Metro-North last year set a record for ridership on the New Haven Line to New York City, but three branch lines — New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury — are falling behind.

The number of passengers on the Danbury line dropped 2.4 percent last year compared to 2015, riders on the New Canaan line dropped 1.1 percent and Waterbury decreased 3 percent, figures provided by Metro-North and state officials show.

By comparison, the New Haven Line last year carried 40.5 million passengers — a 20,000 rider increase and the most ever in Metro-North history.

The shrinking branch line ridership on Tuesday drew the attention of Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.

More Information

Riders on Metro-North’s branch lines

Branch

 

2015

 

2016

 

NEW CANAAN

1,551,410

1,533,598

% Chg Prior Year

-1.7%

1.1%

DANBURY

802,017

782,796

% Chg Prior Year

9.3%

2.4%

WATERBURY

353,450

342,908

% Chg Prior Year

0.1%

3%

Here is the number of riders on Metro-North’s New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branch lines:

YEAR

 

2015

2016

       

NEW CANAAN BRANCH

 

1,551,410

1,533,598

% Chg Prior Year

   

-1.1%

       

DANBURY BRANCH

 

802,017

782,796

% Chg Prior Year

   

-2.4%

       

WATERBURY BRANCH

 

343,450

342,908

% Chg Prior Year

   

-3%

       

All three wrote a letter to Metro-North demanding answers.

“We write today to convey our deep concern about this trend, particularly because of its cause — poor service,” the federal lawmakers said. “Riders are frustrated, and they want better service. Better service will increase ridership, which will increase investment, creating a virtuous cycle benefiting commut ers of all stripes.”

Previously published reports said ridership decreased on all three lines, but figures provided by Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation on Tuesday contradicted those claims and showed ridership on only two of the lines had decreased — and the declines were by a smaller margin than previously reported.

“The figures that (the state) DOT has are the very latest and we support them,” a Metro-North spokesman said. Representatives for Metro-North and the state DOT declined comment on complaints from lawmakers and others.

Metro-North carried more than 2 million riders on all three branches last year, with the New Canaan line, which is electrified and more modern, delivering 1.4 million of those trips. The other two lines operate diesel powered trains.

Antiquated trains

Jim Gildea, a Derby resident and president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said service problems and a lack of investment in new trains for the branch lines is impacting ridership.

“While the (state) has invested heavily in new M8 cars for the New Haven Line commuter, they have done nothing to improve the day to day train riding experience for Danbury and Waterbury branch commuters,” Gildea said. “Those commuters are forced to ride antiquated cars that on the best of days struggle with working heat and air conditioning, and on the worst of days struggle with working restrooms and odors.”

State lawmakers have introduced bills to electrify the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines, and add an additional line to New Milford, but those bills have so far failed to pass the General Assembly.

Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, said the Waterbury line has long suffered from break downs and a spotty schedule.

“The Waterbury line is the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ of Metro-North ... ‘it don't get no respect,’ ” Cameron said. “There are constant equipment breakdowns making an already spotty schedule undependable and unattractive. The train sets are old and often go without cleaning between runs.”

Cameron said huge gaps in the timetable and frequent busing means many riders choose to drive Route 8 to Bridgeport to catch a train. “Gas is cheap; lost time because of delays isn’t,” he said.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, and co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s transportation committee, said part of the decline is because of population losses along the branch lines.

“In many towns the homes on the market is the highest it’s ever been,” Boucher said. “It’s a serious problem. People are choosing to move out because we no longer have the lowest taxes.”