Easy Come, Easy Go

B y 7:15 a.m., most of the nearly 650 parking spaces at the West Haven Metro-North Railroad (MNR) station are filled. Only about 20 people stand on the Grand Central-bound platform as the 7:24 train rolls up, but that’s because its cars won’t reach NYC until after 9:00, meaning the morning’s commuter rush has already happened.

“Rush” is a relative term for this Metro-North-only stop, whose foot traffic doesn’t match that of the busier New Haven Union Station, where Amtrak, Metro-North and Shore Line East converge. Yet, for West Haveners tired of dealing with the hassles of getting to New Haven or Milford just to catch a train somewhere else, the new station is long-overdue. Karen, a local resident boarding the 7:24 to her job in Stamford, lives less than a mile away and doesn’t miss driving on I-95 to Milford. “I used to pay almost $300 a year to park there. Now I can walk here in about 20 minutes.”

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That possibility became a reality on August 19, 2013, when the station officially began filling the ten-mile gap between Milford and New Haven Union. Plans to build a new MNR stop in either Orange or West Haven go back to the 1990s and, although West Haven was selected as the site in late 2001, the new location here does not necessarily preclude a future stop in Orange, should demand warrant one. The West Haven station is intended to ease traffic on 95 and provide easier connections to the VA Hospital, the University of New Haven and the Yale West campus that sits a little over two miles away.

The new station and transit hub (the CTTransit B4, B5, B6 and J6 bus lines stop here) is indeed modern. With the exception of Fairfield Metro four stops west, which opened in 2011, the West Haven station is, astoundingly, the only New Haven Line stop constructed within the last hundred years. Most existing MNR stations are unstaffed and, consequently, lack the amenities found in larger stations, yet, like New Haven’s Union Station, West Haven boasts restrooms, water fountains, elevators and a large indoor waiting area, plus a nifty touchscreen train schedule.

Granted, it has no newsstand, nor does it have any restaurants or gift shops, and the ticket window itself is unstaffed. But the waiting room, which realtors would happily call “sun-drenched,” is a showpiece with interesting contours and plentiful windows. (For its work on the project, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., the engineering company that led the station’s planning and construction, won a National Recognition Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies.) The waiting area is also open to the public seven days a week, a rarity among Metro-North stations in Connecticut.

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The brick-and-glass, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant building comprises two two-story buildings connected by a second-floor pedestrian walkway. The main entrance and waiting area are on the Manhattan-bound side of the tracks; the New Haven-bound platform features an adjacent smaller parking lot. (An additional parking garage was part of the original plans, but was scrapped several years ago in the face of budget constraints.) Daily parking is less expensive at West Haven than New Haven; the Union Station garage charges $2 per hour, while the 100-or-so metered spaces at West Haven are $6 for any part of a weekday and, as in most MNR lots, are free on weekends and holidays.

Susan, a Westville retiree who travels to New York roughly once a month, appreciates the new option. For her, “Parking at New Haven is too expensive for the day, and I could never get to Milford early enough to get a non-permit parking spot. Here, even on a weekday after ten, I’ve never had difficulty finding a spot.”

As a young station charged with training some of us to think differently about getting around, it’s chugging along quite nicely so far.

West Haven Commuter Rail Station
20 Railroad Avenue (at Saw Mill Road), West Haven (map)
Metro-North station wepbage

Written and photographed by Will Gardner.

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Will Gardner is a writer and instructor who has written for The Portland Mercury, The Stranger and the Dallas Observer. He relocated to New Haven two years ago and has already visited 53 of Connecticut's State Parks, and refuses to move until he sees them all. He also has an unhealthy obsession with the Bee Gees.

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