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Do Connecticut's train stations need a makeover?

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Think of Grand Central Station. That’s what Jim Cameron, the founder of the Commuter Action Group in Connecticut, called in a recent editorial a ‘cathedral of transportation.’

It’s got amazing architecture and plenty of places to eat. But compare it to stations in his hometown of Darien, especially the Noroton Heights station on the Metro-North line.

“It's been pretty bereft of any kind of attractive decoration for many years," Cameron said. "So I thought, anything we could do to make the train station a bit more attractive for daily riders as they walk to the train station. They'd have something to see and smile at. If you look at train stations as the gateway to your community, that people are coming to your community, maybe weekend visitors or maybe even people thinking of moving up from the city to the leafy green suburbs, the impression they get when they step off that train is a very important first impression"

"Anything we can do to make the train stations more attractive are going to say to those visitors and potential residents, this is a town that cares about how it looks.”

Cameron said we should take inspiration from Great Britain.

“Where they have an extensive train network and have had for over a century, even the smallest town in Great Britain at its train station, the local garden aficionados hold a contest to try and make that station look as beautiful as possible," Cameron said. "And it's a national competition and I think everybody benefits.”

Cameron added this could have benefits beyond just a nicer commute. For example, it could be good for real estate.

“I was speaking with the folks up in New Canaan," he said. "They are at the end of a spur line that runs off of Metro-North. They acknowledge that the train station is their link to the outside world, not only for people that live in the community, but also people who are thinking of moving to that community. They've heard something about New Canaan. It's a nice small town, good schools, nice parks. They get off the train and they think, 'well, let's just take a look around this town and see what the vibe is, what the streets are like, the restaurants, are people going to the farmers market, etc.'"

"And that first step off the train onto the platform is when they start making their first impression. So I think that the local real estate community would find any kind of an investment in helping the garden and the beautification leagues and commissions in their towns to beautify their train stations.”

Cameron said he made a donation earlier this year to the beautification commission in his hometown of Darien — specifically to make the train station look better. He said the blooming flowers at the station show his gift paid off.

“The problem we have is that most of the train stations in Connecticut are owned or they sit on land that is owned by the Department of Transportation," he said. "But the D.O.T. relies on the local communities to whom they lease the parking rights at the train station and the money that's raised from that is supposed to be spent on station amenities."

"So it's really up to each individual town. And towns are responsive to their local residents and their constituents. So I've always said that if you if you have a complaint about your train station, go down at the town hall speak up, ask them why the platform's not better shoveled in the winter, or why we can't do something in a season like this, to take advantage of Mother Nature and make the station more attractive.”

Cameron said his dream train station would be clean and functional, with canopies along the length of the platform so that people could wait for their train even in inclement weather.

"There would be a waiting room that would be unlocked and available," he said. "Maybe somebody selling coffee and newspapers in the morning or snacks that people could take with them on the train. It would be well lit and it would be well patrolled. We need to do everything we can to encourage people to go back to mass transit. And by making the station itself attractive as a jumping off point or an arrival point, I think that would go a long way.”

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.