As published in the Record Journal Tuesday October 26, 2010
By Robert Cyr
MERIDEN — Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other officials gathered at the downtown train station Monday to announce the federal government’s $120 million grant for high-speed rail service between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, adding to the $260 million already approved by the state.
The planned 11 stop, 62-mile rail line through the center of the state is estimated to cost about $800 million to $1 billion to complete, which the state Department of Transportation hopes to do by 2016. Meriden, Wallingford, Berlin and Bradley International Airport would be stops along the new line.
“This is one of the best projects put together in the country,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. “We’re relieving pressure along the Northeast corridor, and this is the critical piece needed to do that.”
The first phase of the project involves laying double track the length of the railway and constructing rail stations, Dodd said. Earlier this year, 10 miles of track were doubled between Newington and Berlin with $40 million in federal funding and $26 million in state money.
The remaining miles of track will take about five years to complete, he said. The work will be done by Connecticut-based companies, generating almost 5,000 jobs, Dodd said.
Although state officials fell short in their award package, they were undeterred and will look for more sources of funding, said Rell. The state originally applied for $220 million from the $2 billion in federal money to address state infrastructure projects.
“It’s not everything we asked for,” she said. “There will be other applications available, and we’ll certainly pursue those.”
Rell said the railway connecting the business centers of the state would bring attention to the smaller cities along the line, spreading business opportunities throughout the corridor.
“I always use Meriden as a good example,” she said. “This is one of those town-cities we can finally focus on when we get high speed rail.”
While a cost-benefit analysis has yet to be done on the project, preliminary state transportation studies have found that the trains would take an estimated 4,000 cars off the road each day, reducing carbon emissions by 10,000 tons a year, Dodd said.
The rail line would pass through the heart of the state’s “knowledge corridor” of 2 million people, a swath of cities of all sizes containing 32 colleges with 120,000 students, and 40,000 businesses, mostly small, he said.
“Certainly, there will be studies done,” he said. “But if you give people a chance to drive a short way, park their car and get on a train to go to work, and they’ll jump at a chance to use that system. This kind of project will remind people what we’re capable of doing.”
This month, Meriden officials learned the city had been awarded almost $1 million in state urban development and transportation funds to help acquire property in the area of the State Street train station, while $230,000 is earmarked for planning expenses.
Wallingford was forecast to have the busiest station on the line in a 2005 study, with 250 riders coming and going each day, although some say that number could be higher with spikes in gas prices. The town submitted a recommendation to the state Department of Transportation last summer that, should the commuter line materialize, the town would like its station relocated from where Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac Street intersect with Route 5 to the intersection of North Cherry and Parker streets, to ease traffic congestion in the downtown area.
Congressional representatives, state and local politicians and DOT Commissioner Jeffrey A. Parker also attended Monday’s announcement.
Connecticut’s announcement came on the same day that U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire announced more than $2 million in stimulus funds to study a $300 million high-speed rail corridor. That project would run from Boston to Nashua, and on to Concord.
Massachusetts has already received $70 million in federal money to upgrade deteriorated tracks from Springfield to Vermont. The tracks now carry freight trains at speeds no faster than 10 miles per hour, but repairs are expected to eventually boost speeds to about 60 and 70 miles per hour.
Train service for years has been diverted east to Palmer to avoid the run-down tracks. Transportation officials want to rebuild those tracks to provide north-south passenger service to population centers in Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst and Greenfield.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.