Northbound Trains To Triple By 2016

Melissa Bailey PhotoCommuters 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.”

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posted by: HhE on October 1, 2012  8:12pm

Neat.  I’m looking forward to using this service.

posted by: hrsn on October 1, 2012  8:28pm

Allow me to pop the bubble please…

“Trains will reach up to 110 miles per hour”...only if there are no station stops between NH and Hartford.

“the “almost non-existent” rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield… boosting the number of daily round-trips from six to 17”
Six round trips is hardly non-existent.

What we’ll get, folks, is something like Shoreline East, but on a North/South route. It may create new commuting patterns, which could be good and relieve congestion along the Shoreline route. But this isn’t high-speed rail by any standard (even the wimpy US one, which brags about the Acela’s ability to hit 150 mph on a few limited stretches of the NEC.)

I’m all for more rail transport in CT, but this project is being shamelessly oversold.

posted by: Martha Smith on October 1, 2012  9:48pm

This is good news.  And coupled with the recent Metro-North announcement of more trains between New Haven and NYC, there are more options to travel from New Haven besides the highway. 

However, I’m waiting to hear from CT Transit on improving city bus service to and from Union Station.

posted by: HhE on October 1, 2012  10:48pm

hrsn, having been on the Shanghai maglev, as well as the Bullet train, TGV, and one of China’s conventional high speed train, I know what true high speed rail is.  You are entirely right that this is hardly high speed, and that it is being over sold. 

Seventeen round trips is a game changer however.

posted by: ebw1957 on October 2, 2012  6:19am

Governor Giveaway is at it again. This in NOT about a high speed rail line- they can’t even get confirmation it will do 1/2 the projected speed. The issues is will it take cars off of I-91 and the answer is NO! The real objective here is to pay back the unions that put Malloy in office- plain and simple.

posted by: S Brown on October 2, 2012  6:41am

I agree with hrsn. It really bothers me that this project is routinely referred to as “high speed rail.” It’s not. If you’re going to lie about what it is, why not just call it an airplane? “High speed rail” is defined by the US DOT—the very agency that is funding this project—as operating at 125 mph or above, and even this is pathetic in comparison to Europe and Asia, where conventional trains exceed 100 mph and the “high speed rail” moniker is reserved for trains that exceed 150 mph.

So this is conventional rail, which is well and good, and should be sold as such. When politicians feel the need to lie in order to sell a project to the public, it makes you question that project’s real worth.

posted by: anonymous on October 2, 2012  7:50am

The transit development plan only works if the train stations have easy access by foot, bike, and local bus.

Right now, the areas surrounding the train stations are absolute hellholes for walkers and bikers.  New Haven’s current plan to widen Route 34 and add more parking garages will only make matters worse. 

Trains are essential , but I suggest the $600M needs to be spent elsewhere, first.  1/100th that amount would be enough to create a citywide network of safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, and 1/10th that amount could modernize our local bus system.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on October 2, 2012  8:30am

Great Stuff!

posted by: parejkoj on October 2, 2012  9:20am

Excellent. I’ve taken Amtrak to Windsor Locks to go to the airport, but it only works if the times match up, and they don’t often do so. This will make that much more viable.

Yes, it doesn’t really count as “high speed”, but the frequency is a big improvement.

posted by: Kevin on October 2, 2012  9:34am

While the project is being oversold, the current service is “almost nonexistent” for commuters, the focus of the article. I’ve lived in New Haven and commuted to Hartford for 25 years but rarely taken Amtrak because the first train arrives in Hartford at 9.30. Coming home, my choices are leaving at 4.42 or 8.01.

posted by: PH on October 2, 2012  10:17am

As a New Haven resident working in Hartford I am thrilled to hear this news.  The current timetable is useless for commuting (and the trains are too slow).  Upgrading the speed and the available options will convert me from a car commuter to a train commuter as soon as it is in place.  Great news!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 2, 2012  11:07am

Again.Snake-Oil being sold.Were are the M-8 Rail Cars at? Keep voting them in.

posted by: Stephen Harris on October 2, 2012  12:59pm

This is great news. There’s a map kicking around somewhere showing the state cross-crossed by rail.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on October 2, 2012  1:04pm

Ever notice that just about the only time Rosa DeLauro makes an appearance is to announce another federal expenditure? Notice that she never mentions that it’s YOUR tax money—plus billions of dollars borrowed from China—that SHE is spending? Notice that she never mentions how much this is adding to the federal debt—now totaling over $150,000 PER taxpayer? Notice that DeLauro has NO PLAN WHATSOEVER to deal with this massive debt? Trains are great—the only way I’ll go to NYC. But politicians need to stop pretending this is free money, and need to start weighing the true financial payback—if any—of such projects (I mean, besides temporary construction jobs and the payback via union campaign donations from construction companies).

posted by: JuliS on October 2, 2012  1:31pm


as someone who takes metro-north at least eight times a week, i can tell you that the M8 trains are growing in numbers as i am much more often on them recently.

and @anon i agree that bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure around the stations should be a top priority.

posted by: parejkoj on October 2, 2012  1:53pm

@Christopher Schaefer

Seeing as how the federal government can currently borrow at historically low interest rates, unemployment is still high, and the economic benefits of improved infrastructure are worth far more than their initial investment cost, it seems like now is the perfect time to build something like this.

