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OPINION

Regional rail planning is important to N.E.

James T. Brett

Improving our regional connections through railway transportation is more than good for the economy, it's good common sense and good for the quality of life in the Northeast.

Transportation is one of the major issues that binds us as a region. As individual New England states consider issues of transportation, they must remain committed to regional planning or risk losing ground on what successes we have gained. If we apply a regional perspective to aviation and other infrastructure projects, it must also apply to rail.

That is why it's important to fund the completion of a study that indicates a high-speed rail from Boston to Montreal, Canada, holds great promise.

Three years ago, the Federal Railroad Administration designated the Boston to Montreal route as one of the nation's three new High Speed Rail Corridors. The goal of the project is to reduce congestion that plagues other modes of travel, particularly on our highways. According to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which initiated the study, the rail service could reduce growing traffic concerns in the Greater Boston area, Interstate 93 and Route 3 corridors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The service could also reduce growing traffic volumes for Interstate 89 in Vermont and New Hampshire. In addition, this route would provide an alternative travel mode for airline travelers using Logan or Montreal-Dorval airports that could mitigate anticipated future air travel congestion.

The proposed corridor is approximately 325 miles. The first phase of the study found that the route would be economically viable if the train service was fast and reliable. The study also found that the trains could operate at a maximum speed of 110 mph over the majority of the existing corridor.

A ridership survey found that nearly 700,000 passengers per year would use the line. The study also estimated that the service could generate more than $34 million in annual revenue.

Rail service is a key component to the future of transportation in New England. This is a message that The New England Council has consistently delivered to the New England Congressional delegation as they fight for transportation funding in this year's debate over the TEA-3 bill, highway and transit funding.

Rail is more cost-effective than expanding and widening existing highways in many cases. Rail service can mitigate congestion. And according to the 2002 Urban Mobility Study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, the nation's highways are plagued with congestion. The state of the system could have a detrimental effect on our ability to move goods and services to the market. The study of 75 urban areas in the United States determined that congestion cost $67.5 billion, representing the value of 3.6 billion hours of delay and 5.7 billion gallons of excess fuel consumed.

And the volume on our highways continues to grow.

More than 7,000 people are employed in the rail industry in New England. Rail has become a success story in New England, particularly with the introduction of high-speed rail service along the Northeast corridor. The high-speed Acela tripled its ridership from Boston to Washington, D.C., in less than a year. The "Downeaster," which operates from Portland, Maine, to Boston, has posted $2.1 million in revenue, carrying more than 138,000 passengers in its first six months of operation. Through commuter services, Amtrak serves 61 million people per year.

Canada is the leading trading partner for 38 of the 50 United States, including all six New England states. Exports from Canada to New England totaled some $13.6 billion last year. In addition to the economic links, 25 percent of New England's population has family ties to Canada.

Enhancing our ability to do business and increase tourism between our region and Canada makes sense.

State officials in Vermont are eager to begin the second phase of the Boston-Montreal high-speed rail study. This phase, however, has been delayed because of inadequate funding. Congress promised $250,000 for the study, and the rest of the money must be matched with $67,000 each from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Vermont and Massachusetts have allocated their shares; to date, the New Hampshire contribution has not been met.

In the face of state budget shortfalls and cutbacks, it can be argued that the states simply cannot afford to fund studies for long-range planning. On the other hand, when you consider the potential benefits of this high-speed corridor becoming a reality, perhaps we cannot afford not to pursue this idea.

If we want to send a message to Congress that we as a region are united on transportation issues and committed to regional transportation planning, we need to commit to the completion of this study for a project that seems to hold much promise.

JAMES T. BRETT is president and CEO of the New England Council.

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If they build it people will love it. It's weird how many studies are needed to build a rail line when airports and roads are expanded without much discussion at all.

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If they build it people will love it. It's weird how many studies are needed to build a rail line when airports and roads are expanded without much discussion at all.

Yep. In Detroit they don't hesitate to widen roads to insane porportions, yet a simple light rail line from Downtown to the airport has taken many years of studies to get anywhere....and the project isn't even close to being constructed! Why don't city planners just follow my motto for mass transit: "If you build it, the riders will come."?

