High-speed rail project gaining steam

With the announcement of a new federal grant this week, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is on track to upgrade one of New Haven’s rail lines.

On Oct. 1, the federal government awarded Connecticut $120 million, which will fund greater track capacity and an upgraded signal system on the rail line connecting New Haven to Springfield, Mass. The grant, which will be matched by $141.9 million from the state of Connecticut, will result in 11 additional round-trip routes from New Haven to Hartford each day as well as faster travel times by 2016, U.S. Department of Transportation officials said. State and federal administrators said they hope more frequent train departures will make daily commuting between New Haven and Hartford a viable option for Connecticut residents. The project is also expected to create new construction and operation jobs, decrease traffic congestion and lessen the state’s environmental impact.

“It was an exciting day this week with the announcement,” Connecticut Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said. “It now means that people will be able to commute on a regular basis with convenience.”

State officials first began discussing railway improvements in 1993. Over the years, the project has made incremental improvements as those involved worked to get funding and support from the state and federal government, Looney said. The federal government finally judged Connecticut’s planning, environmental studies and railway design to be ready for the grant this month, said Rob Kulat, the spokesperson for the federal railway administration.

“It is a very significant milestone,” said Michael Piscitelli, the city of New Haven’s deputy economic development administrator. “It truly allows the state DOT to dive into the first major batch of infrastructure investment.”

The new infrastructure includes 10 miles of double track, an upgraded signal and signage system on the railway lines, 13 repaired bridges and culverts and the installation of platforms at four Amtrak stations that are in accordance with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This construction is designed to increase the number of people who can commute from New Haven to Hartford. It may also allow low-income New Haven residents, who cannot afford cars, to travel to jobs in Hartford or the surrounding suburbs, Drew Morrison ’14, the president of New Haven Action, said. “This changes the game for a lot of people to access jobs that they really can’t right now,” he added.

The project is also estimated to create a combination of 13,000 temporary construction and permanent railway jobs, Looney said. An increase in train commuting may also alleviate highway congestion on I-91, the route from New Haven to Hartford. The project will be “critically important in getting cars off the highway and reducing use of fossil fuels and also helping to make sure I-91 corridor does not become as congested with traffic as the I-95 corridor already is,” Looney added.

Improvements to the railway will also benefit future Yale students. The new train line will provide service to Bradley Airport and make Hartford accessible to students who want to attend concerts and events in the city, Morrison said.

Although the $120 million grant is significant, additional funds are still needed to complete the project. Approximately $176 million are still needed, Looney said, adding that he hopes the money will come from the federal government. Piscitelli agreed that there is a long way to go to ensure the project is ready by 2016.

“This is substantial step forward, but it does not get this the whole way home,” Piscitelli said.

Since 2009, the Obama Administration has invested over $3.7 billion in passenger rail projects across the Northeast.

Correction: Oct. 5

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article referred to a rail line connecting New Haven to Springfield, Conn. In fact, the rail line connects New Haven to Springfield, Mass.

Comments

  • Carl

    “On Oct. 1, the federal government awarded Connecticut $120 million, which will fund greater track capacity and an upgraded signal system on the rail line connecting New Haven to Springfield, Conn.”

    Surely you mean Springfield, Massachusetts?

    Who edited this article?

  • Sara

    Great news – but the benefits will not be realized unless we also build cities around our train stations, instead of just more commuter parking lots and parking garages, like DeStefano and ConnDOT propose.

    It’s absolutely astonishing than in an era where $10/gallon gasoline looms, the City has done absolutely nothing to make the streets near Union Station more attractive to walking and cycling – and in fact is making things worse by widening the Route 34 surface streets through the middle of Downtown to make them into 5-lane pedestrian crossings.

  • towngown83

    What’s astonishing is spending this much money on high speed rail between two destinations that no one wants to visit. Sara, no one wants to be anywhere near the train station or Route 34 if they can help it.

  • hrsn

    @towngown83: editing your post for clarity: “…between two destinations that no one *I know* wants to visit. No one *I know (in my little bubble)* wants to be…”

    • towngown83

      My little bubble is New Haven, where I’ve lived for over 60 years. I think I’m a better judge of this bubble than you may be. I’ll also certainly be paying taxes to support this high speed shuttle to nowhere long after you’ve moved on to you’re next temporary lodging.