Of course, if we hadn’t cut taxes, started two unnecessary wars, and had a huge recession, the federal debt wouldn’t have grown over the past decade…

posted by: ebw1957 on October 2, 2012  2:18pm

I see the warm and fuzzies coming up again, every time one of these projects gets proposed. I drive around New Haven and I see buses that are empty tooling along Whalley Ave. Buses are not an option for most of us and neither will this train. Like criminals that hit and run, the politicos make big speeches but are never around when the shit hits the fan.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on October 2, 2012  2:23pm

” the economic benefits of improved infrastructure are worth far more than their initial investment”. Even if relatively few end up taking this new train? The annual state subsidy for each individual person who rides Shoreline East is about $14,000. Should a state that’s going broke be spending that kind of money?

posted by: anonymous on October 2, 2012  3:21pm

“The annual state subsidy for each individual person who rides Shoreline East is about $14,000.”

The annual subsidy for each individual driver is approximately $3,500, even after accounting for gas taxes, property taxes on cars, and before accounting for the negative environmental impacts of driving and enormous opportunity costs you face when your most valuable urban land is eaten up by parking infrastructure.

Investing more into mass transit, walking and cycling is a no-brainer, and the vast majority of Americans recognize this.  Fox News is the only outlet that disagrees.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on October 2, 2012  4:47pm

“the vast majority of Americans recognize this.” Of course! The question is whether they actually will USE mass transit, bicycles or walk to work. The answer since post-WWII has been a resounding “no”. And the only thing that will change this is when alternatives to cars become more attractive to the majority. The way in which the suburbs were—and continue to be—laid out since the 1950s makes use of mass transit a limited possibility for many [most?] people. The success of 360 State St. indicates a renewed interest in re-urbanization by some, but not enough to consider this a revolutionary movement. So it remains to be seen whether this rail project will be a great success or just another boondoggle.

posted by: Stephen Harris on October 2, 2012  6:37pm

The easy oil is gone. What’s left is difficult and expensive to extract. The steady and relentless increase in the price of oil will force transportation changes. Rail will become, out of necessity if nothing else, a fact of life. I think we need to rebuild our rail connections as fast as we can.

posted by: Save1249Chapel on October 2, 2012  10:38pm

Wonderful news! 

I live in New Haven and take the Lakeshore Limited to Toledo every year to spend the holidays with my family.  Currently, I drive to Worcester, MA to park at a friend’s place and take the Lakeshore Limited directly from there.  I don’t take a train directly out of New Haven because Amtrak suggests long and convoluted routes through New York City or Washington D.C., or the connection they offer is by shuttle rather than train.  These add extra time and hassle to an already lengthy trip.  Frequently running high speed rail to Springfield would sure speed things up.  Also, if I have to make a quick trip another time of year, I’d be more likely to take the train than drive or fly if I could go directly out of New Haven.

posted by: Nathan on October 2, 2012  10:57pm

While this is good news, it would be hard to imagine how the state could have moved more slowly on this work.  Why can’t the level of service be increased now to the limits imposed by the available double tracking?

Note that this work will merely restore the line to the level of service known decades ago before Amtrak was allowed to remove the second track (In fairness to Amtrak, that organization was strung along on a starvation capital budget by Congress since inception).  With grade crossings in Wallingford and Meriden and with the slower acceleration of diesel electric locomotives, there will be no “high speed” running for at least the middle part of the run.

posted by: HhE on October 3, 2012  9:18pm

A very topical book is Train Time by John Stilgoe.  It makes a very good case for the resurgence of rail.

What is the state subsidy for Metro North?  About 40%.  However the return on investment far outstrips that.  For it is that subsidy and rail system that makes the gold coast possible.  Without that transport system, all these six and seven figure incomes from NYC could never sleep in Connecticut and pay income taxes here.

If Shoreline East has a very limited return on investment (mind you, I like taking it with my kids to get pizza as a day out), it does not necessarily follow for New Haven-Meridian-Hartford.  The interstate system was built parallel to rail roads as their alternate/replacement.  I-95 from New Haven to New London is two lanes, and until the Casinos arrived, those two lanes were plenty.  I-91 is three lanes, and while not as bad as I-95 New York to New Haven (165% of capacity 15 years ago),  those three lanes are barely enough. 

Amtrak has the same problem as the Post Office:  controlled by Congress yet expected to be profitable.