Commuters like Camryn Brooks will no longer have to wait four hours to catch a train back home from Hartford, after the federal government Monday issued $121 million to send more trains zipping between New Haven and Springfield.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday officially accepted $121 million from the Federal Railroad Administration to turn the little-used north-south corridor that cuts through the middle of the state into a “high-speed” rail line.
The money, first announced in 2010 and officially disbursed Monday in a ceremonial deal-signing at the Meriden train station, will pay for the state to boost the “almost non-existent” rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, said state transportation Commissioner James Redeker.
The “transformational” project is the “culmination of many years of hard work,” Redeker said.
The $121 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, coupled with a $142 million investment from the state, will pay to expand the rail line from one track to two tracks between New Haven and Hartford, allowing more trains to run.
By the end of 2016, trains will run hourly from New Haven to Hartford, as well as half-hourly during peak hours, boosting the number of daily round-trips from six to 17, according to the state Department of Transportation (DOT). There will also be 14 daily trips from Hartford to Springfield, Mass. Trains will reach up to 110 miles per hour, shaving down the trip from New Haven to Springfield from 85 to 75 minutes, according to the DOT.
Currently, the only way to get from New Haven to Hartford by public transit is by express bus or by one of Amtrak’s six daily weekday trains. Commuters aboard two “Vermonter” trains Monday welcomed the expanded options to get to their friends, families, homes, and jobs.
Doug Pierce (pictured), who works for a solar panel company with offices in Hartford and Newton, Mass., said he looks forward the chance of a quicker commute. He said he plans to move half-way between the company’s two offices, and he’d like more options to take the train to Hartford.
Taking the train is “more convenient, more fun, less stressful,” and in sum, “way better,” he opined.
Camryn Brooks (pictured at the top of this story) took the train Monday as part of a trip from the University of Connecticut to New Haven. She took a half-hour bus ride to the Hartford train station, waited 20 minutes, then hitched a ride on Amtrak back to New Haven’s Union Station, where her mom would give her a ride to Hamden.
Brooks said when she looked at the train schedules, she had to plan very carefully to make the trip: If she didn’t get on by 7:45 a.m., she would have to wait until 11:03 a.m. or 3:32 p.m. The next trains after that ran at 4:42 and 8:01, which was too late for her to get back to work.
“I wish there were more frequent trains,” said Brooks. She said she makes the trip from New Haven to Hartford about twice a month.
Getting from New Haven to Hartford by public transit is “very difficult,” agreed U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, one of dozens of dignitaries who converged on Meriden’s small train station for Monday’s press event. She said she takes the train twice a week from New Haven to Washington, D.C., but she has never done so to Hartford. She applauded the move to get cars off of Interstate 91, reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
“If you do not invest in high-speed rail and transportation, we will not grow as a nation,” DeLauro said. She said planning for the project began way back in 1993, so she’s delighted to see it come to fruition.
The state plans to use the money to upgrade the rail infrastructure, which is currently used only by Amtrak. Work is set to begin in October on installing 20 miles of underground cables. They’ll start work in 2014 on laying the second rail line, according to DOT project manager John Bernick. Workers will also rehab, repair or replace 13 bridges and culverts, and improve the train stations in Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin and Hartford with new train-level platforms, better parking, and overhead pedestrian bridge access.
The work represents the second part of a $647 million, three-phased project to improve the rail corridor between New Haven and Springfield. Funding has not been awarded for the third, $324 million phase, which includes laying a second track between Hartford and Springfield.
This second phase of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Program will “create or sustain” 9,000 jobs, according to state officials. That’s counting the workers who lay the track, as well as those who supply the materials for the work.
The state will go out to bid for a private operator to run the trains, said Bernick. He said Amtrak is the “likely candidate” to take on the task. The cost of train tickets remains to be determined.
The grand vision is to provide new, robust train service between New Haven and Montreal, said Gov. Malloy Monday.
“Let’s get people back on the trains,” and off of the highways, he declared before sitting down for a ceremonial bill signing with Redeker and Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary John Porcari.
Reached by phone in New Haven, Mike Piscitelli, the city’s deputy economic development chief, welcomed the move.
He said the number of commuters coming into New Haven in future years, which could create a traffic crunch. The beefed up northbound service may mean more of those commuters will take the train and not their cars, eliminating the need for New Haven to build new parking garages.
As New Haven becomes even more of a regional transit hub, he argued, the city will be in a stronger position to attract a developer interested in “transit-oriented development” near Union Station. The city has long sought to build such a development, which would incorporate offices, retail and even a hotel built around a badly-needed parking garage at the train station.
The city and state have hired a consultant to take another look at the area and update a 2008 study on the viability of a transit-oriented development there.
DOT’s Redeker said Monday that the project remains a “very, very, very near-term initiative” for the state.
Ryan Lynch, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the beefed-up rail corridor should improve all the communities along the eight station stops from New Haven to Springfield. Studies show young people, as well as empty-nester baby boomers, “want to live in communities that have transportation options,” he said. Investing in the rail line will make transit-oriented development possible down the whole corridor, he argued.
His group, which has been tracking the project closely, advocates for more “balanced” and environmentally friendly transportation networks in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
“It’s terrific that this project is finally moving forward after years of delay,” he said.
State officials said in addition to serving short-term commuters from New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, the new rail line aims to provide a more efficient and frequent route for those making longer treks.
Susan Ashman, who was on the way from Newark to Springfield Monday morning, said she far prefers to make that trip by train. It’s about an hour slower than driving, she said, but she never gets stuck in traffic.
The trip, which cost her $26 with a student discount, is much cheaper than driving. Filling up her Nissan Xterra SUV with enough gas to get to Newark would cost $60 to $70, she calculated.
She said she’s been eagerly watching news of the latest federal investment in the rail line. If there were more trains on the New Haven-Springfield corridor, she said, she’d love to use the train to connect to the shoreline line, so she can visit friends in Rhode Island.
“I love trains,” she said. “I’m very excited about that.”