A rail bypass and river tunnel? ‘We don’t want it!’

January 27, 2017

Editorial written by the New London Day

It is hard to imagine that the rail bypass proposed by the Federal Railroad Administration as part of an upgrade to the Northeast Corridor could ever become a reality. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal described it as “dead on arrival” soon after the FRA announced its recommendation in December.

There is the sheer absurdity of aspects of the proposal, most stunningly the idea of digging a tunnel under the Connecticut River and sections of Old Saybrook and Old Lyme that border the river. Envisioned is a series of tunnels, trenches and elevated structures to move passenger trains through the region.

The FRA estimates it will cost $120 billion to revamp the Northeast Corridor, but that sounds low given the bypass through this region alone. The Connecticut River tunnel would cost many billions of dollars to build. Given the reluctance of Congress to invest in train service, it is a challenge to maintain the existing rail line that runs along the shore. Upgrading and improving the safety of the existing train tracks should be the priority.

The intent of the bypass is to provide faster and more reliable service by offering an alternative inland track to a shoreline system where at-grade crossings and bridge chokepoints slow train speed and where rising sea levels pose a threat.

This plan, however, is not a viable alternative.

As unlikely as it is that this project will ever get past the concept stage, the region cannot let down its guard. That is why it is good to see that opposition is organizing in the region and elected leaders are paying attention.

On Wednesday, a luncheon in Old Lyme focused on how best to combat the proposed bypass attracted nearly 100 people. It is one of several such events held since the announcement of the FRA’s recommendation.

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-20th District, have introduced a bill asking the General Assembly to express its collective opposition to the proposal.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-18th District, has filed a bill to block any state funding contributions for new track unless the affected municipality gets approval at referendum.

The intent of all these efforts is to shout the collective message: “We don’t want it!”

The region needs to keep shouting until the FRA abandons this proposal.