Department of Transportation Gives Nod to Plan for Canaan Union Depot

 

CANAAN—Quiet negotiations and a letter-writing campaign have led to a compromise that ends a two-year stalemate between the Connecticut Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) and the Housatonic Rail Road. The differences between the two parties delayed long-anticipated repairs to the Canaan Union Depot, a historic 1871 rail station that was partially destroyed by arson in 2001.

“We have settled our differences and are moving forward,” said Charles Perotti, a selectman and spokesperson for the CRHA. He said a meeting two weeks with representatives of Housatonic Rail Road, the CRHA and the state Department of Transportation finally hammered out the compromise. “The DOT had the final say,” Mr. Perotti reported.

Under that agreement, the CRHA agrees to the removal of the cement platform on the west side of the depot from which passengers historically boarded trains. The removal is required because safety codes have changed and the platform allows pedestrians to get too close to the tracks. Mr. Perotti said that area will be filled instead with the ballast stone used under the tracks themselves.

The exit door on that side of the building will be closed off inside and a dummy door will remain on the outside to retain the historic appearance of the building.

The Housatonic Rail Road will bear the expense for the platform’s removal.

Additional safety measures call for the erection of wrought iron fencing along the tracks for 50 yards to the north and south of the building. The state will put up no trespassing signs to keep people off the tracks.

In front of the building there will be some modifications to the plans presented to the town two years ago, according to Mr. Perotti, and the work will be phased in to bring it into sync with work planned by the state DOT two years hence. “The landscaping will be split into projects,” he explained. “We won’t be doing any blacktopping or drainage work right away. The state is planning to upgrade the crossing in the center of town and when they do that, they will push a pipe under the track to collect the drainage from the plaza. That should save us $180,000, which we can apply to other features that were alternates.”

He said that the CRHA’s architect will present the slightly altered plans to the DOT—which has already agreed to the larger concept—for final approval in the next couple of weeks. He said it is estimated that the work can go out to bid in October and that work could begin in late fall. While landscaping may not be possible at that time, there is interior work to be done on the building—electrical, plumbing, dry wall and the installation of an elevator—that will consume the winter months.

The Canaan Union Depot, which until 2001 was reputed to be the oldest union depot in the country in continuous service, lost that distinction when five young teens playing with matches, started a fire that destroyed the 90-foot-long east-west wing of the ell-shaped building. The north-south ell was only slightly damaged but the tower at the center of the building was also heavily charred. Enough of the building was salvaged, however, to keep its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the fire the shell of the east-west ell and the tower have been restored but there work stalled. The CRHA qualified for a $1.7 million transportation bill grant during George W. Bush’s first term in office but it took the historical association more than a decade to work through the bureaucratic red tape to get the money. Then progress was further slowed by negotiations with Housatonic Rail Road.

The log jam was not broken until Canaan civic groups—the Exchange Club and the Cranford Club—began a letter writing campaign to the state to insist that something be done. Both groups are now active in raising additional sums to help complete the building.

The next fundraising event is scheduled for July 26, 4 to 8 p.m., in the field behind the depot when a tent will be erected for a chicken barbecue. It will be part of the town’s 50th annual Railroad Days Celebration and will feature music, karaoke and dancing. “We’re pushing to get some VIP’s there,” said Mr. Perotti. Members of the association will be selling tickets and an information number has been set up. Call 860-362-5083.