June 17--WALLINGFORD -- Although the New Haven to Springfield, Massachusetts, commuter rail plan is just 2 1/2 years away from going into service, town residents still are troubled with where the state Department of Transportation plans to put the new station.
Construction of the new station is schedule to begin in September. But the sentiment of the majority of the three-dozen residents who attended an informational meeting at the Wallingford Public Library Monday night is that the location of the station causes more problems than it solves.
The new station will be located off Parker Street, north of the current Amtrak station. Resident reiterated comments they have made to state DOT officials in the past: The location is too far from the center of town to promote meaningful economic development and will create a traffic nightmare at the nearby busy intersection of Parker Street and Route 5.
"It's going to be a disaster for residents and for the people who operate the trains," said Lucille Casagrande, a local real estate agent. "It's not going to have the economic impact the town wants and for the people who operate the trains, it's not going to produce the ridership you're looking for.
Eric Bergeron, a project engineer for DOT, said the agency decided against widening Parker Street at the Route 5 intersection because of what he termed "prohibitive costs" and having a cemetery and a veterinary practice on either side of the street as it meets the state road.
Casagrande and others, including Town Councilman John LeTourneau, said they favored having the commuter rail station south of the current Amtrak location in an area known as Judd Square.
"It's closer to downtown," LeTourneau said of Judd Square. "Where the state has it now leaves no room for expansion (of the station).
But DOT Project Manager John Bernick said the state agency based its decision on the wishes of a group of Wallingford officials, including Mayor William Dickinson Jr. and Town Engineer John Thompson as well as the town's police and fire chiefs. Thompson said public safety officials were worried the Judd Square location would result in several key intersections being blocked while the commuter trains were loading and unloading passengers.
Other residents expressed concern about safety issues, both for pedestrians walking near the tracks and for the seven railroad crossings in town. Improvements to three of the crossings from Toelles Road north to Quinnipiac Street are supposed to be worked on this fall, with the remaining four, from Hall Avenue to Pent Highway, done next spring.
"Our goal is to make them safer than they are now," Bernick said.
For example, he said the commuter trains running on the New Haven to Springfield line will have automatic governors on the trains' accelerators that will reduce the speed of trains if they top 85 mph a long the stretch between North Haven and Toelles Road. Current Amtrak trains running on the track now don't have that, he said.
The current speed limit for trains navigating that stretch is 85 mph, he said.
But Bernick also acknowledged that as the commuter trains head closer to the center of Wallingford and the new station, they actually will be moving faster than the 25 mph speed at which Amtrak currently operates. The commuter trains will be travelling at 40 mph along that stretch of track, he said.
The commuter service will increase the frequency of the number of trains stopping in Wallingford from current six a day to 17 round trips a day, with 13 of those trains providing service to Springfield.
Bernick said that DOT has not selected a contractor to build the new Wallingford station yet. The agency also hasn't decided who will operate the commuter service for it.
Call Luther Turmelle at 203-789-5706.
Copyright 2014 - New Haven Register, Conn.