View Full Version : Connecticut Rail Plan

March 15th, 2006, 04:38 AM
March 15, 2006
Few Riders, Much Vision in Connecticut Rail Plan

Proponents say the project would help revive central Connecticut.

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. The future would be all bustle and efficiency: Riders would step off commuter trains here throughout the day, breeze through a new station and then step onto shuttle buses that take them a few miles west to Bradley International Airport, where they jet off to spread the news that central Connecticut is built for business.

For now, however, there is just a concrete platform, a bench in a plexiglass shelter and Ken Shea, who confronted a sharp wind and not much else when he stepped down from the two-car Amtrak train he takes each day from New Haven. He was on his way to welding classes at a technical school in East Windsor, across the Connecticut River from the station, where he arrives, not always on time, on the 11:11 a.m. train.

"I'm the only one I know who gets off here every day," said Mr. Shea, 41, one of about 600 people who ride the route to various points between New Haven and Springfield, Mass., on an average weekday.

If Mr. Shea's trip seems uncommon, he may be ahead of his time. Under a proposal supported by a wide range of legislators and planners and included in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed budget, a few years from now the Windsor Locks station would become a critical business hub linking the airport to a new commuter rail line running on the existing Amtrak route from New Haven to Hartford to Springfield.

The proposal calls for service every 30 minutes during peak hours at 11 stations each way. Amtrak trains now run more than an hour apart. Proponents say the project would ease traffic congestion, expand the state's business corridor and help revitalize several long-struggling cities in the center of the state hurt by continuing declines in manufacturing jobs, even as the state as a whole has the nation's highest per capita income. But the project would be a big money-loser, even by the standards of subsidized rail, where deficits are taken for granted.

How big a loser could depend on which of several versions of the idea, ranging in cost from $162 million to $600 million, is selected. The so-called fare-box recovery the percentage of operating costs paid by fares would be only 11 percent under a $291 million plan advocated by the state's Transportation Strategy Board. The State Department of Transportation expects a total of 2,428 people to ride the 62-mile line each day by the year 2025, though some estimates say ridership could reach 5,000.

A scaled down version of that proposal by Mrs. Rell, a Republican, would cost just $162 million, with $16 million coming from the federal government. Her aides said her version would save money by refurbishing older cars instead of buying new ones and putting off plans to build a maintenance facility for the line.

The more expensive the project, the higher the operating costs. For instance, operating costs under Mrs. Rell's plan would be about $8.5 million each year, and $9 million under the strategy board's proposal.

Mrs. Rell's plan follows a $1.3 billion measure she pushed through the legislature last year that added 342 new cars to the Metro-North New Haven Line, spent $300 million for a new rail maintenance facility for that line and paid for improvements to some interstate highways.

Connecticut is currently served by the New Haven Line, which has branches to New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury, and by Shore Line East, which runs from New Haven to New London. No commuter lines serve the Hartford area, which one transportation consultant famously called a "cul-de-sac."

Despite the predictions of low ridership, supporters and some experts say similar projects across the country have generated new riders through the business and housing development they stimulate and by providing frequent, reliable service that eventually persuades suburban drivers to take the train, even if their destination is not a center city.

Planners say the new rail line is critical to creating what they call a "virtuous cycle" helping reduce suburban sprawl by encouraging "transit-oriented development" around new commuter stations while helping the state compete in the region with New Jersey, where commuter rail lines lace the state.

Some advocates see the proposed commuter line as a vindication of rail over the Interstate highway system, which expanded so rapidly here and elsewhere in the 1950's.

Wayne Drummond, the president of the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association, said "it was kind of a shocker" when Mrs. Rell backed the new rail line in her budget address. For years, he said, "Everybody wanted to lay concrete. Everybody wanted a car. Now the roads are all filled up."

Mr. Drummond, a retired New York police officer who fell in love with trains while growing up in the Bronx, echoed some of the same points planners make when they promote the new rail line: "No eminent domain, no condemnation of properties, no one screeching about the environment."

For all its ambition, Mrs. Rell's transportation proposal, which also includes a $300 million commuter "busway" between New Britain and Hartford, may be the most modest one at the Capitol this year. James A. Amann, the House speaker and a Democrat, wants to spend more than $5 billion on projects ranging from the new rail line to busways to highway construction and improvements to Metro-North. The president pro tempore of the Senate, Donald E. Williams Jr., also a Democrat, supports the rail line as well as expanding rail freight.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

March 15th, 2006, 06:46 AM
Modest progress.

March 15th, 2006, 10:34 AM
I liked the idea to extend the shoreline east to Rhode Island better. I didn't want to go to Springfield though. This is obviously good for CT.

March 20th, 2006, 01:21 PM
Despite how easy this could be to do, I wont be surprised when I'm 60 years old and still have to rely on a once in a while Amtrak shuttle train.

I would say run it from Stamford, express to New Haven(maybe a stop or two at places like Bridgeport), then up the line to Springfield. I don't know though if they could use the Stamford yard, or even the New Haven yard or any other existing rail yard. They should definately try to arrange an agreement with an existing yard before building a whole new facility.