Kimberly Primicerio photo

Transportation experts tried to answer this question and many others Friday afternoon at the University of Connecticut Law School in Hartford.

Inviting a rail system into the state would save on energy costs, pollution, and would revive the cities, said Tom Condon, moderator for the event and columnist for The Hartford Courant. Condon has written extensively about planning and transit issues.

“We live in a completely auto dominated society, and it is deteriorating our cities,” Condon said.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie used a Power Point presentation to explain the different types of rail systems that have benefited cities across the nation. He said that light rail uses street cars that are applicable to dense urban centers and which make stops about every 90 seconds. Heavy rail, as seen in Boston and New York, are subways and tend to travel longer distances between stops. 

Since 1984 there have been 18 light rail systems developed across North America, he said. Cities like Dallas, Denver, Portland, and Salt Lake City have all established light rail systems and have seen them grow over the years.

Transit development can offer new business and job opportunities, he said.

Marie doesn’t think rail can save Connecticut, but he said “it can sure help a lot.”

Kimberly Primicerio photo

Norman Garrick, director at the center for transportation and urban planning at the University of Connecticut, put more pressure on the state’s cities, asking whether the state’s metropolitan areas can “save Connecticut.”

Garrick said the state needs to restore form and function to its rail system. Garrick said that the state has allowed tracks to decay, but that at they can be refurbished.

“Rail can restore the centrality of cities,” Garrick said. “But—and it’s a big ‘but,’—in too many places rail is treated as an appendage to highway systems. Rail is just an extension to cars.”

Garrick explained that the state lives in a car-based environment and asked what good is transit if everyone drives to get on the train?

“We need to create a train station that is part of the city,” Garrick said.

State Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, said rail can save Connecticut but people in the freight rail industry need to make proposals to revitalize lines.

McCluskey said he was happy to see support for transportation and a rail system gaining momentum at the legislature. He added that he would like to see a more easily accessible rail line connect Hartford to New York and Boston, but he said the transformation to rail can not be something done town by town.

“We need to work collaboratively to build transportation,” McCluskey said.