This is important to the region. Besides, we can't be dependent on cars forever. Rail is going to play a major role in transportation in this country someday. There will be a day when all major cities are linked by high speed rail, similar to the interstate system today.

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We wouldn't have the interstate system if Eisenhower hadn't made it a national proiority. We need a President to make that sort of commitment to rail.

Or we could go back to the moon. :rolleyes:

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Guest donaltopablo

We wouldn't have the interstate system if Eisenhower hadn't made it a national proiority. We need a President to make that sort of commitment to rail.

It would be nice to see a commitment from just about any government official for something other than car dependant transportation in this country. Hell, I can't believe they don't use rail to leverage the mobility of cars. Amtrak already has a CT to Florida service offering the ability to take your car on the train. Why not increase that service? I would love to pack myself and a car on the train, ride overnight to the N.E. and continue my road trip.

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We wouldn't have the interstate system if Eisenhower hadn't made it a national proiority. We need a President to make that sort of commitment to rail.

It would've happened no matter who was president. If it hadn't been made a national priority, the system may have been pushed back for a few years, but it still would've been built. And Cities like Detroit and LA were already building their freeway systems several years before the Interstate Hiway Act was passed.

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There are a lot of pre-interstate highways around boston. They are prettier, but not as safe or fast. If this kind of road had been what was built everywhere, sprawl might not have taken hold like it did.

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There are a lot of pre-interstate highways around boston. They are prettier, but not as safe or fast. If this kind of road had been what was built everywhere, sprawl might not have taken hold like it did.

I think that if that had happened, sprawl would be reduced, but it would still be a problem today. Detroit was sprawling even before the freeways. The nation's first freeway, the Davison Freeway (connecting Highland Park & Detroit), opened in 1942, but Detroit was sprawling long before that. In fact, most of Detroit is made up of early 20th century sprawl. It is a lot more dense than today's sprawl, and was planned better, but it is still all single family homes.

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What does New England need when it comes to interstate mass-transit?

A few projects that are in the proposal stages are:

  • Light Rail from Newport, RI to Fall River, MA to connect to eventual Fall River - Boston commuter rail

  • New Haven, CT - Hartford, CT - Springfield, MA commuter rail

  • Possible extension of Shoreline East service from New London, CT to Warwick, RI

  • Extension of MBTA commuter rail into South County, RI

  • Extension of MBTA commuter rail to Nashua, NH and Manchester, NH Airport

  • High-speed rail from Boston to Montreal via New Hampshire and Vermont

  • North-South rail link through Boston

What else should the 6 states be working on?

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Well, we can all dream. The N-S link would make so many more commuter rail trips more efficient and would surely increase ridership as well as take pressure off the subway by reducing the number of transfers people must make when coming into the city via commuter rail. It should be a long term goal along with electrification and more frequent service. That could support the kind of growth we'd like to see in the area.

I'd love to see a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield-Amherst/Northampton commuter rail line that connects in Springfield to an extended Worcester branch from Boston.

How about a big circle commuter rail line with a route similar to routes 95 or 495. People would make trips that often include a transfer between this circle line and one of the existing spoke lines. But that would only make sense with a much more frequent service in the future.

And all these expansions should be accompanied by serious upzoning, or at least a major initiative toward TOD around new and existing stations. Let's not only invest in public transit to make exurban life more livable.

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What's the status of the HSR link between Boston and Montreal? I think this may be one of the most promising projects out there - it would require a lot of work, but the route is there already.

I, too, would love to see a long distance line with fewer stops running from Boaton out to Springfield, and maybe even on to Albany. Can't be so many stops as the commuter line though. I also would love to see a train that runs from Bosotn on up to North Conway - skiers in the winter, tourists in the summer. I think that might help their situation up there.

While I don't support Bush's stance on turning rail over to the states, if some of the government money that goes into road projects can go into rail, I think New England would be a good place to start.

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I would like to see the Kingston/Plymouth commuter rail go down to around Bourne(sp?) so that it would be an easier commute to Cape Cod, maybe even some bus service to Hyannis and PTown, the B Bus in Hyannis/Mashpee/Falmouth is pretty good and the Plymouth Brockton bus service and Pina Bus service have enough service on Cape, but for people who want to visit in the summer for a weekend a commuter rail from South Station would be a nice alternative to driving down 3 or 495...

