Shoreline Activists Help Derail RR Track Bypass

File Photo The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has decided to eliminate the widely criticized “quad track bypass” railroad expansion that it had planned for a dense historical district connecting Branford and Guilford.

For Greg Stroud, director of special projects for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and one of the primary opposition leaders of the “quad track” plan, yesterday was a good day.

Map as of May. It was the day the FRA released its comprehensive railroad plan for improvements to the Northeast Corridor rail line from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts, in a statement entitled Record of Decision (ROD). And it was the day Stroud learned the quad track had been eliminated. The plan is available on the NEC FUTURE website.

Stroud praised the work of local activists in the Branford and Guilford area, saying that without them the “quad track portion” of the plan would now be a part of ROD.

That the feds decided to eliminate the quad track happened “in the last three months,” and happened primarily because of local activists, he said.

“The Stony Creek area has been pretty feisty,” he said, as he praised residents, local legislators and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of New Haven for their help. 

He also credited the Guilford and Branford communities and organizations for getting on board, for going to meetings, for becoming engaged. Click here to read a recent story.

“It made the difference. And that is the story.” 

Prompted by local pressure, the FRA also dropped a controversial shoreline plan to construct new tracks along the coast from Old Saybrook to Rhode Island. That plan, now eliminated from the final ROD would have run through Old Lyme and other Connecticut coastal towns.

Stroud said in an interview yesterday that he will now turn his attention to Fairfield County where new Northeast Corridor Plans are evolving from New Rochelle to Fairfield County, specifically Greenwich, Darien, Stanford and Westport. 

Living on the Shoreline

File Photo The FRA’s shoreline proposals in areas heavily hit by hurricanes and storms, prompted widespread criticism among residents who live on the shoreline, whose historic homes are all protected under federal law. The expansion to four tracks in the Branford-Guilford area would find an Acela speeding through a century-old bridge and some of the curviest, tricky sections off Route 146 and near the Sound.

The FRA acted on the shoreline portion without ever meeting with town and state officials or members of the public despite many requests from state legislators and members of the public to do so.

State Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford), a member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said in a press release that he was glad “FRA heard the legitimate concerns of hundreds of my constituents and chose not to recommend the so-called ‘quad track bypass’ between Guilford and Branford in their Record of Decision. Instead of recommending a proposal with little to no public input, they have taken a more appropriate step of recommending that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) conduct a capacity planning study for the future of the rail line between New Haven and Providence.”

State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford), said, “Clearly, we’ve all been heard.”

File Photo She said, “We must protect the most vulnerable sections of our shoreline rail corridor by insisting that higher speeds and expanded tracks only be pursued in the kinds of locations that make sense. Not in places threatened by rising seas and encircled by historical treasures. Better, faster, more frequent trains connecting us to New York, Boston and beyond are essential and the more inland New Haven to Hartford route is begging for attention.

“I want to thank Patrick T. Warren, the Federal Railroad Administration’s Executive Director, for responding so quickly to my letter detailing our concerns. Branford and Guilford advocates know how to speak up and get things done.”

Reed wrote to Warren in April.

She said in her letter that “growing numbers of residents along the Branford-Guilford rail fear that doubletracking the corridor to accommodate increased traffic is ill-advised for reasons that also include damage to sensitive environmental areas and the destruction of many homes, including historic properties.”

In addition, she wrote that the shoreline rail infrastructure “is increasingly vulnerable to rising seas and more frequent storm events,” noting the devastation created by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Reed served as vice chair of the legislature’s Shoreline Preservation Task Force, which was formed in the aftermath of those hurricanes. 

She praised the FRA’s plan to invigorate the Hartford line and suggested it would be “a wiser strategy” to add rails and expand capacity “on those more inland routes connecting our state’s largest cities and towns and to pursue a high speed rail connection or quad-trak from Hartford through Springfield and Worcester to Boston.”

Warren responded to Reed’s letter, saying, “the NEC FUTURE project team is in the process of reviewing and considering feedback it received from concerned citizens, including your constituents on the Tier 1 Final EIS and the Preferred Alternative.”

In its ROD released yesterday, it appears that a potential Hartford - Storrs - Providence route is a renewed possibility, Scanlon said.
Scanlon said he was glad the FRA “made the right decision and I can assure Guilford and Branford residents that if and when DOT decides to conduct this study, they will have a seat at the table and a voice in this process.”

State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr.,  and Rep. Scanlon sent a joint letter to Warren as well. So did Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove and First Selectman Joe Mazza of Guilford who told Warren that adding a second set of tracks was “invasive to our ecological system and would destroy the character of Branford, Guilford and towns east of Guilford.”  Congresswoman DeLauro has also weighed in.  None had been successful in getting the FRA to the table. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy sought answers as well.

Stroud, who had launched a campaign against the proposed route through Old Lyme, outlined the major issues at a recent meeting at Guilford’s Community Center that drew about 150 people.

Jon Wilson, a Stony Creek resident became one of the local activists who recognized the need for community engagement. He publicized the proposed rail track expansion and reported on those organizations opposed the NEC Future’s quad-tracking plan from Branford to Guilford. They included the Branford Historical Society, Branford Land Trust, Stony Creek Association, Guilford Land Conservation Trust, Guilford Preservation Alliance, and Hyland House.

At a meeting of the Stony Creek Association Tuesday night Wilson raised the subject through a letter he shared with the SCA.  Dan Bullard, the SCA president, read the letter aloud. 

Then came yesterday’s announcement from the FRA. Today Wilson posted thanks to all those who worked under a tight deadline to change the course federal railroad officials had taken.

“For the present,” Wilson wrote that “our shoreline is out of danger from the proposed quad track expansion between Branford and Guilford.

“As of “7-12-2017, the new track expansion was removed from the Federal Railroad’s Record of Decision. That means it did not advance to Tier Two as a Selected Alternative one step closer to shovel ready but with many safeguards removed” he wrote. 

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