Metro-North Identifies Signal Problems Slowing Trains On Danbury Branch

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Service expanded along the Danbury Branch due to new signals and crossings but is now slowed due to problems with those new signals. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa, File Photo
A train hit a car at the rail crossing at Shelter Rock Road in Danbury last month. The accident was not due to gate crossing problems. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa, File Photo
Gate crossings were installed near the West Redding train station after a double fatal accident more than a year ago. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith, File Photo

DANBURY, Conn. -- A nearly $70 million signal project designed to improve train service on Metro-North's Danbury Branch seems to be having the opposite effect as a result of malfunctioning gate crossings.

Train service was expanded in November after the signal system project was completed along the Danbury Branch, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Metro-North said.

But a problem has been identified with the newly installed computerized train detection system that controls the grade crossings, Metro-North said in a statement.

"The mechanism that controls the opening and closing of a gate crossing sometimes activates with no trains approaching, despite the fact that this system was comprehensively tested at each crossing prior to being activated along the right-of-way," Metro-North said.

"We are working on finding a permanent fix. Until a solution is found, we have modified the system’s operation and are operating trains with a 'Stop and Warn' requirement to ensure continued safe train movements," the commuter railroad said. "This procedure requires all trains to come to a complete stop before entering the affected crossing and to determine if the crossing protection is activated."

The procedure is slowing travel and angering commuters. Last week, Danbury branch commuter Laura DiMugno ‏@KeepItGreenLD Tweeted: "Can we press @metronorth 2 fix signal issues? Now 11 sigs are out."

The procedure is slow but safer for train riders and vehicular traffic, Metro-North said.

"In the event the crossing does not activate, the conductor will climb down from the train and stop traffic so the train can proceed very slowly through the crossing," Metro-North said. "The conductor then climbs back aboard and the train proceeds." 

The manufacturer is working to resolve the issue, the railroad said. Metro-North has also dispatched a team to coordinate the effort with Alstom, designer of the signal system, and Siemens, manufacturer of the timing device.

The Danbury Branch had just expanded as the result of the project upgrade and construction of several portions of parallel track, or sidings. That work allows more than one train to operate along the corridor at a time. In November, it added three new roundtrips between Danbury and South Norwalk, bringing the total number of weekday trains to 28. A total of 12 trips run on weekends. 

The trains, pulled or pushed by diesel engines make many grade crossings along its 23.9-mile route. Danbury branch trains stops are at Danbury, Bethel, West Redding, Branchville, Cannondale, Wilton, Merritt 7 and South Norwalk.

Gates were installed last year at Long Ridge Road near the West Redding station after two people were killed when their car was struck by a train. 

Showing the potential danger of the grade crossings, last month, a train hit a car at the Shelter Rock Road crossing in Danbury. No one was injured.

Also, in December, a tragedy was averted when a Metro-North train stopped within 10 feet of a school bus with about 40 children on board that had stalled and was sitting on the tracks on Broad Street between Main Avenue and Silvermine Avenue in Norwalk. 

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