket with Amtrak. Benefits? MNRR gets out of the branchline business. There are so many issues with cost right now between CDOT and MNRR. This reduces one of the issues. The market for the branches shouldn't be GCT or New York; it's Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, South Norwalk. As for Waterbury, that service could be a shuttle from a new Devon station.