Friday, Jan. 29

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A proposal to revive commuter rail service between coastal Connecticut and western Massachusetts is getting a $40 million boost, a cash infusion seen by some as a likely turning point in the long-stalled project.

The money, part of $8 billion in stimulus funds nationwide for rail projects, was announced Thursday. Thirteen rail corridors in 31 states are getting grants.

In Connecticut, the idea of reviving long-dormant commuter service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Mass., has been hampered because some areas have only one track.

Amtrak has owned and controlled the tracks since 1971, so commuter trains would have to be scheduled to avoid interfering with Amtrak trains -- a particular challenge in the single-track stretches, mostly between Newington and New Britain.

The $40 million will help pay for the construction of second tracks in those spots.

"This is great news for one of the most important and ambitious public transportation projects we have undertaken in years," Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Thursday. "Indeed, this is more than a transportation project. It is an investment in Connecticut's economy and will create a great many jobs."

Connecticut's State Bond Commission earlier this month approved $26 million as part of the state's share of the double-tracking project, which it estimates will create 400 construction and engineering jobs.

Regular commuter rail service on the 64-mile corridor linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Mass.


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, ended about 40 years ago with the demise of the former New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

Most commuters on that north-south route drive on Interstate 91, though some take buses or use Amtrak's Vermonter and Springfield Shuttle services.

Improving daily service between the regions would give western Massachusetts residents an easier way to reach New York-bound trains from New Haven, and give Connecticut travelers another way to connect with other trains in Springfield.

State Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly's transportation committee, said that reviving commuter rail service "is the key to our efforts to get the entire region moving."

Rell and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, along with their state transportation departments, have been talking for years with Amtrak about the project.

Though the new $40 million stimulus grant will help resolve the problem of the single-track areas, Massachusetts and Connecticut would still need to pay for costs of equipment, station upgrades and other capital items.

Those costs are expected to run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not including the annual operating costs.

Plans by Connecticut transportation officials envision a revived service which, in the best-case scenario with maximum funding, would offer trains running every 30 minutes during rush hour.

They would stop at stations in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Springfield. A shuttle bus would connect the Windsor Locks station with Bradley International Airport.

Connecticut officials say in addition to the funding questions, the timeline for reviving the commuter service will depend on other factors: the timing of environmental impact studies, upgrading platforms and stations where needed, and determining how much to charge in fares.