Feds rethinking plan for high-speed rail in 2 states - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Feds rethinking plan for high-speed rail in 2 states

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(WFSB file photo) (WFSB file photo)

The Federal Railroad Administration announced on Wednesday that it is withdrawing the proposal to build new high-speed railroad tracks through parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island after complaints that the project would devastate neighborhoods, marshlands and tourist attractions. 

The Federal Railroad Administration dropped the proposal from the latest version of a $120 billion to $150 billion master plan being released Wednesday to rebuild the congested Northeast Corridor over the next 30 years.

Instead, the agency said it would continue studying options for adding track capacity in the 100-mile stretch from New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, and seek input from residents and officials in both states.

The agency said construction can't begin without the agreement of state leaders.

The master plan calls for enhancing capacity, performance, and reliability on the Northeast Corridor through updated infrastructure, more trains and new tracks that would allow speeds of up to 220 mph.

Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) said he "could not be more pleased that the proposal to cut new tracks through and tunnel under Old Lyme, the Connecticut River and towns to the east, has been completely scrapped."  

“The welcome demise of the misguided and poorly conceived plan to realign railway tracks through communities across the southeastern Connecticut shoreline is a testament to the grassroots effort and perseverance of local residents and town leaders. From the start, the creation of a new bypass was a proposal untethered from reality. Whether it was the plan’s exorbitant cost without a funding source, the disruption ‘Kenyon Bypass’ would cause from Old Lyme to New London to Stonington, the mere existence of this map cast a cloud of uncertainty and doubt across a region with a history and environment as rich and valuable as any place in our nation. Throughout the FRA’s process of developing this plan, I have been clear that no proposal should move forward without the advice and consent of the state of Connecticut and of our shoreline communities," Courtney said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Courtney said the plan released on Wednesday "devolves decision making to state officials and local stakeholders from New Haven to Providence to come up with a way forward for improving rail service in the area."

"This is just the start of a process to improve our rail infrastructure in a sensible and realistic way. I want to thank the FRA for listening to the overwhelming input of citizens and for continuing to work with my office to achieve the best solution for the residents of southeastern Connecticut," Courtney said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the Federal Railroad Administration "has developed a vision for the future of the Northeast Corridor and issued a decision that provides a path forward for expanding capacity and improving performance of the existing railroad." 

“They have responded directly to requests made by the State of Connecticut to enable significant and necessary investments to address an estimated $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair assets, and we thank them for their consideration of our concerns," Malloy said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The governor's office said the state "continues to make substantial investments in the Northeast Corridor." During 2016, the governor's office said the state spent $367 million of the total $1.1 billion spent on the entire network from Boston to Washington, fully one-third of the total investment in this vital rail corridor.

“Now that the decision is final, it is time for the federal government to step up and invest to bring the Northeast Corridor into a state of good repair, which is essential for the economy of the entire region," Malloy said. 

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said transportation improvements and funding are "critical to economic growth, commerce, and quality of life for residents." 

“Governor Malloy has made our transportation network a priority from planning and funding to adding new equipment and expanding service.  I applaud our federal partners on their decision and urge their continued investment in a system that benefits the entire northeast region," Wyman said in a statement on Wednesday. 

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the latest plan "a victory for common sense and for Connecticut, rightly abandoning the half-baked and hare-brained scheme to reroute Amtrak right through its historic downtown."

 "There is no need for further study here—not a single penny nor minute of effort need be spent to conclude this bypass is a non-starter. This outcome is a direct result of the sustained outpouring of well-founded public opposition from residents,” Blumenthal said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Blumenthal said he is also "deeply concerned about possible impact to communities in Fairfield County." 

"I urge the FRA to work closely with residents to enhance rail service while respecting local needs.  I commend the FRA for keeping its commitment to the Northeast Corridor and taking account of projects already underway, including the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line. I look forward to partnering with the FRA to find sensible solutions to expand the capacity of the Northeast Corridor and bring our country’s aging rail network into the 21st century,” Blumenthal said. 

We are monitoring the plan and will have a full report and reaction starting on Eyewitness News at 5 p.m. 

Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.