Conn. proposes new commuter rail service to Mass., Hartford



North Haven Recreational Center buzzed with energy Wednesday as community members from greater New Haven enthusiastically debated proposed changes in area train service.

Citizens voiced their opinions on a new state-proposed commuter rail service at a public open house hosted by the Connecticut State Department of Transportation yesterday evening. The proposed plan would provide increased peak-hour service from New Haven to Hartford and to Springfield, Mass.

Carmine Trotta, the assistant director of the State Department of Transportation, said such a plan was suggested 15 or 20 years ago but eventually fizzled out due to lack of interest.

“In the past year, however, there has been sufficient interest in the state legislature to give the plan momentum,” he said. “There has been a lot of interest in the towns. People have been very forthright in supporting a commuter-type service.”

Fran Ariola, the union representative for United Transportation, said he approved of the plan.

“Wherever you can fill a need of a service, it should be filled,” he said.

He said if Amtrak is as successful with the new line as it is with the current Shore Line East rail, the proposed service will be “very, very effective.”

Other area community members said they supported the proposed plan because it would help the environment and reduce congestion.

Engineering corporation Wilbur Smith Associates is performing a study of the potential service, focusing on “ridership,” projected costs and community impact. Kari Watkins, a representative of Wilbur Smith, said plan progress will depend on funding.

“We have definitely had a favorable public response,” she said. “The biggest issue now, before we can start focusing on the environmental process and design, is funding. That’s really the next step.”

Community members who attended the meeting, however, were not unanimously decided in favor of the proposed service. Several people said they were concerned about a possible financial burden on North Haven residents, as the source of the funding is still unknown.

Some members said the projected plan, which will only provide service at peak times Monday through Friday, will not be sufficient in order to fill the current demand for off-peak hours and weekends.

New Canaan resident Richard Stowe said he supported the project in general but thought the train should run from Massachusetts to New York City, in order to include more of Connecticut.

“The plan as it stands now doesn’t provide seamless transit,” he said. “The service should integrate all of Connecticut instead of just this one portion.”

He said some residents of southwest Connecticut, including New Canaan, oppose the original proposal because it does not adequately address the transportation “crisis” in the New Haven line corridor. He said New Haven community members should see beyond the transportation needs of their immediate area.

“The whole state would be a lot better off if we introduced this service statewide,” Stowe said.

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