Rell: Better New Haven-Springfield Rail Line Is Critical To State's Economy
By DON STACOM
July 27, 2010
HARTFORD — — Within six years, workers living in Enfield could take a train to get to jobs in Berlin or Newington, while Meriden residents could ride to work in West Hartford or Windsor Locks.
The once far-fetched idea of commuter trains shuttling between Springfield and New Haven moved much closer to reality Tuesday when Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that she expects the State Bond Commission to vote Aug. 11 for spending up to $260 million to dramatically improve the rail line.
Combined with $66 million already committed and a hoped-for $220 million federal grant, Connecticut is planning to spend almost $550 million to create a commuter train system and — much later — high-speed rail service to whisk passengers from Hartford to Montreal, Boston, Manhattan or Washington, D.C.
"High-speed rail is the most important transportation initiative since the creation of the interstate highways," Rell said Tuesday in announcing her financing plan. "This is a critical project for the future of our transportation and the future of our economy."
Democratic legislative leaders predicted that Rell's state funding request would be approved, especially because House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, is a prominent advocate for better rail service along the I-91 corridor.
"This is an important project. It can have a huge impact on our economy," said Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the General Assembly's transportation committee.
Earlier this year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured part of the 62-mile route and proclaimed it a good site for a fast, modern train system. LaHood suggested that Connecticut could fare well when the Obama administration distributes $2.1 billion in high-speed rail grants in September.
Leaders of towns along the route are counting on an economic boost from train stations in their communities. The plan is to modernize Amtrak's Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, Windsor and Windsor Locks stations, and build new ones in Enfield, Newington, North Haven and West Hartford.
"More trains, faster trains and a vision toward 2030. We're excited – it's great for all of us," Wallingford Mayor William Dickinson Jr. said during Rell's press conference, which was held on the platform of the Wallingford station.
Amtrak trains run about six daily trips each way between Springfield and New Haven, which is too infrequent and expensive to draw I-91 commuters out of their cars, according to rail advocates. The state plans about three times as much service, with trains every half-hour during peak rush-hour periods.
Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker confirmed Tuesday that the plan is to begin service in 2015 or 2016. It's not determined yet whether the trains would be operated by Amtrak, Metro-North, or perhaps a new state-created line similar to ShoreLine East.
The 110-mph intercity trains would be run by Amtrak. But upgrading the line to accommodate that would cost several hundred million dollars more, according to the state transportation department. The DOT says that service might begin in 2020 or even 2030, depending in part on when Massachusetts and Vermont make the necessary upgrades to extend service to Boston and Montreal.
DeFronzo said he wants the project to go forward, but cautioned that it will mean scaling back other transportation initiatives. State leaders might have to delay work such as highway extensions, the New Britain busway or upgrades to the Waterbury and New Canaan rail lines
"We have about $1.2 billion available for strategic transportation projects. This [bonding] commits $260 million of that, so you have to be aware that some other things aren't going to get done," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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