NORWALK -- With the Walk Bridge slated for replacement, Metro-North Railroad soon will need some extra space in Norwalk to juggle its trains.
The Walk Bridge replacement will require the establishment of a two-track outage on Metro-North's main line to accommodate a significant portion of the construction work, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT).
To address the challenges, ConnDOT plans to undertake the Danbury Line Dock Yard Improvements project.
The $30 million project calls for rebuilding the Norwalk dockyard off Crescent Street, adding track sidings, improving signals and electrifying the southern end of the Danbury Branch Line of Metro-North Railroad.
The project area runs from near Marshall Street to Science Road near the Norwalk Transfer Station. On Thursday afternoon, a design team walked the site.
"The Dock Yard improvements will provide for increased operating flexibility where the Danbury Branch connects with the Main Line; improving service reliability within the area of South Norwalk," said Meredith Daniels, a spokeswoman for Metro-North Railroad. "The additional capacity is required to support the necessary replacement of the Walk Bridge and future improvements on the Line.
The improvements will allow for 10 train movements per 24-hour period from the outage area to the newly constructed dockyard and provide a new location for trains to "change ends" thus maintaining the existing "South Norwalk Turns," according to ConnDOT.
"Currently on the Danbury branch trains turn around on the Walk Bridge," said state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-25, of Norwalk. "Obviously, with the impending construction of the Walk Bridge there needs to be a way for the trains to turn around. Also, this will provide better functionality as well."
Long term, the Danbury Line Dock Yard Improvements project will provide additional electrified trackage and prevent Danbury Line service disruptions that currently take place when turning trains block the line. The current track and catenary configuration causes the trains to block the line when turning, resulting in delays.
"The project has a number of benefits for the operational improvements for both Danbury trains and mainline trains by having additional room to store, allowing the passing of trains on the Danbury line, and turn and start trains without blocking mainline tracks," according to a summary provided by ConnDOT.
At present, ConnDOT is working to assemble $30 million in funding to undertake the project.
ConnDOT has requested $12 million in Federal Transit Administration Pilot Program funds to supplement an $18 million match in state funds, according to Congressman Jim Himes, D-4, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-5, and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
The lawmakers recently wrote U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx, asking him to support Connecticut's request for $12 million in federal funds to help design, engineer and build the new dockyard in Norwalk.
"This project is critical to stage and construct the replacement of the 119-year-old Walk Bridge on the NHL in Norwalk, but will also provide long-term benefits of operational flexibility, on-time performance, and increased capacity on the New Haven Line (NHL) and at NHL's Danbury Branch," the lawmakers wrote. "This core capacity improvement project will add sidings and extend electrification on the southern end of Metro-North Railroad's Danbury Branch of the New Haven Line (NHL) in an area formally known as the 'Dock Yard' in Norwalk, Connecticut."
In July, the Connecticut Bond Commission approved $4 million in funding to design and build the dockyard.
ConnDOT hopes to complete design of the project by December and construction by August 2017.
Meanwhile, the state transportation department is also gearing up to replace the Walk Bridge. The bridge failed twice in spring 2014, disrupting traffic along the Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line and the Northeast Corridor used by Amtrak.
According to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office, designers are developing plans for replacement of the bridge and preparing the necessary permits. Construction of the new bridge, an estimated $500 million undertaking, is expected to begin in 2016 and finish in 2020.