Federal Agency To Visit New Haven To Discuss Long-Term Rail Plan
By DON STACOM
March 31, 2013
Federal Railroad Administration staff will be in New Haven next week to give updates about planning the long-term overhaul of the highly used rail lines between Boston and Washington, D.C.
Local and state officials, business leaders and rail passengers are invited to hear the agency's preliminary ideas about modernizing service between now and 2040. The Northeast Corridor route links some of the most densely developed cities in the country, and runs roughly parallel to I-95 – among the nation's most severely congested highways.
Proposals have been put forth that range from simply upgrading the current tracks to reconstructing the entire route to accommodate European-style bullet trains.
One set of designers have even suggested routing trains from New York halfway across Long Island, then turning northward through a proposed 18-mile-long tunnel beneath Long Island Sound before surfacing in Milford. Amtrak's own proposal is to move its fleet off the slow, twisting shoreline route between New York and Boston by sending trains through Danbury and then along an all-new corridor running to Waterbury and then Hartford before banking eastward to Providence.
The Amtrak proposal, initially estimated to cost more than $150 billion, has brought complaints from Stamford, New Haven and Bridgeport, since it would entirely bypass them.
Many Connecticut transit advocates are pressing the FRA to focus instead on a less costly option. Upgrading the shoreline tracks — and perhaps creating a secondary Boston-to-New York route running through inland Connecticut – would be more feasible, they say. That wouldn't allow anything approaching the 220 mph service that's offered in Europe, Japan and elsewhere, but it would allow faster and more reliable service at a fraction of the cost of building a dedicated two-track line exclusively for bullet trains.
Improving the existing routes also would tie in with Connecticut's plan to establish Metro-North-style commuter service on the New Haven to Springfield, Mass. route. Amtrak operates a few trains a day, but intends them mostly to feed into its primary Boston-to-New York service. Connecticut is planning to double-track at least part of the route and begin running traditional diesel-powered commuter service in a few years.
Improving the New Haven to Springfield line would add modern signals and rebuild bridges. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wants to spend $362 million to reopen train service between Springfield and Boston; that project and the New Haven-to-Springfield upgrades would combine to give Amtrak a second route between Boston and New York City.
The FRA will discuss the latest steps in its three-year planning process in presentations this month. Meeting are April 8 at Gateway Community College in New Haven, April 9 at the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority offices in Newark, and April 10 at the Hall of States in Washington, D.C. All run from 5 to 7 p.m., and reservations can be made through http://www.necfuture.com/get_involved/rsvp.aspx.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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