The commuter train derailment and collision on the Metro-North rail line in Bridgeport on May 17 has cast a spotlight on the need for major rail infrastructure improvements in Connecticut and across the country.

We are pleased Connecticut's two U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, have taken a leading role in urging such improvements be made a top national priority.

As the train accident three weeks ago highlighted, there is a great need to enhance safety and efficiency in our nation's railway system.

We are pleased, too, the long-overdue, much-needed restoration of passenger rail service from Danbury to New Milford and points north -- a project also supported by Blumenthal and Murphy -- has been moved toward the front burner in some important quarters.

Passenger rail service used to be provided from Danbury to Pittsfield, Mass. -- a roughly 90-mile stretch -- but was halted in 1971. Today, only freight trains run the rails between those two cities, under the auspices of the Housatonic Railroad.

There have long been calls for resumption of passenger service along that line, and lobbying efforts have been made over the years by public officials and community groups like the New Milford-based Rail Service Restoration Society.

As a result, restoration of passenger rail service in Western Connecticut has been on the state's radar screen for a long time now, and the Housatonic Railroad, owned by John Hanlon, has been working hard to develop a public/private partnership to replace the ancient tracks along the line and buy refurbished rail cars.

In Connecticut, the combination of the state's budget woes and its penchant for devoting a lion's share of transportation dollars to the Hartford-New Haven corridor and southern Connecticut have prevented the project from gaining much momentum.

In an ironic twist, the needed momentum may be provided from out of state.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick -- who owns a weekend retreat in the tiny town of Richmond, just outside Pittsfield -- has targeted substantial funding for the Housatonic rail line in his state and, if all goes well, there could be brand new, faster tracks in place along the 37 miles from the Connecticut state line to Pittsfield within a few years.

Meanwhile, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is trying to determine the best sites for passenger rail stations along the line, as well as exploring how to create tie-ins to host towns and maximize economic development in Berkshire County.

And closer to home, the Northwest Connecticut Council of Governments has applied for a $15 million federal grant that would make it possible to put down new tracks in Kent, Cornwall and Canaan.

If those monies come through, that project could help jump-start additional funding for improvements on the rest of the line between Danbury and Massachusetts.

We strongly support the restoration of passenger rail service between Danbury and Pittsfield.

Locally, such service would deliver major economic benefits to Brookfield (as it revitalizes its Four Corners business district), New Milford (as it continues to develop its gem of a village center) and Kent (already a strong tourist destination) as train riders from New York City and other municipalities from the south come to town and spend money.

Those benefits would also be realized in the other communities up the line.

There are a number of other benefits, too, to restored passenger rail service -- reduced highway traffic, reduced pollution, ease of transportation for commuters and college students, and the list goes on.

We applaud the past efforts of Blumenthal, Murphy and other elected officials, as well as residents, to move this project to the point where there is -- pardon the expression -- light at the end of the tunnel.

But there is still a long, long way to go, and we urge public officials and private citizens alike to do all they can until the restoration of passenger rail service from Danbury to Pittsfield is once again a reality.