Fed rail official: High-speed service shouldn’t bypass CT

Federal Railway Administrator Sarah Feinberg speaks at New Haven's Union Station Friday, with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, right.

MARKESHIA RICKS / NEW HAVEN INDEPENDENT

Federal Railway Administrator Sarah Feinberg speaks at New Haven’s Union Station Friday, with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, right.

High-speed rail shouldn’t bypass Connecticut, said a federal official. And it won’t, vowed the state’s senior U.S. senator.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and acting Federal Railway Administrator Sarah Feinberg made those declarations Friday as they joined Mayor Toni Harp at Union Station to tell the Republican-controlled Congress they won’t let the state be cut out of any proposal for high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor.

The House of Representatives recently passed a reauthorization of Amtrak that requires a study of a high-speed rail system that would have no stops in state’s like Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Given that the 457-mile Northeast Corridor, from Washington, D.C. to Boston, is Amtrak’s only profitable route, Blumenthal said, it’s a bad idea financially for the national railway operator and economically for states that rely on the system to move people, jobs and goods.

“It’s a non-starter,” Blumenthal said. “It’s dead on arrival.”

Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, vowed not only to fight the House bill, but to push for reauthorization legislation out of the Senate that would put a stop in the state.

“We will produce our own bill and study,” he said. “It will include at least one stop in Connecticut.”

Blumenthal acknowledged that some of his colleagues might believe that reducing the number of stops saves time and money. He also pointed out that Connecticut is a a state with an all-Democratic Congressional delegation.

“It is incomprehensible and inexplicable that Connecticut would be bypassed,” he said. “It has to be sheer politics, and it’s unacceptable. Any decision about the future of high-speed rail ought to be above politics. It should be about safety and reliability.”

An artist's rendering of an Amtrak high speed train in Boston.

Amtrak 2012 report

An artist’s rendering of an Amtrak high speed train in Boston

Feinberg said that it is important that any high-speed rail system in the Northeast include every state in the corridor.

“Also, every single state on the Northeast Corridor should have a voice in this debate,” she said.

To that end, Feinberg announced that the Federal Railway Administration will be holding listening sessions in the states of the corridor, seeking feedback from those who use rail, including commuters, local leaders, and those who use rail to move freight. There will be three listening sessions in Connecticut, one of which might be held in New Haven. The listening session are part of the FRA’s efforts to develop a comprehensive plan to define, evaluate and prioritize future rail investments along the Northeast Corridor.

Mayor Harp said with jobs moving to cities, places like New Haven and Bridgeport are the economic engines of their state, and safe, reliable rail access is a part of what keeps that engine moving. Union Station is the 10th busiest rail station in the Amtrak system and the busiest in the state. Harp pointed out that 6,000 passengers come through the station a day, 700,000 a year. That volume has a strong correlation to the city and the region’s economic growth, she said.

“Union Station is one of Connecticut’s jewels,” she said.

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