WALLINGFORD — The state Department of Transportation has begun running “test trains” in preparation of the new Hartford Line rail service, scheduled to begin Saturday.
Test runs of the full Hartford Line schedule, including 16 weekday trips, began this past weekend. The runs have been going well, said John Bernick, the project manager and assistant rail administer for DOT.
“We’ve been checking the runs periodically as the engineers make them, and everything seems to be working out really well,” Bernick said. The test trains are not open to passengers.
The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is using both Amtrak and CTrail trains. On Saturday, Amtrak increased its service on the line, boosting the daily train trips from 12 to 18. When CTrail officially launches on June 16, the number of daily weekday trips will increase to 34.
Given the increase in rail traffic, DOT is reminding residents to “obey the law at rail crossings,” DOT Commissioner James Redeker said in a statement.
“People may not always remember that trains cannot stop quickly,” Redeker said. “In fact, it can take a mile for a train to come to a complete stop. Drivers should never attempt to drive under or around a closing or closed gate at a street-level rail crossing.”
Wallingford has seven grade crossings, more than any other municipality along the line. Meriden has the second most, with six. The state included several safety features in designing the new commuter line, including installing “quad gates,” which fully block traffic in both directions, to prevent drivers from crossing tracks when a training is passing.
There was a total of 36 incidents at rail crossings in Connecticut from January 2009 to March 2018, according to statistics provided by the Federal Railroad Administration. Those incidents caused four fatalities and 23 injuries.
Bernick said last year that he doesn’t believe the increased rail traffic will have a large impact on traffic in town.
On Monday, Bernick said “we don’t have to guess anymore” about the rail line’s impact on traffic because the new full train schedules for Amtrak and CTrail began running Saturday. Bernick said he hasn’t heard any complaints or concerns from residents so far. Drivers’ wait time at a rail crossing could range from 20 seconds to about two minutes depending on the crossing.
State officials will hold a ceremony in Hartford on Friday for the launch of the rail line. The public will be able to ride CTrail trains for free on Saturday and Sunday as part of the launch. Bernick said DOT staff will be on hand at stations along the line this weekend to answer questions.
DOT launched a website earlier this year, hartfordline.com, where the public can buy tickets or get information about the rail line.