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Go For The Rail Money HIGH-SPEED LINK Federal funds could clear the tracks

Hartford Courant

April 27, 2009

Worcester, Mass., is now the second-largest city in New England. Its population has grown by 9 percent since 1980. Why? The train. With the extension of commuter rail service from Boston, people have moved out to Worcester to take advantage of lower housing prices and other amenities.

Good commuter rail service could do the same for the towns along the New HavenHartfordSpringfield line. Thus it was encouraging to hear President Barack Obama name the corridor as one that may be eligible for part of $13 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail service.

Sen. Christopher Dodd immediately pledged to help Connecticut and Massachusetts officials get a share of the money, and posed the question the governor and state transportation officials should have been asking: "How can we cut through a lot of this? How do we get this up and running?"

While commuter rail systems were opened or upgraded in cities across the country, plans to bring commuter service back to what used to be called the "Inland Route" have dawdled along, as if propelled by a rusty handcar. An environmental assessment is underway, a seemingly superfluous measure in a rail corridor active since the 19th century. The study is scheduled to be completed early next year unless state officials can push it through sooner.

Things began to look up for the restoration of commuter service with the arrival last year of state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie, the first commissioner in recent memory with a background in transit. Increased pressure from the Transportation Committee of the General Assembly, a spike in gas prices last summer and concerns over global warming, pollution, dependence on foreign oil and sprawl development are also factors in the push to revive commuter service.

Fortunately for Connecticut, "high speed" is a relative term. The New HavenHartfordSpringfield line was laid out in the 1840s for freight, because passengers then used steamboats on the river. It would take a major condemnation of land to straighten the tracks for trains such as the 200 mph ones that run in France or Japan. But it can and should be upgraded so commuter trains can run up to 100 mph.

But for this corridor, that would do the job. Get those trains running every half-hour, and every town along the line will benefit.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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