The recent proposal by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to improve Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and the incoming President’s concern with the poor quality of American passenger railroads provide a major opportunity for the Metropolitan Hartford region and Connecticut as a whole to better connect to Boston and New York City, strengthening our position in the regional and world economy.
FRA’s proposals for the Southwest and Southeast portions of our state are expensive, and need some rethinking and will not go forward without Connecticut’s agreement. Instead of just saying ”no” to the proposal on the table, Connecticut should offer an improved plan to move forward.
By partnering with the Massachusetts, Connecticut can build upon the historic investments made under the leadership of Gov. Dannel Malloy to the Hartford rail line from New Haven to Springfield. Connecting New York and Boston through the existing inland route through New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield will attract private investment and the next generation of skilled workforce to our region.
Massachusetts is in the midst of making significant investments in its passenger rail service and already has extended commuter rail service from Worcester to Boston. There are efforts underway in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley to extend this service all the way from Springfield to Boston.
Having a fast, affordable, convenient rail service from Hartford to both Boston and New York City will help transform our metropolitan region. With a nearby international airport at Bradley with very high availability in challenging weather, companies will see the advantage of locating and doing business in the Metropolitan Hartford region with easy and frequent connections to Boston, New York City and the rest of the Northeast Corridor.
The next generation of skilled workforce will be attracted to more affordable housing while being able to conveniently enjoy Boston and New York City business, cultural and entertainment resources.
Yes, there are challenges. The rail line from Springfield to Worcester is owned by a freight rail company, but fortunately, Massachusetts has had a great relationship with the company by partnering to raise the height of bridges to allow for double-stacking of freight.
Also the inland route from Boston to New Haven is not electrified. However, new fuel cell locomotive technology recently announced in Germany is one way for trains to operate seamlessly and directly to Grand Central Station and Penn Station — unlike diesel locomotives whose access is prohibited. By the scale of infrastructure costs, the needed investment to bring about this effort would be modest.
Connecticut has a historic opportunity to connect our region’s main economic engines – Boston and New York City — through our capital city by partnering with Massachusetts and the federal government. By doing so, we can make our region more attractive to both business and the next generation of skilled workers, both in the U.S. and abroad.
David McCluskey is a former Connecticut State Representative and member of the Connecticut Transportation Committee. Lyle Wray is Executive Director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.