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Continuing the commuter rail discussion
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Lots of thoughts and ideas out of our discussion of the New Haven to Springfield commuter rail project with Representitive David McCluskey and Urban Compass blogger Heather Brandon. Here are a few notes:

  • A caller asked about taking this project all the way to Northampton - the answer is, that line's in bad shape. Boy, connecting Hartford to the 5 colleges would be huge for city-dwellers.
  • Some different ideas on parking. Rep. McCluskey told a shoreline train rider that shuttle buses to get from off-site lots might work in some communities, not in hers, perhaps. It does raise questions about how easy rail travel must be made for people to really take advantage.
  • McCluskey talked about our reliance on trucks for freight...that's a topic for another show, but important. We don't use trains to get our products here. So, instead, we sit next to our products in traffic, as they cool in the back of tractor-trailers.
  • We got to this question about Middletown from an emailer William: The New Haven - Springfield line is called the "Knowledge Corridor" by many, because it will link up the many research parks and universities and colleges in the wider north-south region. Yet the commuter line will miss Middletown, home of Wesleyan University, one of the state's premier liberal arts institution, and (as Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch noted on the show yesterday) a very successful small city in its own right with a thriving commercial center (and, I might add, a lively arts and culture scene -- see the Middletown Eye). While many in Middletown welcome the intensification of the commuter rail possibilities in the "Knowledge Corridor", at the same time we fear that we (along with the towns along the southern stretch of the Connecticut River) are going to be bypassed by this important new infrastructure development. Are transit linkages between Middletown (and Middlesex County) with the rest of the state and the region part of the development scenarios that are being discussed in Hartford? And if not, how can we make sure that they are? The answer we got: Middletown is on a different line, but should be part of a larger, integrated transit system. We also heard ideas about high-speed rail from Hartford to New York, and better connections to New Britain.
  • Another email - which I didn't get to, and should have: I am hoping someone who has the power to make this happen sees this. I live in New Haven and I travel a lot. I almost always fly out of New York, largely because I have no car and it is easier and cheaper for me to get to any of the airports in New York than to Bradley. A lot of people I know are in this situation. (There are airport shuttles but they are expensive and have poor service.) We desperately need decent public transportation between the major cities in Connecticut and Bradley Airport. Why can't a train stop between New Haven and Springfield stop at Bradley? The New York airports are overloaded and the other airports in the region are underutilized. Transportation is a major issue! So, would this provide service to the airport? The current DOT plans say it would come close, providing a station in Windsor Locks that would be a connection point for shuttle buses to the airport and the Rt. 20 corridor.
  • Several others fondly remember Europe when talk turns to trains: Just wanted to mention that while living in Europe in the late 90's I learned that workplaces there opened at 9 and closed at 5 or 5:30 to accommodate travel time and life-balance. I've tried many times to incorporate car-pooling or public transportation into my work-life here but no one works set hours anymore and most offices expect you to be flexible on a day to day basis. Europeans, by having regular hours, also seemed to have more time to go out in the evenings and again, use the rail system to get to the theaters, restaurants or other events... so the rails and light rails were being used all day!
  • And...I lived in London for 5 years and easily traveled the country by public transportation.. but it wasn't just because they had the rail stations and the rail service. It was because it was seamless... I had ONE pass that let me get to school or work by connecting between bus, train, and light rail as needed. I also had clearly posted schedules, well-lit walkways and sidewalks with pedestrian right-of- way crossings at every point. They made it easy to say, "it's easier to take the train... driving would just be a hassle."
  • Luis says: "Vermont is hoping the springfield to new haven line happens so they can start a movement to extend to brattleboro. This would totally transform the region...not just CT"
  • Finally -Kathleen Hanney-Cerquone wrote in on Facebook: I commute from New Haven to Hartford everyday...what I wouldn't give to wake up one morning and find the rail line complete, waiting to carry me back and forth.
  • You can find more on the Conn DOT site.

 

New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Service Improvements

I would suggest adding service incrementally - a few extra trains each way to start.  We needn't "re-invent the wheel" to test the waters.  I beleive there is a provision within Amtrak that allows a direct state subsidy for added service - this has been done in NY state, Illinois, and California and would be relatively simple.

To plan on future expansion, some preparation must be done.  As Hartford is a vital location attention should be given to a substantial upgrade of the rail facilities at Hartford Union Station, specifically the viduct that carries trains from Asylum St to Church St.  Originally built around 1888 when locomotives weighed in at about 50 tons, it was thankfully "overbuilt" and following a number of additional upgrades, 150 ton locomotives now use it, but during the final years of double or more track - by 1990 - only one train at a time was permitted on the structure.  By 1992 that was no longer a problem as the trackage on the viaduct was reduced to a single track.

With a strong rail passenger future, the current minimal capacity at Hartford must be increased, a plan to completely rebuild or replace the viaduct should be made as soon as possible, with all 4 tracks being restored.

Related to this and any large scale commuter rail operation through Hartford should be the immediately cancellation of the New Britain busway project.  This busway intrudes on the existing 4-track wide right of way between Hartford and Newington Jct., and obliterates the mostly double track width right of way from there to New Britain.  Instead, replace this busway concept with commuter rail, which would be fully compatible with commuter rail on the New Haven-Hartord run, and if full double track is restored Newington-Hartford there would be adaquate capacity.  The busway would require a wider separate roadway structure, and the busway would obstruct any reasonable expansion of commuter rail west of New Britain to Plainville, Bristol and eventually Waterbury.

I have worked in the passenger rail industry since 1974, but I am not allowed to publicly make statements so I must remain anonymous!