The new, decades-in-the-making CTrail Hartford Line has won mostly rave reviews from legislators and commuters alike. But what — if anything — will its impact be on Fairfield County?
The passenger rail line — which launched on June 16 and is the first to open for service in the state since 1990 — has multiple stations in central Connecticut along the Interstate 91 corridor connecting New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, Massachusetts. Although there are no Fairfield County stations on the line, its connections include the New Canaan and Danbury lines.
Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy and programs at the Business Council of Fairfield County — and a longtime proponent of improving the state’s rail system and highways — said he believes that county towns with easy access to the new line will benefit. In addition to connections on the aforementioned lines, passengers arriving in New Haven can cross a platform for Metro-North connections to Shore Line East, Stamford or New York City or, in reverse, to trains headed to Hartford and Springfield.
“The line itself, which runs from New Haven to Springfield, should have a very positive effect on home values and economic development over time,” he said. “And it opens the center of the state to working in New Haven and Stamford, allowing people to get to those places in ways they couldn’t before. A train trip is so much more reliable than a highway trip.”
Improved access to places such as Stamford and Bridgeport should help employers there, McGee added. “It’s going to take time,” he said, “but places that were too far to drive to for work in the past will no longer be so.”
As for the Hartford Line’s impact on the county’s housing market, “I don’t see that, at least in the short term.”
April Kaynor, a New Canaan-based Realtor with William Raveis, took a different view.
“Anything that reduces traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway will help real estate values,” she said. “That will give more access for consumers to businesses here — to be able to get to work and to other businesses will of course help the real estate market.
“One of the main things prospective homebuyers look for is convenience,” Kaynor said. “Having optionality in how to get to where you’re going is very important.”
She said she expects the real estate trend toward city centers, and their train stations, to continue.
“When we moved to New Canaan in 2003, people in general wanted more land,” she said. “The hip thing to do was to buy a lot of acreage.”
Since then, Kaynor said, “I’ve watched it steadily move closer to town, where some house values are about $200,000 more than they are for comparable places where you can’t walk, ride or bike to town as easily.”
Not everyone is so optimistic.
“I’m hesitant to say that a single factor like the Hartford Line will increase property values in Fairfield County,” said Caroline Vary, managing director of asset management and director of Jonathan Rose Cos.’ Connecticut office. “There are too many other outside factors involved, including the tax code changes and the anticipated increases to interest rates that can depress values.”
Still, she said, “If the train line can reduce some roadway traffic, that could help businesses in Fairfield County. Right now it’s easier for me to drive from Stamford to Newark than it is to get to Hartford, which is really unfortunate.”
Pete Gioia, economist with the Hartford-based Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he had yet to study the potential economic impact of the Hartford Line in depth, but noted: “I travel down in (the Fairfield County) area a lot, and it’s just awful — the traffic is miserable. Any rail enhancements are going to help.”
McGee said he remains hopeful that the seemingly immediate popularity of the new line will “build a constituency for transit, and political support for transit will grow.”
The politicians are sounding positive so far. Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Transportation announced that ridership on the passenger rail service exceeded 10,719 customers during its first full week of regular operations from June 18-24, when full-fare tickets were required.
The $768 million service was free for all riders on the first two days of operation. Malloy said ridership totaled 21,850 over those two days.
“This project will improve lives, ease congestion, reduce pollution, and enhance our overall quality of life,” the governor said. “New transit-oriented development is already well underway along the line and we expect hundreds of thousands of passenger trips each year with healthy growth going forward.”
“Finally having regular train service between Hartford and New Haven is a big deal,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who voted for $191 million in federal funding to help construct the line.
“If we want to grow jobs and attract young people to our state, we need to invest in smart public transportation.”