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The MBTA (Mass. Bay Transit Auth.) should partner up with the PVTA (Poineer Valley Transit Auth - Springfield) to build a rail or extend the T to Boston. Would get so much usage.

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield idea is great.

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I'm not sure what the current status is on the high speed line to Montreal, but I know it was being held up by NH's refusal to fund it's fair share. I don't know if the new administration in NH has become more transit-friendly or not.

The MBTA (Mass. Bay Transit Auth.) should partner up with the PVTA (Poineer Valley Transit Auth - Springfield) to build a rail or extend the T to Boston. Would get so much usage.

There is Amtrak service out of Boston that hits Springfield. I think the T running service to Springfield probably won't work, it's too far out. But another good line for high speed rail would be Boston to Toronto, via Worcester, Springfield, Albany, Rochester...

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I would like to see the Kingston/Plymouth commuter rail go down to around Bourne(sp?) so that it would be an easier commute to Cape Cod, maybe even some bus service to Hyannis and PTown, the B Bus in Hyannis/Mashpee/Falmouth is pretty good and the Plymouth Brockton bus service and Pina Bus service have enough service on Cape, but for people who want to visit in the summer for a weekend a commuter rail from South Station would be a nice alternative to driving down 3 or 495...

If it were up to me, the T would go all the way to Hyannis, but the lift bridge at the canal does present a scheduling issue.

I'm debating if I want to go to the Cape for Thanksgiving right now. The problem is, bus service from Providence to the Cape takes forever, it's a really circuitous route with lots of annoying stops before finally reaching Hyannis. If the T ran Providence to Boston on holidays, it would almost be quicker to take the train to Boston, then P&B to the Hyannis, seriously.

I think it would be good to have ferry service run to the Cape. The Provincetown ferry from Boston is good, but it doesn't bring you to the Mid-Cape, a ferry from Boston to Barnstable Harbor would be ideal, with ground transport on the Cape bringing you into Hyannis and Yarmouth.

I've taken the highspeed ferry from New Bedford to the Vineyard, and it was great (there's also a high speed ferry from Quonset Point, RI to the Vineyard). I think both ports should add service to Hyannis, it could even be a line with a stop at the Vineyard continuing to Hyannis.

Any transit to the Cape would have to be coupled with improvements to bus service in the Mid-Cape though.

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In regards to New Haven/Hartford/Springfield Commuter line- What about an option to change in Hartford and go Directly to Boston?

I know off hand about 5 people that commute Hartford to Boston frequently, including one of my professors(w.hartford->Boston).

Right now, I frequent Greyhound bus service, which isnt all that economically fit for a college student($28/ticket $55 round trip, 2 hours 30 mins with a stop in Worcester.)

AMTRAK service is basically nonexistant Boston->Hartford and vice versa.

You can either pay ALOT to go Boston->New Haven->Hartford(which is just illogical) or Boston->Springfield->Hartford- The problem with the latter is a multiple hour layover in Springfield, about 10 times what it would take a friend to just come pick me up in a car there.

Thoughts?

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Yeah, it would be greta to link the two, but Amtrak has a ton of problems, not sure if they care right about now...

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Yeah, it would be greta to link the two, but Amtrak has a ton of problems, not sure if they care right about now...

Yes there was another article about AMTRAK struggling in todays Journal Inquirer(local paper)

In their entire history, not one year has ever turned a profit....amazing.

Im talking more of the commuter rail though, different from Amtrak.

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For that matter, it would be great if New England had a simple regional rail system, connecting all of the cities. It's probably one of the few place in North America where such a system could be done efficiently and where you have the required density. But until some major FRA requirements are changed, and someone is willing to spend the money, it ain't going to happen.

I think the big thing right now is to stop thinking commuter rail (centered around one city) and start thinking intercity connections. Particularly Boston to Manchester and Worcester to both Manchester and Providence.

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For that matter, it would be great if New England had a simple regional rail system, connecting all of the cities. It's probably one of the few place in North America where such a system could be done efficiently and where you have the required density. But until some major FRA requirements are changed, and someone is willing to spend the money, it ain't going to happen.

I think the big thing right now is to stop thinking commuter rail (centered around one city) and start thinking intercity connections. Particularly Boston to Manchester and Worcester to both Manchester and Providence.

