How Branchville Got its Groove Back

How one little station stop with a bad reputation became the hero of the New Haven Line.


Fall brings to mind apple picking, pumpkin spice lattés, and, freak snowstorms aside, beautiful fall foliage.  Although the foliage this year is less breathtaking than usual (i.e., it sucks), New Englanders staunchly love their seasonal display of color, except perhaps the riders of Metro North.  That’s because fall marks the beginning of a season filled with service disruptions, disabled trains and rogue bus drivers apparently trying to qualify for the next Indy 500.  Who’s to blame for this, you ask?  SURVEY SAYS!...Branchville!    Branchwho, you ask?  That tiny little section of Ridgefield, in between Redding and Wilton.  Seasoned riders scrunch their noses at the mere thought of it, while its announcement over the train’s intercom induces one’s upper lip to curl into an involuntary snarl.  Welcome to fall on the New Haven Line.  

A peculiar phenomenon occurs when the leaves drop on the railroad tracks.  Allow me to get a little scientific (i.e., you might feel a slight prick).  Accelerated by moisture, as the leaves decompose on the tracks, the oil within the leaves interacts with the steel and causes a chemical reaction.  The result is a greasy, black substance (i.e., the Evil Slime) which coats the rails making them extremely slippery.  It's the same substance that doctors found oozing from Bernie Madoff’s heart during a routine physical several years ago (i.e., hence, the term Evil Slime).

However, the heart of the problem for Metro North riders is the slight hill just after the Branchville station stop.  The Evil Slime makes it difficult, if not impossible, for trains to get enough traction and speed to get over it.  So every fall, passengers depart the train at Branchville amid the scowls and dirty looks of those remaining who are either (a) crossing their fingers, (b) sleeping or passed out, or (c) trying to think up jokes that end in “…they were from Branchville, that’s why!”, all praying that the train makes it up the hill. 

If it can’t, which is often the case during the Season of the Slime, these passengers are usually stuck waiting for hours until help in the form of MTA buses arrives (i.e., Buses from Hell).  You must be taller than 48 inches to ride these white knuckle roller coasters through the back roads of Redding.   Trust me when I suggest that you avoid them at all costs.  If you must take the bus, pop some Dramamine and understand that you are about to board the bus from the movie Speed except this time there’s no Keanu in a tight, white t-shirt to save you (i.e., it'll be worse than a SyFy Channel movie and way worse than one of those Netflix movies at the very bottom).   

The situation was getting dire.  The MTA even briefly considered slowing trains just enough for Branchville commuters to “tuck and roll” off the train and onto the platform until finally, someone came up with a bright idea (i.e., Dave in the MTA’s Accounting Dept.).  Shrugging his shoulders, Dave suggested that the trains not stop at Branchville.   Why not have the Branchville commuters get off at the stop just before their own and then bus them back to the Branchville station?  At full speed, the Evil Slime wouldn't hinder trains from getting over the hill.  Dave was immediately promoted.  Conductors applauded.  Commuters cheered.  Bus drivers grinned malevolently and Branchville commuters were…actually OK with the idea.  Maybe they didn’t want to be the butt of bad jokes anymore.  Maybe they saw how close the “tuck and roll” came to be being passed or perhaps they didn’t see how a 10 minute ride on an MTA bus could possibly be so bad (i.e., it is).  Whatever it was, they all but embraced this work-around solution. 

Now, Branchville’s back, baby, and more popular than ever (i.e., so is Dave in Accounting – total stud now).  No more scowls, lip curling or bad jokes – commuters actually smile at the Branchville folks.   It’s like one big, happy train family.  Well, not quite but you get the drift.  So, join me and raise your glasses in honor of our train heroes, the Branchvillians, and the sacrifice they make nearly every day for the rest of the New Haven Line. 

Now, would you all please try to think of some better jokes?   You're killing me here.  How about the one about the rabbi, the priest and a guy from Wilton who walk into a bar?

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Ken MacCallum November 26, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Trains have been able to stop at Branchville and contine up the hill to Redding since the line was opened in the 1850s, It is only the General Electric "Genesis" engines that were introduced about 8 years ago, repacing the 1950s FL9 engines, that have the "slip-slide' problem because of their computerized systems. GE and whover at Metro North decided to purchase these ill-suited locomotives have really "helped bring good tings to life" for Dambury Branch commuters, making each fall very unpredictable. It also results in what must be a very lage expense to CDOT to have 2 busses sitting at Cannondale for over two months each fall.
Bob Rogers January 11, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Thanks Tara for the most enjoyable article..... I loved the humor and too enjoyed the extra excitement of watching travelers marching from the Cannondale stop to the dreaded bus..... but really picking on SyFy movies? Come on, Debbie Gibson battling Tiffany AND giant gators and snakes (or was it a croc?). Maybe a retraction?


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