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On the line: High-speed RR options scrutinized

Published 9:00 am, Sunday, April 7, 2013
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With massive investment, the 21st-century Northeast Corridor rail system could include a new right-of-way for high-speed rail running trains at speeds reaching 220 miles per hour from Washington, D.C., to Boston, stopping in Newark, N.J., Nassau, N.Y., and Stamford.

"The second spine would really be to complement the existing corridor which will remain in service and accommodate a true high-speed rail service," said Rebecca Reyes-Alicia, program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration. "We're really considering all the options through this process."

In another step toward sketching out an investment plan to guide future spending to increase capacity and speed of train service from Baltimore to Boston the Federal Railroad Administration released a list of preliminary concepts for improving rail service. The agency hopes to complete an investment plan with proposed projects by 2015 to begin to make upgrades to meet the projected need for passenger capacity through 2040.

As federal railroad planners consider the range of options to address future ridership needs along the Northeast corridor through Connecticut, initial feedback and research shows that extended rail links between Connecticut and other cities in New England might be warranted to tap into underserved regions, said Reyes-Alicea, who is overseeing the planning effort as program manager for the North East Corridor FUTURE program.

"South of New York the core key markets are already served but north there is a lot more variation through our market analysis that there are either some markets that are underserved or opportunities to access additional markets," Alicea said.

With the release of the concepts, the administration also announced plans to hold a public meeting Monday, April 8, to listen to opinions from the public and officials. The meeting, from 5 to 7 p.m., will be held at Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., Room N 100, North Building in New Haven. The report can be read at www.necfuture.com

In a hearing on the plan last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told federal railroad officials that Connecticut's economic success is tied to expanding rail systems and creating a new high speed rail corridor while still investing in the existing New Haven, Shoreline East, and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line to go into service in 2016.

"A vision for a new, dedicated high speed corridor should serve our region's and our state's major population and employment centers," Malloy said. "Those centers must have extensive, high-quality, frequent commuter rail and transit options that make connections to and from the high speed stations."

At this current stage, the preliminary concepts offers no details on tangential economic benefits of new links and higher speed service or any in-depth judgment on how fiscal constraints, design challenges, and community acceptance in particularly regions might hinder or aid projects.

With the goal of completing a final plan by 2015, Reyes-Alicea said the meetings are an important opportunity for both officials and residents in different regions to offer information and opinions about the rail administration's long-term plans while they are still in flux.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he likes the idea of the future expansion or improvements of rail systems, including a completely new high-speed rail line in Connecticut, but wants the plan to give enough importance to providing funding to address infrastructure needs on the Northeast corridor. On the New Haven Line, which is used by Amtrak, several railroad swing bridges over the Niantic, Thames and Norwalk rivers are more than a century old and need replacement.

"Assuming the Federal Railroad Administration keeps its pledge to maintain the existing Northeast Corridor shoreline route I support the inland route for development of truly high-speed rail," Cameron said. "There is no way that 200-plus-mile-per-hour speeds can be achieved on the existing coast line" because of its curves and the high value of land in Fairfield County, he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration has also planned two additional hearings next week in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.