Jan. 27--Despite the collapse of President Barack Obama's ambitious national high-speed rail proposal, transportation planners in four states and the province of Quebec are busily promoting something similar -- though probably more modest -- to link Boston, New York and Montreal.
The project will take the cooperation of Massachusetts and five railroads that own tracks along three corridors that need extensive construction or upgrades: New Haven to Springfield, Springfield to Boston, and Springfield to Montreal.
Massachusetts and CSX, Amtrak, PanAm Southern, Canadian National and the New England Central Railroad each own sections of the roughly 470 miles of rail line. Some of it is in relatively good shape but needs a second track to accommodate high-frequency schedules; other stretches are deteriorated freight lines with severe restrictions on train speeds.
Massachusetts has begun heavily investing in rail improvements, with construction underway to let Amtrak run a more efficient route for its Vermonter service.
In a report issued last week, transportation planners from the region said they anticipate that relatively fast, commuter-style rail service could begin on the stretch between New Haven and Springfield by late 2016.
That timetable has been pushed back repeatedly in the past four years, though, and the project is still several hundred million dollars short of full funding. Workers have been installing cables and utility lines for the past year and a half, and have completed only about half of the mileage. Double-tracking, replacement or repair of old brides, new grade crossings and other heavy construction jobs still await.
Connecticut's transportation department is using federal and state funding, but there's only enough money to add two tracks between Hartford and New Haven. Some costly components of the complete plan -- such as new stations for Enfield and other communities, and reconstruction or replacement of the Hartford rail viaduct and the Connecticut River bridge -- would cost about $384 million more than is available. The state plans to seek additional federal funding; some grant sources remain available, but Congress has done away with the high-speed train funding that provided much of the current budget.
The New Haven to Springfield corridor is only a component of the bigger regional network, though. Connecticut could run frequent commuter service on the line, but planners also envision more frequent and faster Amtrak trains eventually using the same rails to link New Haven to Montreal and to provide an inland route -- via Springfield -- between Boston and New York.
Legislators from the Enfield region plan to push during the General Assembly's session for a detailed plan on how Connecticut can secure the remaining money for its share of the work.
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