To transit activists, the Griffin Rail Line is a symbol of lost opportunity. In 1998, a proposal to extend the line to Bradley Airport and use it for rail passenger service was shot down by lack of regional consensus and a state Department of Transportation still firmly committed to highways.
More than 80 public officials, activists, business people and reporters recently toured the state-owned line, which runs from Union Station in Hartford to the Day Hill Road/ Blue Hills Avenue area in Windsor. Enough has changed that we should take another look at using the Griffin Line for commuter rail service and extending it five miles to Bradley Airport. Here's why:
• There is now a regional and national emphasis on climate change and reducing greenhouse gases. The transportation sector emits the most carbon dioxide because of its near complete dependence on petroleum fuels, so reducing car and truck traffic is now a state priority.
• Energy security and cost have become national concerns. Trains are far more energy-efficient in moving freight and passengers than cars or trucks. For every 27 gallons of diesel consumed by trucks to haul one ton of freight, railroads burn seven gallons to reach a similar distance.
• The Gallis Report done in 2000 for the CT Regional Institute urged Connecticut to focus on multi-modal connections among our transportation systems — highways, rail and ports. The Griffin Line currently ends less than five miles from Bradley.
• For the first time in decades we have a federal administration that is interested in funding rail and transit-oriented development.
Perhaps most important, the Griffin Line corridor has changed significantly since the 1990s. The University of Hartford has added student housing within easy walking distance of the Griffin Line. The Day Hill Road corridor where the Griffin Line terminates is booming with development. The Griffin Line now has several freight customers along its length, including a Home Depot lumber distribution center, which has made the line more economically viable. The proposed remaking of the Bowles Park and Westbrook Village housing projects in Hartford could add hundreds more customers.
In addition, the line's infrastructure has been improved with new rail in portions and improvements to grade crossings and signaling.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has led the effort to dramatically improve the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line. This significantly changes the viability and need for having a rail connection to Bradley Airport. The recently released New England Governors Joint Regional Vision for High Speed Rail contains two key projects — a rail connection between TF Green Airport and Providence/Boston and a connection from Manchester Airport to the new commuter rail service through southern New Hampshire.
As the second-largest airport in New England, Bradley deserves a direct rail connection, too. Extending the Griffin Line to Bradley would allow tourists visiting Hartford to go directly to Union Station, where the existing Star Shuttle bus service could drop them off at their hotels or the convention center. Having a more direct rail connection to Bradley Airport may also allow more air freight to travel on rail cars instead of trucks. Trucks add to highway traffic; rail cars don't.
On his recent visit to Connecticut, Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said expanding Bradley's air freight capacity would relieve some of the pressure at the New York and New Jersey airports.
In these challenging economic times, Connecticut must make investments that achieve multiple objectives, such as reducing greenhouse gases, gaining energy efficiency and building transit-oriented housing and development. Upgrading the Griffin Line for passenger service and extending it to Bradley Airport may be one of those investments. It is an option we should explore, and we should do so quickly.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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