Riding the Maybrook

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There has been lots of talk, and a lone dissenting voice, over the future of the Maybrook line in Connecticut. The line west of Danbury is currently out of service. MetroNorth has petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to abandon the portion in New York State, which hasn’t been used in a decade. The current lessee of the freight rights, Housatonic Railroad, strongly disagrees.

Former Mayor Mark Boughton has proposed reopening the line to provide more direct service to Manhattan. Dissent emanates from transportation advocate and gadfly James Cameron, who was formerly the head of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. Ironic, isn’t it?

Cameron’s main argument stems from the fact that it would be very expensive to rehabilitate the line with very little benefit. Most disagree, including myself. He thinks the money would be better spent elsewhere, and he’s probably right.

What would it cost to rehabilitate the line? A study by neighboring Putnam County estimates the cost to be $816,928,000 fully electrified, which is not necessary. Using diesel multiple units the cost is significantly lower, at $443,386,000, in 2021 dollars. I believe that cost is way too high to rebuild a line that’s only about 10 miles in length. We’re not talking about the Busway Boondoggle, which wasted a perfectly good railway. Nor are we talking about the Second Avenue Subway, which is the most expensive subway in history and has only completed Phase I.

First, let’s consider the objective, to get to New York City faster. Does it? The express takes about 1 hour and 28 minutes from Southeast to Grand Central. It runs local to Chappaqua, then stops at White Plains, and then Grand Central. Factor in driving from Danbury to Southeast, or farther up the line from Brookfield or New Milford, and it’s over two hours to Manhattan.

The alternative from the Danbury line? That takes 2 hours and 8 minutes, not including getting to the station. Clearly not preferable, but not better than the Harlem Line. So what’s the point you may ask. Certainly not worth the cost, right?

Let’s consider again the objective. The objective is a bridge too far. Some but not many people may be going to New York City. Their most likely destination is White Plains. Ask anyone who drives I84 to Southeast to catch the train. It’s backed up to Route 7. The worst part is getting on the ramp to 684.

Now, let’s talk about the cost. This is full build, all the bells and whistles. What do we need, and what don’t we need?

  • Electrification is very costly, as are the trainsets required. You would also have to electrify the Danbury Branch, which was recommended but not pursued.
  • Double-tracking. A passing track would be necessary, but since a trail has been built alongside the track in New York, it’s no longer possible.
  • A full rebuild is absolutely needed. The rail is in bad shape, as are the ties.
  • The proposal estimates that the bridge over the Croton Reservoir needs to be replaced. Rehab would likely be sufficient.
  • A new platform at Danbury would not be required; there is a loop track that could turn the trains west. Also recommended is an additional track and platform at Southeast, which is not needed.
  • An extension to New Milford over Housatonic Railroad. The “Housy” would likely demand double tracking, and extensive rehabilitation.

Even without these items, it will probably still cost $400m. So should it be done? Ask those on 84!