‘Hamstrung by the schedule,’ commuter group gains momentum

Momentum seems to be building for a group of Waterbury Branch commuters, fed up with their seeming second-class status among their fellow rail-riders.

The group held what was supposed to be a small strategy session Monday night at the Derby train station, and organizer Jim Gildea said he was shocked at the turnout.

“There was no press release, no announcement, I sent out one tweet letting people know about it, and 30 people showed up,” he said.

The turnout was a mix of commuters and state and local officials, including state Sens. Joseph Crisco and Rob Kane, state Rep. Themis Klarides and Seymour Selectmen Len Greene and Nicole Klarides Ditria. Gildea said there would be more meetings farther up the line in Naugatuck toward the end of the summer.

Gildea said the main complaint from commuters is that the Waterbury Branch receives less attention and less care than any other section of Metro-North’s New Haven Line, a sentiment shared by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

“Commuters on the Waterbury line have expressed their frustration, and for good reason,” Malloy said last week. “The state of this line is quite frankly unacceptable. If we want to give residents a better alternative to driving, then we need to ensure that they get the service they expect when they ride the train.”

Malloy made the comments while introducing Mike Donnarumma as the district superintendent of the New Haven Line, with special attention to the Waterbury Branch.

“My goal is to provide the best service possible to the Waterbury Branch and to be a go-between to the customers and the railroad,” Donnarumma said.

Donnarumma has his work cut out for him, according to Greene.

“Last week, just to see what it was like, I rode the 7:03 from Seymour to Stamford,” Greene said.

The fare was a reasonable $6, and the train dropped him off in downtown Stamford, convenient to the city’s office buildings and shopping centers. But the riding experience was not exactly pleasant, starting before he even boarded.

The parking spots adjacent to the Seymour station are listed as two-hour parking, and therefore are not an option for commuters. A municipal lot across the street is listed as permit-only, but with no information on where to get a permit, he said.

“I ended up parking at Stop & Shop and running over the bridge and across the street,” Greene said.

Once at the station, Greene said he and about a dozen commuters waited on the ground-level platform, milling around and avoiding the shelter, which smelled strongly of urine.

On board, Greene said he found the train to be dirty and marginally air conditioned. The bathroom, which he briefly poked his head into, appeared not to have been cleaned in some time.

Kane said feedback he has heard from commuters mirrored Greene’s experience.

“It’s a lot of little things that add up,” Kane said.

For example, the stations on the Waterbury Branch lack ticket kiosks, meaning commuters must purchase tickets on the train, for cash only.

“Who carries cash nowadays?” Kane said.

But the largest problem, by a long margin, is the schedule, which hinders the ability of commuters to use the trains.

“They’re hamstrung by the schedule,” Kane said.

Gildea said he rides the 3:29 p.m. train from Fairfield, transferring to the Waterbury Branch in Bridgeport and arriving in Derby at 4:03. Riders coming back to the Valley from farther south must arrive in Bridgeport by 6 p.m., because if they miss the 6 p.m. to Waterbury, the next train isn’t until 8:32.

“If your boss needs you to stay an extra half hour, that can mean that you’re stuck on the platform in Bridgeport for 2-1/2 hours,” Greene said.