(Hartford Courant) Sen. Kissel: Completion of Commuter Rail Will Create Jobs in North-Central CT

January 29, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

New Haven-Springfield Rail Boosters Want Industry’s Help

By DON STACOM, [email protected]
The Hartford Courant
8:54 p.m. EST, January 28, 2014

With dim prospects for major federal funding anytime soon, advocates for completing the northern stretch of the New Haven-Springfield commuter rail line want business leaders and the state government to put up money.

Speakers at a forum Tuesday organized by state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, agreed that communities from Windsor to Springfield would benefit from a high-frequency rail system running parallel to I-91.

Having the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Metro Hartford Alliance lobbying for the project would be a major boost, Kissel told a gathering of northern Connecticut municipal officials, business leaders, transit planners and state legislators.

Enfield Mayor Scott Kaupin and North Haven Mayor Mike Freda said Connecticut would create jobs and transit-oriented development — both commercial and residential — by establishing commuter train service on the 62-mile route. Amtrak runs about a half-dozen trains a day in each direction now, but that’s primarily intended to feed its Northeast Regional service along the shoreline to Boston, New York and Washington.

Planners envision 17 trains a day in each direction when limited commuter service begins between New Haven and Hartford; the state Department of Transportation’s latest estimate for starting that operation is late 2016.

By 2025, the plan is to have 25 trains daily, running every 30 minutes at peak periods — approaching the frequency of the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North.

When the Obama administration was distributing billions of dollars for high-speed rail projects across the country several years ago, Connecticut ended up with a severely disappointing $40 million. At the time, the DOT was estimating that it would cost $1 billion to upgrade the entire 62-mile route with double tracks, electric power, rebuilt bridges, modern signals, new grade crossing and several new stations.

Since then, Connecticut picked up roughly $110 million worth of the high-speed rail grants that Florida rejected. In addition, it has put up more than $100 million of its own money toward the first phase of a scaled-back project. Workers are installing new fiber optic cables and utility lines along the path from Hartford to New Haven, but there’s no longer talk of electrification — at least not in the near future.

Kaupin said the project still needs $250 million for the next phase, Windsor to Springfield. That would double track the entire line, improve the stations at Windsor and Windsor Locks and improve grade crossings. The phase afterward would run another $100 million, he said; that would pay for new stations in Enfield, Newington, West Hartford and North Haven.

Kissel said one key to getting federal and state funding is to ensure that all state transportation planners embrace a stronger rail line as a benefit for Bradley International Airport, rather than as competition.

“The rail line and airport are symbiotic. In other parts of the country, they’re lined up [together],” Kissel said.

Several speakers mentioned thriving cities where airports are linked to the suburbs and commercial center by train or light rail. The DOT has talked about running a shuttle, but between Bradley’s terminal and the Windsor Locks station on the rail line; many transit advocates prefer reviving the idea of passenger rail on the Griffin Line from Hartford to Bradley.