Thursday, January 8, 2009

Connecticut, Amtrak Discuss Additional Service

Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green reports that Connecticut officials are in discussions with Amtrak to operate additional trains between New Haven and Hartford as an interim step to the state offering its own commuter service. While state officials have been studying since 2005 establishment of a regional passenger service between New Haven and Springfield, MA, that would supplement Amtrak's intercity service, they say such an operation is not likely before 2015.

Rail advocates are none too happy about that. Last month, "a coalition of transportation, environment, civic and business groups" held a press conference in Hartford urging Gov. Jodi Rell and the state legislature to fast track the project. They want to accelerate the project so it will be able to compete for funding under the economic stimulus package now working its way through Congress.

Connecticut officials are awaiting completion of an environmental assessment due in 2010 before beginning construction . However, according to the Journal-Inquirer newspaper, Amtrak could add service on a temporary basis without an environmental review since it already uses the tracks.

Meanwhile, Connecticut officials are studying service expansion over Metro North's Waterbury branch, a line that was a candidate for abandonment 11 years ago. A 34 percent year-over-year jump in ridership for the first eight months of 2008 has prompted some legislators to call for increased investment with an eye toward eventual service between Waterbury and Hartford.

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