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Why Not Get Trains Built Now?

October 29, 2006
Commentary By JAMES P. REPASS

What with crime stories and campaign news, a Hartford press conference on Oct.18 was largely overlooked. It shouldn't have been; it was crucial to the economic future of Connecticut and New England.

State Senate President Don Williams, with transportation committee co-chairman Sen. Biagio "Billy" Ciotto, asked the Connecticut Department of Transportation to consider buying some double-decker rail cars that are being manufactured for New Jersey Transit.

Why is that so important?

Because if we do it, Connecticut taxpayers will save millions of dollars and get better rail service sooner.

The DOT is revitalizing the rail line between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield to serve commuters who otherwise must take the highway, or the infrequent, expensive Amtrak trains. The track work is getting underway and will be largely completed in two to three years.

In the normal course of events, the state will then wait until a pot of money can be identified, hire a consultant, write a specification, go to bid, accept and evaluate bids and pick a winner. Then, years later, the trainsets themselves will begin to arrive. In the six to eight years it will take to do all of this, Connecticut will have lost yet more employers and manufacturers, whose employees can't get to work in a reasonable time because the highways we've built are full yet again - and can't be widened without thoroughly wrecking what's left of this beautiful state.

We don't have to do it that way.

Instead, let's do this: New Jersey is buying hundreds of ultramodern locomotives and double-decker rail cars. These are similar to the commuter rail cars now in service by the thousands in Germany, a country with one of the best rail systems in the world. They are being built right now in New York. The manufacturer, Bombardier, has offered Connecticut these same world-class trainsets (one locomotive and five cars per set), at the same price, $15 million, that New Jersey Transit is paying.

Depending on the number of trainsets Connecticut someday orders - and remember, we are looking at expanding commuter rail service not just on the Inland Route but along the shore and on several branch lines - there will be a savings of $2 million to $3 million each. It should be no surprise that trains, like doughnuts, are cheaper by the dozen. Why not save the money and get the trainsets years earlier?

Gov. M. Jodi Rell recently signed, at a Windsor train station ceremony, Executive Order 15, "Connecticut Green and Growing." The governor's proposal to make Connecticut a smart growth state has caught the attention of Connecticut's transportation and environmental advocates, many of whom were frankly surprised to hear how heartfelt Mrs. Rell sounded on that day.

Governor, if you meant what you said about future generations when you signed that order with a literal and rhetorical flourish on that balmy day in Windsor, here is an opportunity to put substance to your words - in a way that will save the taxpayers a bundle, and get them better rail service sooner.

James RePass is president of the National Corridors Initiative, a transportation advocacy group that negotiated funding for the high-speed rail project that links Boston and New York. A former journalist, he is a contributor to this and other newspapers.

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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