The spotlight was on passenger train service.

The May 4 event was a state Public Transportation Commission public hearing on rail service to the Housatonic River valley.

A turnout of about 50 area residents met in New Milford Town Hall to share thoughts and concerns on public transportation options in the Greater Danbury and New Milford areas.

Six members of the CPTC and one representative of the state Department of Transportation were present to hear testimony.

The New Milford public hearing was the first of eight to be held throughout the state on how public transportation is working in the state and how it could be improved.

Tom Esposito, a member of the New Milford Town Council and the Economic Development Commission, urged the CPTC to act soon, bringing a return of passenger rail service soon.

"A survey run in forming the (town's) recent Plan of Conservation and Development had over 91 percent of respondents strongly supporting or supporting the return of passenger rail service," Mr. Esposito said.

HART bus service was also discussed, as well as the need for future state-provided charging stations for electric vehicles, and support given for improvements to Route 37 from the Route 7 intersection in New Milford.

Yet passenger rail service was the central topic of discussion.

Housatonic Railroad representatives John Hanlon and Colin Pease presented an overview of their research and plans for revamping the line from Springfield, Mass., through New Milford to Danbury and to Southeast N.Y.

They see New Milford as the central "hub" for a passenger service line, with changes of car style there to double-decker cars going north to Springfield.

Comparable commuter cars to those traveling from Southeast, N.Y. to Grand Central Station would depart from New Milford, traveling south.

"For long-distance travelers riding along the Housatonic River, double-decker cars would be desirable," Mr. Pease said, "and capacity is always an issue as you get closer to Grand Central Station."

A comparative benefits analysis will be released soon, Mr. Pease said, that would produce more data on the proposed line.

"There are 22 million people in (the) New York City (area) who make this feasible," Mr. Pease said. "We have heard from successful New York business people who are interested in creating satellite offices in Connecticut. The growth potential is quite raw."

Mr. Pease added amenities like WiFi service in passenger cars would be included so commuters are "essentially in the office as soon as they are on the train."

"This would be one of the single greatest economic spur for the valley from western Connecticut to Massachusetts," opined Mr. Esposito, "if you get this off the ground."

Bridgewater resident Michael Chelminski told of numerous times over the last winter when he was unable to make appointments in midtown New York because I-84 west was "completely blocked" and he couldn't get to the train in Southeast.

New Milford resident Gail Kaufman spoke of her husband's long commute to a job in New York City, as well as her son's commute to college there.

Both would be improved if they did not have to drive to Southeast and could just ride the train from New Milford all the way into the city, she said.

"It's worrisome driving with the traffic and bad weather conditions when they're tired at the end of a day," said Ms. Kaufman.

"With the economy now, it's so hard to find work," she added. "It would be advantageous to open commuter service to the city where there is a job market."

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Recommendations can be submitted to the CPTC by mail to Dennis J. King, CPTC liaison, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546.

"This would be one of the single greatest economic spur for the valley from western Connecticut to Massachusetts, if you get this off the ground."

Tom Esposito

New Milford town councilman