Danbury Branch Line Shuttle Feasibility Study

This study is a continuation of the Route 7 Corridor Travel Options Implementation Plan. The study was completed in 2001 for HVCEO by HART. This study looks at the potential for shuttles to rail stations and employer vanpools/shuttles from stations to worksites. Traditional bus shuttle services are not recommended due to the low density of passengers in the region. Alternatively, subscription shuttle services are recommended for curb-to-curb service. HART and MetroPool put together a short list of employment clusters in the region. The study also looks into the feasibility of electric station cars, similar to a demonstration program instituted by the New York Power Authority and Ford Motor Company in Westchester and Putnam Counties, New York.

The overall goals of the study are to:

 
  • evaluate each station for bus feeder service feasibility
  • develop tentative service structures
  • identify potential for employer-based van/shuttle services to support reverse commutes


Transportation to and from New York is very important to Connecticut and study area residents. In the town of Sherman alone, 47% of residents work in New York City or Westchester County. The Route 7 corridor through the Housatonic region suffers from insufficient capacity based on this demand. Connecticut was deemed to be in danger of losing economic opportunities because of inadequate transportation infrastructure.

Rider Survey

A survey of current morning peak period rail riders was completed in September 2000 as part of this study. The survey found that most people walk to their places of employment after deboarding at Grand Central Station. The percentage of respondents interested in shuttle services varied greatly by station – from 2% in favor in Branchville to 30% in favor in Danbury. In a telephone survey of Route 7 corridor residents completed by VHB and the Center for Research and Policy, 22% of respondents were in favor of shuttle service. The current rider survey also quantified the preference of Harlem Line stations over Danbury line stations. The highest percentage of respondents (32%) prefer the Harlem Line Stations, 22% use the Branchville Station, 20% prefer each the Danbury Station and the Bethel Station, and finally, 6% use the West Redding Station.

Current Rail, Bus, and Shuttle Service

Metro-North currently operates 10 trips per day between Danbury and Grand Central Station, 3 of which are peak period through trains. On weekends and holidays, 6 trips are provided between Danbury and South Norwalk, where passengers can pick up trains to New York City. HART currently serves the Bethel Station and the proposed Brookfield and New Milford Stations. Even with service expansion, it would be difficult to extend bus service to the Danbury Station. The timing between rail arrivals and departures and bus arrivals and departures would remain poor.

HART also operates the Brewster Shuttle, which takes Connecticut residents from Danbury to the Harlem Line, connecting to the Brewster, NY Rail Station. The shuttle provides a timed transfer between morning rail departures and afternoon arrivals in Brewster. The shuttle is operated pursuant to a contract with New York State DOT in cooperation with Connecticut DOT. The shuttle ridership averages 120 trips per day. In 2000, total Metro-North boardings per weekday were 1,294 at the Brewster Station. Metro-North instituted a ‘guaranteed ride home’ program for Brewster passengers in 2000. The program allows Uniticket passengers two free taxi rides per month if they miss the last Brewster shuttle. Metro-North Unitickets are valid fare media on HART, and HART has a reciprocal transfer with Putnam Area Transit (PART) in New York.

No employer-based vanpools currently exist from Danbury Branch Line Stations to worksites in the region. At the time of the study, a program was expected to be implemented soon for News America in Wilton. The shuttle, operated by Norwalk Transit District (NTD), was supposed to run between the South Norwalk and Merritt 7 Stations and the worksite. The June 2001 implementation was supposed to allow for the shuttle to meet 6 trains and operate between 8:10 AM and 9:30 AM and between 5:05 PM and 6:11 PM.

Recommended Enhancements by Station

Bus shuttle services are generally not recommended, based on low passenger density and the lack of potential ridership. Thus, subscription bus shuttle services are recommended. The subscription service would be operated like Dial-A-Ride service and would take passengers from home curb to train station curb. If demand became high enough, passengers could meet at a centrally located church or municipal lot to catch the shuttle. Passengers will pay a pre-determined subscription fare on a monthly basis. The other station connectivity option is the electric station car program. Electric cars would not be owned by users, but would be provided to subscribers or leased. Station cars would be driven to the train station from a user’s home, and then the car would be parked and charged at the station. Next, the car would be picked up by a different user and passenger and driven to a worksite and used during the day for work-related travel. The electric cars have zero emissions, allow for more compact parking, but only have a 2-passenger capacity.

Branchville

The Branchville Station is a good candidate for subscription shuttle services because of current parking shortages and interest in shuttles. The subscription shuttle should also have a designated stop near routes 33 and 35 in Ridgefield. Major employers with potential for vanpools are ASML and Norco.

West Redding

West Redding riders are very supportive of a subscription-based shuttle service, but the numbers do not support fixed-route shuttle service. Parking is currently under capacity, so there is less active demand. Electric station cars are recommended to be tested at the station and could preclude the need to expand parking. Major employers with potential for vanpools are Lee Farm Corporate Park, Barden Corporation, BF Goodrich, and Apple Ridge Rd. Office Park. The Danbury Fair Mall is also located in the area, but the types of jobs and variability of shifts do not make it a good candidate for a vanpool from rail stations situation.

Bethel

A subscription shuttle to the Bethel Station with 1 or 2 stops in Newton could be warranted after the implementation of Phase 2 of the Route 7 Corridor Travel Options Implementation Plan. Projections show a shortage in parking with the anticipated ridership increases, so a shift from automobile to shuttle will be necessary. Electric station cars should be initiated during Phase 2 of the Implementation Plan in anticipation of increased parking demand. Potential employers who may be interested in vanpools are located on the Danbury/Bethel line and include the Shelter Rock/Great Pasture Rd. and Francis Clarke Industrial Park areas. Other employers include Eaton Corporation, Fuel Cell Energy and Cannondale.

Danbury

The current rider survey showed strong support for a rail shuttle at the Danbury Station. A HART Danbury Pulse Point Connector could fulfill the need for a shuttle. The Pulse Point and the Station are less than a mile apart, so the shuttle could be operated on a subscription/fixed route basis. Currently, there is abundant parking at the Danbury Station, so electric station cars should only be considered when parking becomes in short supply. Commerce Park, Sealed Air and Branson Ultrasonics are potential employers for vanpool services.

Danbury North (proposed)

Ridership at Danbury North is not expected to be sufficient to warrant a feeder shuttle. The Station has easy access from I-84, so it is possible that it will attract more Newton and Southbury passengers. Potentially, a shuttle from the park and ride lots at exits 10 and 11 off I-84 would be useful if the ridership base grew enough. Electric station cars could also become important because parking space is somewhat constrained. n The Berkshire Corporate Park has the potential for an employer vanpool.

Brookfield (proposed)

The potential Brookfield Station already has HART bus service, so no shuttle services are warranted. Electric station cars could be used to enhance parking capacity. Industrial parks on Silvermine and Pocono Roads as well as UPS and Dade Behring could be potential vanpool employers, but the success of the vanpool program to these employers is not likely to be high.

New Milford (proposed)

The proposed New Milford Station also already has HART service. Electric station cars are recommended. Kimberly Clark is the largest employer in the area, but it already has HART service, so it is unlikely that vanpool service would be necessary.

Study Sections
 

Route 7 Corridor Travel Options Implementation Plan
Danbury Branch Line Shuttle Feasibility Study
Rail Transit Development Program
Danbury Branch Line Service Study
The Untapped Market for Rail Passenger Service
Action Plan for Restoring Passenger Rail Service to New Milford
Congestion Mitigation Systems Plan “Vision 2020”