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High-Speed Rail Support Isn't Small Change

ALL ABOARD Federal dollars vital to revival of Inland Route train service

Hartford Courant

January 30, 2010

It's a start, a good start.

The state will receive $40 million for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line from President Barack Obama's $8 billion high-speed rail stimulus package. Although states such as Florida and California got larger slices of the pie, ours is not insignificant.

The Obama high-speed rail stimulus is one of the country's most important transportation projects in decades. It points the country away from the pollution, waste and dependence on foreign oil implicit in near-total dependence on cars. The creation of a national rail system was a key to Connecticut's prosperity in the 19th century. Its re-creation can trigger prosperity in the 21st century.

The local stimulus funds will pay for double-tracking a 10.5-mile section of the line from the southeast corner of New Britain to Newington. About 30 miles of the 62-mile route must be double-tracked; these funds will thus cover about a third of the gandy dancers' work.

Also, the $40 million is part of a $160 million grant to the corridor from New Haven to St. Albans, Vt. The project envisions rerouting the Vermont segment to a more direct route through Massachusetts, cutting travel times and restoring passenger service to Holyoke and Northampton. More activity in the northern part of the corridor bodes well for the southern part.

Connecticut transportation officials are trying to double-down on the investment, to develop both commuter rail and high-speed rail in the corridor. Much of the preliminary work is done. With the $40 million, plus a state allocation of $26 million earlier this month, the finished project almost comes into view.

With the completion of the double-tracking and the construction of some new stations, a decent level of commuter service a train every half-hour can begin. State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie thinks this can happen by 2015. If all goes well, a project to electrify the corridor will be completed shortly thereafter, allowing high-speed at least higher-speed service to other parts of the Northeast.

If the pattern here follows that in many other parts of the country, the commuter rail service will draw mixed-use development to the state's central rail corridor and spare our dwindling green space. If residents of the corridor can more easily get to Boston and New York via high-speed trains, there will be more residents and businesses in the corridor.

The White House has another $2.5 billion in rail stimulus funds on the table for 2011, and Congress is expected to pass a new transportation bill this year. There's every reason to hope the Inland Route states will get the funds to keep this exciting, essential project on track.

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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