Marpe letter takes on fed train service plan
Updated 3:52 pm, Friday, February 3, 2017
WESTPORT — The First Selectman is speaking out with concern over a possible new route for Amtrak through town.
“I wanted to be on record,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said at the Jan. 25 meeting of the Board of Selectmen. The project’s realization may be decades away, but, “nevertheless, I believe that the Federal Railroad Administration needs to hear from the communities that will be affected even now.”
The plan, NEC Future, could speed up some Northeast Corridor service, but has sparked concern over the potential route through Connecticut.
Marpe sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration dated Dec. 28 which he presented to the selectmen at the January meeting. The Federal Railroad Administration’s report, “Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement,” shows new routes for the Northeast that, in some places, diverge from existing rails.
As the plans unfold, Marpe hopes officials will have in mind that Westport would harbor at minimum “extreme concern,” if not strong objection to the route as seemingly mapped.
While he supports enhancing the region’s rail system, Marpe wrote in his letter, he is concerned the high-speed route is not along Westport and area towns’ existing tracks, potentially impacting “coastal resources,” property owners and the Saugatuck neighborhood.
“Moreover, it appears that the proposed additional tracks (either along an embankment or ‘aerial structures’) will pass through the Saugatuck area of Westport, but not along existing railroad rights-of-way,” Marpe wrote to the plan’s program manager. “Westport’s Saugatuck area is only now beginning to enjoy a full revitalization more than 50 years after the construction of I-95 split this unique and historic area in half.”
He continued by calling on the plan to “avoid a similar disastrous impact and work to maintain and enhance the quality of life in this distinctive neighborhood.”
A major rail line cutting through the area would “undo a lot of efforts that have already been made and that will continue to be made to make that a thriving and even more accessible area for the community,” he said.
His concern for coastal resources, referenced in the letter, is for the potential environmental impacts, in particular, the effects on the water table and watershed of the Saugatuck River and nearby Long Island Sound from a major rail structure.
Marpe is working with other local leaders in the Western Connecticut Council of Governments to encourage a public hearing on NEC Future in Fairfield County, hoping Westport residents could have a convenient venue to voice concerns and ask questions of federal officials in the near future.
NEC Future’s plans claim the new rails would shave time off Boston to New York and New York to Washington, D.C., trips, among other benefits.