Local train stations are gateways to CT towns. How welcoming is yours?

Every train ride, whether it’s a cross-country adventure on Amtrak or a daily commute on Metro-North, begins with the same thing: a train station.

Think Grand Central (terminal, not station).

The architecture is so rich, the spaces so varied, that any time spent in this cathedral on the transport is time well spent. You can eat sitting down or have a beer and a sandwich… pick up a newspaper, or a new iPhone… it’s all there.

GCT is clean (mostly), well-patrolled and full of people, each providing the others with a shared sense of safety and community.

However, visit any commuter train station in Connecticut and the atmosphere is often quite different.

First, is the station waiting room closed or open? The same with the toilets. Are the platforms clean and benches available? Does the platform have a canopy?

Grand Central is owned and operated by the MTA. But in Connecticut, most train stations are owned by CTDOT but operated by the local city. Do you have a complaint? Take it to the town hall. I’m sure they would appreciate your input.

Even the smallest things like the decoration of the station and its surroundings can make a positive impression, starting the trip with a smile, especially when it comes to flowers.

Our home gardens are near peak right now, abundant with flowers. Why, too, can’t there be as much beauty in our train stations?

In England, even tiny train stations compete for the honors of the most beautiful plantations. Garden clubs and civic groups see their local stations for what they are: a gateway to their city where first impressions count. The growing season in the UK may be short, but it clearly gives locals a chance to show their pride.

In the stations of the great cities of the United Kingdom there are also flowers, and polls show that 70% of motorists say their mental health was improved by seeing these screens.

Photo by Jim Cameron.

Here in Connecticut, floral efforts are much more “grassroots,” relying heavily on a few volunteers and even fewer donations.

This spring I made such a donation to my city’s beautification commission specifically for my local train station, and now the flowers are in full bloom: rose of sharon, anise hyssop, and white coneflowers , while attracting native bees, butterflies and pollinators. The beds require regular watering and weeding, a labor of love for the handful of volunteers who tend their flocks.

Darien Beautification Commission Chairwoman Juliet Cain likens the station’s plantings to a staging post for native insects. “If we do it right, we can increase the number of people and pollinators!”

In New Canaan, its beautification league has done extensive plantings and plans a bluestone patio at its train station, which its vice president Faith Kerchoff calls her city’s lifeline to the outside world.

At New Canaan Station. Photo by Robin Mason.

“It’s very important to make a good first impression when people come to New Canaan,” he says, especially people who are thinking of moving from the gritty city to the leafy burbs.

Wow…I wonder why local real estate agents don’t sponsor station plantings. Good PR for potential buyers and brand reinforcement for would-be sellers on the move.

What do the plantations look like around your local train station? Send me your photos.

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