State officials want say on Northeast Corridor RR plans
This month, Connecticut residents and officials will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to offer their views on how to shape the state's current and future rail lines to improve economic competitiveness and quality of life, state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said.
"This is an opportunity that frankly has never occurred in that there is a process in place to shape a multigenerational investment in high-speed rail which has the potential to completely reshape the region we call the Northeast Corridor," Redeker said. "High-speed rail can connect in a far more economically expansive and dynamic way because it links major centers much more quickly than you could in any other way." Redeker and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and others said they plan to have their say at an Aug. 14 hearing in New Haven, one of a series being held in the middle of this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration to gather opinions as they craft a blueprint for increasing the capacity and speed of rail travel between Washington, D.C. and Boston to meet the economic needs of the region for the next 30 to 40 years.
The New Haven meeting is set from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Aug. 14, at the Shubert Theater, 247 College St.
Federal transit officials project that population and economic growth will remain strong in the coming decades and challenge railroads such as Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line and other transit systems to find solutions to meet increased ridership demand and shorten trip times.
A study by the I-95 Corridor Coalition projected that demand for highway travel from Maine to Florida will increase by 70 percent by 2040 unless other modes such as rail and bus create new options.
Average weekday travel demands are projected to increase in the New York region by roughly 3.3 million trips from 2005 to 2030, with 80 percent of those trips expected to be absorbed by highways and the balance by transit, according to the Federal Transit Administration.
Malloy, who was recently appointed by his fellow New England governors to be lead governor for transportation of the Coalition of Northeast Governors, said that Connecticut needs to state strongly the importance of improving railways in the state to improve the state's economy, especially increasing the speed of service between business centers.
"High-quality, high-speed rail service is one of the keys to improving our economy and our business climate, both in the near term and for decades to come," Malloy said. "We are not just talking about a single corridor, we are talking about a major segment of the country that depends on an ever-expanding transportation network for commerce, commuting and even tourism to fuel our economy and keep everyone moving forward."
State legislators and transit advocates expressed excitement about the federal government creating a long-range plan that could include dramatic spending to create high-speed rail through Connecticut but also said the plan should weigh increased spending on the New Haven Line from Union Station in New Haven to Greenwich.
A well-thought-out spending plan to improve rail service in Connecticut in coming decades needs to include necessary signalization and other upgrades to increase train speeds and passenger capacity on the New Haven Line, said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.
Lapp said draft plans published this summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the Northeast rail corridor fail to address improvements to the New Haven Line despite the heavy reliance of Amtrak trains on the system and importance as a public transit corridor.
"How come the Stamford station, which has the second-highest ridership after Grand Central Terminal, isn't prominently mentioned in the plan?" Lapp asked.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said that he felt positive about some of the already discussed details of Amtrak's plans to expand rail infrastructure, including adding a third track between New Haven and New London on the Shoreline East line.
Most important, Cameron said the federal government must give proper weight to the economic importance of cities like Stamford, Bridgeport and New Haven as business destinations and consider service expansions.
"Stamford is a very important stop on Amtrak and in terms of the international business we attract, and the quality of service on the line is very important to our economic vitality," Cameron said.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, the ranking minority member of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, and state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, the vice chairman of the committee, said they felt it was important that advocates make the best case possible for a wide variety of rail improvements.
"This is definitely a partnership between the federal government and the state government and one that we have to work together on," Duff said. "The state clearly can't absorb the cost of moving everything to high-speed rail as much as we'd like to, but this is the busiest corridor in the country and needs to be treated as such." \
Boucher and Duff said they were in favor of the concept announced by Amtrak last month that would build a high-speed rail line from Washington, D.C., to Boston allowing train speeds of 220 mph, which would cut travel times between New York and Boston to 94 minutes or less.
"There is an economic imperative and a financial imperative to doing this because we need faster commutes and more flexibility in our system," Boucher said.