There already is Boston->Worcester, Worcester->Boston and Boston->Providence and Providence->Boston, the MBTA runs those quite frequently.

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But they only work if you are commuting to Boston. The schedules are attrocious (at least ORH-BOS is), it takes too long, and it's not frequent enough.

I would love to see something efficient from Worcester to Providence, and then Worcester to Manchester. Maybe Boston to Manchester, too. Great for getting to the airport, and I think it would drive a lot of business between the cites. The tracks are already there, there's even a rail line that services Boston and Providence, only they really couldn't use it for passenger traffic right now. Wonder if the P&W would ever be able to get something running between the two?

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I read in the local paper a few months ago that there is money earmarked for a feasibility study of Springfield North commuter rail. I have not heard anything since. Greenfield has taken the initiative to plan their new bus terminal adjacent to the old Boston & Maine depot location for future rail service. Sadly holyoke or westfield are not doing the same to my knowledge.

The biggest obstacle to expansion of passenger rail in new england (other than money, and questionable ridership in some parts) is the opposition from Guilford Rail System and CSX to possibly interfering with their schedules, liability, and infrastructure issues. GRS seems especially hostile. They DID agree to amtrak running the downeaster to Portland, only after the Gov't offered to rebuild the entire stretch with heavy rail, and even then they still objected to the 79 mph limit. Guilford loves defered maintenance, the Amtrak Montrealer that formerly traveled up the Connecticut River Line though Holyoke Northampton and Greenfield had to be diverted to the New England Central though Palmer due to deteriorating track conditons. That route is limited to 10-15 MPH now. Complicating the east-west route past worcester is that that much of the mainline has been reduced to one track. West of Springfield iffy for anything fast since it has a hell of a grade and some tighter curves.

Springfield-Hartford-New Haven is great since Amtrak owns the right of way. Something to look at would be having the state/whatever agency buy additional routes, like north of springfield and allow frieight trackage rights over them to still provide freight service to whats left of the industry. I think Boston-Worcester-Springfield could be workable. There has been a big surge in Western Mass of bostonians buying houses here and spending all that time commuting back and forth.

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The frieght railroads are huge obstacles to passenger rail service. I hate to say this, but I am of the opinion lately that the government has got to step in and do something about Guilford. They pretty much are screwing over any chance of passenger traffic in the area. And it's not like they are providing great service for frieght, either. Why don't they worry more about nationalizing the tracks instead of the service?

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The frieght railroads are huge obstacles to passenger rail service. I hate to say this, but I am of the opinion lately that the government has got to step in and do something about Guilford. They pretty much are screwing over any chance of passenger traffic in the area. And it's not like they are providing great service for frieght, either. Why don't they worry more about nationalizing the tracks instead of the service?

Rumor has it that Norfolk Southern might buy part or all of the GRS this month. If that happens, the physical plant would be upgraded substantially, and would woo back rail customers. It would also open up the possibility for amtrak and/or transit authorities to have rights over lines that would actually be able to handle passenger trains without derailments. That being if NS is open to that sort of thing, I'm not sure how receptive they usually are towards passenger operations on their ROW.

Guilford makes its money off of paper products from Maine, they seem to have a policy of intentionally letting branchlines fall into disrepair so they can abandon them and get rid of shippers that don't provide a ton of traffic. This seems most prevalent outside of Boston (the boston & maine no longer goes to boston, heh). If the tracks were government owned, they might be forced to provide service, much like the ICC/NTSB were pretty strict about approving abadonments due to possible future use.

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What does New England need when it comes to interstate mass-transit?

A few projects that are in the proposal stages are:

  • Light Rail from Newport, RI to Fall River, MA to connect to eventual Fall River - Boston commuter rail

  • New Haven, CT - Hartford, CT - Springfield, MA commuter rail

  • Possible extension of Shoreline East service from New London, CT to Warwick, RI

  • Extension of MBTA commuter rail into South County, RI

  • Extension of MBTA commuter rail to Nashua, NH and Manchester, NH Airport

  • High-speed rail from Boston to Montreal via New Hampshire and Vermont

  • North-South rail link through Boston

What else should the 6 states be working on?

you missed hartford to providence... something, anything, other than route 6.

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