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Busway? Restoring Rail Is A Better Way To Go

Busway Is A Dead End Restoring Rail Would Serve More People Better

Molly McKay

May 02, 2010

The proposed 9.4-mile New Britain-to-Hartford busway a paved corridor exclusively for buses that would connect only four communities: New Britain, Newington, West Hartford and Hartford could cause the permanent loss of rail rights-of-way and deal a drastic blow to the state's passenger and freight rail service.

The busway is estimated to cost $570 million. And that's just the estimate.

This costly project will harm passenger and freight rail systems in Connecticut and throughout New England. It would pave over an existing rail right-of-way between Newington and New Britain. That right-of-way is part of the former Highland Line, which provided passenger service from Waterbury to Hartford. Much of that track is still used by freight trains, but it could, for a relatively reasonable cost, be restored for passenger rail. Ideally, double-tracking is the best solution for passenger and freight rail in a shared right-of-way, but for less money, a single track will work, with a few sidings, improved signaling and proper scheduling.

Today, the only passenger rail out of Waterbury goes to Bridgeport on the Waterbury Line. Many legislators and residents are calling for passenger service to be restored from Waterbury to Hartford.

There is good reason for this demand. Passenger service would open up rail connections to hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers. Passengers could board a train in Bristol or Plainville (the closest stop to Farmington) and go south along the shoreline to New York. Going north, the route would connect to the Amtrak line in Hartford and could continue through northern New England to Canada.

New Britain gains even more. It would have commuter service east to Hartford or west to Waterbury, southwestern Connecticut and New York. A resident of New Britain or Bristol could work in New York City. New Britain would also have a direct rail connection to the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line, which will be both commuter and high-speed rail when it is upgraded.

The busway, on the other hand, is a dead end. It is even problematic for the communities just west of New Britain, because, to reach the busway, a commuter must deal with local traffic. Time estimates for commuter trips show little incentive to use a bus. For example: Bristol to Hartford via the busway would be 45 to 50 minutes. The same trip by train would be 27 minutes.

Hartford is ringed by massive highways. The only rail service is Amtrak, which is infrequent. But great opportunities are in store if we invest in our rail infrastructure, which links to all of New England. Massachusetts has funds to restore rail from Springfield to Vermont, a project that will cost $75 million and took only 18 months to come to fruition. Trains will be running on that line long before the proposed busway is completed.

Massachusetts is also pushing for improvement of the rail line between Springfield and Worcester. Worcester already has excellent commuter rail to Boston. When the Massachusetts projects are done and the New Haven-to -Springfield line is upgraded, Hartford will have modern rail service to Boston.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was in Hartford last Monday to discuss the Hartford-to-Springfield line with U.S. Rep. John Larson, Sen. Chris Dodd and Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in western Massachusetts. Connecticut could be one of the first states to get high-speed rail.

Busways so-called bus rapid transit are the last gasp of the highway lobby at work. This powerful industry has skewed our transportation system into near-complete highway dependency over the past century, while actively undermining rail transit as well as intercity rail.

America is left with a dysfunctional, broken, near Third-World transportation system. City and town centers have emptied out as people with cars fled to the suburbs, leaving the less fortunate stranded in downtowns with little or no access to jobs. We need to correct this transportation and economic injustice. We can and should re-program the funding for this over-priced busway to rail, so that people in central Connecticut will have fast, convenient rail connections to Boston, Hartford and New York.

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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