High Speed & Intercity Rail Meeting at Union Station
By Kerri Provost
July 30, 2010
Thursday evening, Tom Maziarz and Mark Alexander of the CT Department of Transportation presented information and study updates pertaining to high speed and intercity rail. The meeting, held at Union Station, was standing room only. Among those in attendance: Mayor Segarra, Chief Operating Officer David Panagore, a representative for Senator Dodd, the Massachusetts DOT, State Representative David McCluskey (West Hartford) and State Representative Bob Godfrey (Danbury).
The meeting was basically divided into four parts: discussion of the New Haven-to-Springfield section of the project, discussion of the regional (CT, MA, VT) section of project, presentation of the environmental review, and time for public comment.
The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield proposal was announced by Governor Rell and would cost $480 million in total, with $220 million of the funding coming from federal sources. The catch here is that the federal money is going to support high-speed intercity passenger rail; this means that to ensure the funding, all of those criteria must be met in some way. During the public portion of the discussion, Toni Gold asked about how the high speed could possibly work with so many street crossings and stations. In such a congested area, it seems like the trains would either present a danger or never truly reach a “high-speed.” Responding to someone else’s question about what actual speeds the trains would travel at, Maziarz said that they would hit 110mph at some point, but more realistically travel at around 80 mph. As in a previous meeting, emphasis was put on the fact that trains would slow down when going through cities.
Another requirement of the federal grant is that the “states develop proposals that were part of comprehensive, integrated regional rail visions.” Work done to the regional part of this would include restoring “Montrealer Route,” dealing with the need for train storage and yard space in Springfield, creating”intermodal connections”, and restoring inland route and service capacity between New York City and Boston. Currently, there is only one round trip train per day on the Inland Route — by 2030 this would increase to six roundtrips per day. In 2010 there are six roundtrips from Hartford per day, which would increase to 15 in 2030. There will also be an improvement in the time that trips take. Currently, a trip from White River Junction to Penn Station takes seven hours and thirty-six minutes. They hope to reduce this to five hours and thirty-two minutes in 2030. The trip from Hartford to Penn Station would be improved by thirty-seven minutes.
The regional upgrades that are funded in “round one” of the HSIPR grant include an upgrade to single track on Connecticut River line in Massachusetts ($70 million), upgrade single track through Vermont ($50 million), and ten miles of double track from Berlin to Newington Station in Connecticut ($40 million federal). The construction in Connecticut should start within a year or so, according to Maziarz.
The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield proposal includes rebuilding rail and station facilities, and providing more frequent and faster service. There would be intercity and commuter service along with 30-minute frequency of trains during rush hour. They also plan to double track a 62-mile corridor.A number of bridges and culverts would be rebuilt, some of which are 100 years old. The Warehouse Point Railroad Bridge is one that is in dire need of attention. They would also improve signal/communication system, at-grade crossings, and the existing stations. There are plans to create four new stations in Enfield, West Hartford (Flatbush), Newington, and North Haven.
Mark Alexander discussed the possible environmental impacts of both the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield and regional parts of this project. The most adverse effects were in terms of land acquisition/displacement, construction, noise from trains sounding their horns and vibrations. Between stations, air quality would improve, but at the stations themselves, the adverse effects would balance the potential benefits. There would be an improvement to intermodal connections (Bradley International Airport, New Britain-Hartford Busway, etc.), more community cohesion, increase in jobs (construction and regional due to better access to job centers like NYC), and potential transit-oriented development. Communities that have already begun to advance plans for development/redevelopment around stations include Enfield, Windsor, Windsor Locks, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, North Haven, and New Haven.
There were no significant environmental impacts predicted for farmland, wild/scenic rivers, public utilities/services, community, or aesthetics. Others impacts were mixed: floodplains, wetlands, water resources, and endangered species. Of those items, they would be most affected by the track, rather than by the stations themselves, typically. Something to consider, however, is the damage that is done by not having efficient commuter rail. It was noted that of the vehicles removed from the highways as a result of rail improvements, the most significant will be the reduction in trucks, due to the considerations for freight improvement. There would be a reduction in air traffic, which creates a major environmental impact. Long distance travel rather than short distance commutes would be those most impacted.
A part of the project that has not been budgeted for is the future electrification of the trains. In other words, the track is not being electrified yet, but bridge heights and so forth are taken into consideration as the project goes forward, so that the transition to electric could be simplified in the future.
The public comment of the evening was mostly supportive of the project. Mayor Segarra praised the plan for incorporating many different elements and expressed how the City needs to be supportive of this as it neatly fits in with our One City, One Plan 2020. There was some concern from the audience about the cost, mainly in sustaining the rail over the years. Another complaint about subsidized rail was met with the observation that except for toll roads, our highways are subsidized. Some in the audience called for more parking or more control over parking at train stations, to which Richard of Rail*Trains*Ecology*Cycling (another in audience) responded that we do not need a “car first” mentality. Anne I. Hayes, one of the very few women in the audience (there were maybe a half dozen of us) and President of Bike Walk Connecticut, expressed the need for bike lockers at train stations, the ability for cyclists to bring their bikes onto trains, and safe and convenient cyclist and pedestrian access to the stations. A Bike Walk Connecticut board member said that only folding bikes are currently allowed on Amtrak, making transportation more difficult than necessary.
Another concern was that the property values around train stations would increase to such an extent that those most in need of housing near mass transit would be unable to afford it. Others expressed the need for Hartford to better use its central location between Boston and New York, the need for “seamless” travel between Hartford and New York (without the long delay in New Haven), and the need to connect to Bradley International Airport, preferably with track going right to the airport.
To find out more, go to the CT DOT’s NHHS Rail page.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.