State Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford and Branford) says a projected federal plan to build four railroad tracks in a dense historical district connecting Branford and Guilford is decades away, if at all. That’s the good news, he says.
The bad news is the attitude taken by top officials at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in refusing to hear the concerns of the area’s elected officials as well as its residents. They have gathered at meetings in the last month to learn from others about the project.
“I think it is pretty disrespectful, ” Scanlon said in an interview on the Legal Eagle’s WNHH radio show last week. We asked the FRA to come up here and give us their views. They have refused. I will continue to press for that.”
The Branford-Guilford section is part of the FRA’s plans for the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. To accomplish this expansion may well affect historic houses and areas, all protected under federal law. The expansion to four tracks would find an Acela speeding through a century-old bridge and some of the curviest, tricky sections off Route 146 and near the sea.
Compared to rail operations in Asia and Europe, rail service in Connecticut, for example, is extremely slow. One of the reasons is that a fast train cannot pass a slow train because there is only one track.
“When tracks were built 100 years ago, there was no Acela,” Scanlon said. “In 1900 when tracks were first built, a train going through Guilford and Branford was a lot different than an Acela going through at 175 miles per hour. We have a lot of density in this area, including wetlands, historic houses and buildings. So putting up four tracks in this particular area might not be the best idea for that area”
Scanlon discussed a number of issues on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program. Click on the above audio file to listen to the program.
In a letter to Patrick T. Warren, acting administrator of the FRA, State Rep. Lonnie Reed, (D-Branford), formally announced her opposition to the FRA idea in April.
Reed wrote 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 Wooster 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.”
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 Rosa DeLauro has also weighed in. None has been successful so far in getting the FRA to the table. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy want answers as well.
Gregory Stroud (pictured), director of special projects for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, who has launched a campaign against the proposed route through Old Lyme, outlined the issues at a meeting at the Guilford Community House earlier this month that drew about 150 people.
Stroud told the audience that “stopping or reshaping the project is best handled now, ” not later.”
He expressed concern that much of the early work undertaken on the high-speed rail project has “fallen short of full disclosure. Now is the time to get information and to make your concerns known,” he said, telling people to write letters.
Stroud said information about the project, detailed information should have been “announced last year.” He said he believes the FRA will make decision without much input from those groups who have a legal right to be heard. He added that the head of FRA is coming to Connecticut soon and that a decision is close.
The high speed trains will run along Route 146, whizzing by homes built in the 1700s. Another issue yet to be discussed, he said, was the rising sea level.
One older resident said he believes in the common good. “I also believe these giant federal projects have to work with communities, to involve the public. The common good requires having a meeting,” he said.
“We don’t have an answer as to whether the federal plan has looked at other solutions. Have you looked at potential impact? We have not gotten answers. We are against them with no details. Once this plan is announced, it is hard to change. Without legal action we don’t expect it to change.” Click here to read an earlier story.
Former Guilford First Selectman Carl Balestracci (pictured) told the audience that before any federal group thinks about adding tracks, they first need to think of raising the railroad tracks on Route 146, a state road. He said the climate is changing and the bridge at the Stony Creek-Guilford border was “built for oxen, cows, and horses. The roads need to be raised and the tracks need to be raised. There are thousands of people who need to have access. The only exodus during flooding is Moose Hill Road. The flooding creates a very serious, serious problem.”
Then Balestracci wondered aloud if the FRA had looked at other solutions. “Have you looked at the potential impact?”
Stroud replied, “We have not gotten answers. We are against them with no details. Once this plan is announced, it is hard to change. Without legal action we don’t expect it to change,” he added .
The Route 146 Historic District abuts the railroad tracks, circa 1900, he said.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize the Northeast Corridor, ” he told the audience. We want to make sure that the plan is a good one for Connecticut.”
At one point, the audience was asked how far they live from the tracks. Most raised their hands, saying they lived within 100 yards of the tracks.
“Once the plan announced, no one will be able to sell their homes,” Stroud told them.
Jon Wilson, a Stony Creek resident, has publicized the proposed rail track expansion. He says a number of organizations oppose the NEC Future’s quad-tracking plan from Branford to Guilford, including the Branford Historical Society, Branford Land Trust, Stony Creek Association, Guilford Land Conservation Trust, Guilford Preservation Alliance, and Hyland House.