City rails against new Amtrak line

The trains for Amtrak’s Next Generation high speed rail service, pictured in this projection, will be capable at traveling up to 220 mph.
The trains for Amtrak’s Next Generation high speed rail service, pictured in this projection, will be capable at traveling up to 220 mph. Photo by Amtrak.

After Amtrak announced the route for its proposed new high speed rail line in the Northeast — which promises to deliver passengers from Boston to Washington, D.C., in just over three hours — city officials began a vigorous campaign against a program that they argue will leave New Haven in the dust.

The current railroad infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor — the main rail artery north of Washington — runs through New Haven, Stamford and Bridgeport on its way to Boston. But in late July Amtrak announced it wants the new $151 billion high speed line, jointly developed with the Federal Railroad Administration, to bypass the three coastal Connecticut cities and stop in Danbury, Waterbury and Hartford instead. With the Sept. 14 deadline to submit project comments to the FRA rapidly approaching, city officials are working to build grassroots opposition to a project that they say could damage the Elm City economy and cripple Union Station, currently the tenth busiest rail station in the U.S. with over 700,000 annual passengers.

“The best way to grow jobs and strengthen New Haven is to get us to New York in one hour. With high speed rail, that is possible,” said Elizabeth Benton ’04, City Hall spokeswoman. “The City of New Haven and the New Haven Economic Development Corporation are working to make residents and businesses aware that current plans bypass New Haven, and to alert residents to opportunities to voice their views on the matter.”

In a July letter explaining the new rail line, Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman said the route was designed to “accommodate more trains, operate at faster speeds with significantly reduced trip-times, and improve service and reliability to meet long-term mobility and economic development needs.” But local critics said that by re-routing the line through inland Connecticut cities — which may allow for faster and cheaper construction due to more open terrain — project administrators are prioritizing cost over ridership.

While Amtrak said it plans to continue investing in the older line through 2025, and expects to complete the new line by 2040, city officials said they are concerned that a new line will eventually lead Amtrak to ignore existing infrastructure along the shoreline.

“We have the highest percentage of people who take alternative transportation to work in the state,” said Ross Hicks, who works at the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven. “You can put a train anywhere and make it go really fast, but it doesn’t matter if no one rides it.”

To fight the proposed route, City Hall, local government offices and community activists have begun what Hicks calls a “coordinated effort” to get the message out. Those involved are targeting New Haven residents and businesses to explain the issue and direct letters, phone calls and comments to the FRA.

As part of the outreach effort, the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven is circulating a letter among locals that states “the city is very concerned about any route which skips New Haven and they strongly encourage you to write a letter to the FRA to provide your thoughts.” The EDC’s mailing includes a template letter addressed to the FRA that voices strong opposition to the plan under consideration.

Hicks said the outreach has generated “much better responses than anticipated,” with calls coming into his office immediately after the mailing was first sent out. He added that although “the Feds are open to hear us out,” the government’s reaction to the public sentiment has been subdued.

“It’s been very quiet. The FRA scheduled most of the public hearings in late August which is when most people are on vacation,” Hicks said. “The project has been kept mostly under wraps at the Federal level so now we are starting to ramp up.”

The next-generation rail project would erect 427 miles of two-way rail track capable of accommodating trains at speeds up to 220 mph.

Comments

  • newhaventrains

    There is an error in this article. Amtrak did not create its proposal in partnership with FRA.

    The real story is that Amtrak and FRA are performing two separate planning processes for the Northeast. Amtrak is preparing plans to implement high-speed rail (the most recent plan, released in July, offers the route that skips New Haven). Meanwhile, the FRA is leading [NEC FUTURE][1], which is the name they have given to the process of completing an environmental impact state for the Northeast Corridor. The NEC FUTURE project has *not* chosen an alignment. The meeting they held in August was simply to gather ideas but was not asking for input on Amtrak’s proposal.

    The truth is that Amtrak and FRA operate very independently. The FRA has not endorsed Amtrak’s proposal in any way and there is no reason to believe that Amtrak’s proposal will be preferred in the EIS process.

    Still, it makes sense for EDC to use the Amtrak proposal to mobilize businesses and residents now. The FRA wants to hear what people want; if New Haven wants better rail service, now is the time to contact FRA.

    [1]: http://necfuture.com

  • RexMottram08

    Isn’t it interesting how FedEx and UPS are able to serve every conceivable location in the United States in faster time than the Post Office, which is closing locations?

    High speed rail is a high speed folly

    • ernie

      Hard to see how this is relevant. But anyway, FedEx and UPS charge a premium for that fast delivery while the USPS provides reasonably quick and price-efficient service–and on top of that FedEx and UPS actually rely on it for delivery to less-trafficked areas. Sometimes government infrastructure actually is a good thing.

    • Jacob

      Really? If it’s such a high speed folly, why is the largest economy on the planet (which isn’t America, by the way) investing their valuable money in miles and miles of new high-speed rail? (And green energy, though that’s another matter.) Do some research into the Texas-based Tubular Rail, Inc., which made bids for at least two high-speed rail projects in Ohio and Texas, both of which were shot down by politicians. (Last I’d heard, the company may have potential buyers in Shanghai instead; I guess we’ve outsourced our investment capacity as well as our workforce.)

      Note also that the “Texas rail quad,” as it was called, was shot down due to it’s competition with the airline industry, an industry notoriously regulated by the government, which experiences numerous delays and inconveniences.

      Note as well, that Finland (which, like us, is well integrated into the global economy, and which has a Gross National Income per capita almost identical to ours) is NOT ONLY slowly and methodically improving its rail network (which by US standards, already includes high-speed track) BUT ALSO has remained economically and politically stable during this recession AND has still earned enough money to support a broad-reaching social safety net AND has still stayed in the top 30 on the Wall Street Journal’s Economic Freedom Index AND has still consistently scored higher than us on international education tests AND still provides free university-level education and government-sponsored healthcare to all its citizens and to any foreigners who study at its universities. (This from a country with nothing but a Nordic Model!)

      If high speed rail were a high speed folly, how could it so smoothly integrate itself into a successful, stable, modern economy?

  • newscorner

    What do FedEx and UPS give you for 45 cents? Will they send a letter from New Haven to Honolulu or Bridgeport for that price?

  • gnhistory07

    Rex,
    I’m confused. Nowhere in the article is fedex or UPS mentioned, so what does your comment have to do with the article about high speed rail?

    gnhistory

  • Jaymin

    Amtrak expects to complete the new line by 2040?? How in the world should a project like this take that long?

    • Carl

      Lack of federal funding, of course. The Tea Party wing of the GOP hates public transportation.

  • Galavantian

    “Rails” against Amtrak line…I see what you did there.

  • River_Tam

    A headline pun worthy of the NY Post.

  • Sara