DOT: Rail Work Along I-91 Corridor Will Pay Benefits
By DON STACOM
July 04, 2013
Minor traffic delays will continue through the year as crews replace signal cables beneath Amtrak crossings between New Haven and Springfield, but transportation officials promise there will be rewards later.
For commuters, the new equipment will bring them a step closer to the start of Metro North-style service through the heart of the state.
And for homeowners, tenants, merchants and office workers along the route, the fiber optic cables could eventually mean a reduction in noise from train horns blaring the way through grade crossings. Federal law requires trains to sound a horn when approaching most grade crossings, but better safety equipment sometimes allows railroads an exemption.
Amtrak runs about a half-dozen round trips over the 62-mile route, but the state transportation department plans to raise that to 17 when commuter service begins.
"Increasing the number of trains generally means increasing the number of whistles," planners of the New Haven-to-Springfield rail project said in their most recent newsletter. "However, by upgrading the crossings with additional safety devices such as four gates (one for each direction of travel on either side of the crossing), median dividers, or localized wayside horns, the noise impacts associated with increased train service can be minimized."
Crews have been digging up ground near crossings in Berlin, Newington, North Haven, Wallingford and elsewhere to put down new signal and communications cables. Workers occasionally have to close crossings to vehicular traffic for 15 minutes or so, but the DOT said it tries to do so as infrequently as possible.
About a quarter of the job is done, said the DOT, which expects to complete it in the fall of 2014. The work will allow the DOT and Amtrak to restore the line's second track, which is necessary for higher-frequency commuter service. Amtrak ripped out Track 2 decades ago to save maintenance costs.
The DOT currently projects that it can start commuter service sometime in 2016. The project has been discussed for more than 20 years, but it wasn't until 2009 that serious progress began. At the time, then-Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said medium-speed, diesel-powered commuter trains would be running by late 2014 or early 2015.
Much of the infrastructure work is being done with federal funding for a high-speed rail initiative to link Boston, New York and Montreal. The DOT says its long-term vision is for inter-city trains running at 110 mph or faster with electric power, but that's part of a complex regional project that's still essentially just diagrams and maps.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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