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Connecticut: Next Stop For High-Speed Rail Plan Is Request For Up to $500 Million

Don Stacom

June 07, 2010

The state Department of Transportation plans to apply for $400 million to $500 million in federal grants this summer to upgrade the New Haven to Springfield rail line.

Should the project receive funding, it would be a potential bonanza for central Connecticut residents who use I-91 to commute to Fairfield County or New York City.

The money would advance a high-speed rail network for the Northeast, but could more quickly jump-start a Metro North-style commuter train system through the heart of the state.

"We're looking at something [to start] fairly soon," said James Redeker, a senior official with the DOT.

Even if funding and construction move quickly, the actual start of commuter service along the 61-mile route wouldn't be for five or six years. But that's dramatically less than the more ambitious and costly high-speed network that's proposed to link Boston, Montreal and New York. Planning documents for that are entitled "2030 Vision for Rail."

DOT officials and their counterparts in Massachusetts and Vermont are hosting public information sessions about the project this month. Redeker led an hour-long presentation Thursday at Union Station in Hartford.

Starting commuter service on the Springfield to Hartford to New Haven line would benefit the state, even if the high-speed network isn't completed right away, said Ryan Lynch, a coordinator with the non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a mass transit advocacy group.

"It's heartening to see the project continue to move forward. Getting it up and running will do a world of good for Connecticut," Lynch said.

Redeker said trains would run between Springfield and New Haven as frequently as every half hour during weekday peak periods. In New Haven they would connect to Metro North service to Fairfield County and Manhattan, and to Shoreline East trains to New London.

Last year, the state asked for $40 million when the Obama administration handed out $8 billion for high-speed rail projects nationally. The state is using that money to restore double tracking along part of the route.

An additional $400 million to $500 million would pay for the rest of the double tracking, upgrade small bridges along the route, rebuild grade crossings and install a more modern signal system. The Obama administration is expected to award $2.5 billion more this year, and Connecticut's congressional delegation has made a pitch for a substantial share of that. The DOT also plans to seek $200 million to $260 million in state funds as Connecticut's share of the construction costs.

Redeker said that would be enough to accommodate commuter train service. Adding high-speed service on the same tracks would also require rebuilding the Union Station viaduct, reconstructing the Connecticut River bridge in Enfield and installing power lines above both sets of tracks. Redeker said the projected cost for that work isn't available.

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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