CT Progressive Democrat

News and Views from CT State Representative David McCluskey / Democrat - West Hartford

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New England Passenger & Freight Rail Vision

Recently, an ad hoc group of rail advocates, Rail New England, wrote the New England Governors to urge them to follow the lead of fellow governors in the Midwest and Southeast and achieve consensus on a comprehensive plan for a 21st century rail network for the region.

Time is of the essence because High Speed Rail (HSR) grant requests are due August 6th to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the quality of the projects currently being requested by the New England states leave much to be desired. The results of the last round of grants – $8 billion was available from the FRA, but New England only received $200 million, a paltry 2.5%.

Similarly, there is a need to support the freight rail system through public-private partnerships (PPP) with freight railroads through TIGER grants. In the last round of these grants, many freight rail projects were submitted and awarded, but none for New England. Applications for 2010 Tiger II grants are due on August 23, 2010.

Despite some gaps in the rail network, there is a key advantage on the passenger rail side. New England already has a high end, high speed rail offering in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), but it requires further investment to reach its full potential. The NEC has Acela trainsets capable of 165 mph, a 230 mile (New York City <-> Boston) electrified right of way (ROW), and portions of that ROW where the trains routinely hit 150 mph. No other region of the country has this advantage. The Boston-New York corridor can be upgraded to true HSR for a fraction of what it will cost to achieve similar result in the approved California and Florida projects. Why cannot New England build on this unique strength with the following visions for passenger & freight rail?

Proposed Regional Passenger Rail Projects:

1. Upgrade the NEC (Northeast Corridor) from New York City (Penn Station) to Boston (South Station) to enable true High Speed Rail service.
a. Acela Express (non-stop): 1 hr 45 min, avg. speed - 130 mph
b. Acela Standard (normal Acela stops) 2 hrs 15 min, avg. speed – 100 mph

2. Build the North/South Rail Link (NSRL) in Boston and extend the NEC northward, from South Station, Boston to Montreal, Canada. Certify for 110 mph speed.
a. Phase 1: South Station, Boston to Manchester, NH
b. Phase 2: Manchester, NH to Montreal, Quebec (via Concord, NH, Montpelier, VT, Burlington, VT), and Woburn, MA to Portland, ME

3. Upgrade the “Knowledge Corridor” (New Haven <-> Hartford <-> Springfield) and “Inland Route” (New York City<->New Haven<->Springfield<->Boston). Certify for 110 mph operation.

Proposed Regional Freight Rail Proposals:

1. Built/Restore Infrastructure to state of good repair on key lines.

2. Upgrade critical North/South and East/West freight rail lines and associated feeder lines that run from Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound seaports to New York state and Canadian border gateways.
a. East/West: New York state line to Boston seaport at Conley (South Boston) and Moran (Charlestown) terminals
b.North/South from Connecticut seaports to the Canadian border.

3. Upgrade NE freight network to national standards for seamless travel throughout region and country:
a. 286,000 lb weight capacity, Class 5 operational status
b.Plate I double stack height (20 ft, 9 in) on main lines. Where electrified locomotives are currently in use, or such use is planned, height should conform to the national electrification standard of 23 feet.

4. Regional collaboration on Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) for states, federal government, and key railroads on rail infrastructure:
a. Ensure infrastructure is adequate to retail, support and grow rail freight activity.
(i.e. rail yards, passing sidings, seaport access, intermodal facilities, inland ports, etc.).
b. Establish land bank of currently unused rail served land/facilities/ROW for the future use.

Investment is sorely needed in our region’s freight rail lines. In the continental 48 states, rail commonly holds a 25% to 40% share of freight traffic. Not so in New England where less than 10% of freight travels by rail. The rest of the goods are expensively transported by truck. New England freight rail lines have not kept up with national standards in terms of height clearance, weight capacities, and speed.

The seaports have inadequate or non-existent rail freight service and adjoining land, needed for related logistics support, is quickly disappearing. The region has been steadily losing its rail freight infrastructure, resulting in marginal operations that do not provide competitive service or adequate return on reinvestment.

Reversing this trend will have many benefits for New England. The Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate a new class of super-tankers. This presents economic opportunities for freight business and job creation throughout the region. Moving freight from trucks to trains will lower the cost of living and doing business in New England, decrease congestion on highways, and lessen wear and tear on roads and bridges.

Among those signing onto the letter are: the Association for Public Transportation, the Eastern Massachusetts Freight Rail Coalition, the Connecticut & Massachusetts Chapters of the Sierra Club, the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association.