HARTFORD—Imagine being able to get on a train in New York City and travel all the way to Montreal in a matter of hours. That’s the vision officials from across the Northeast laid out Friday for the new Republican congressman whose subcommittee oversees rail matters.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said the Northeast corridor, one of the most densely populated and congested areas in the country, is where he wants to focus on getting high-speed rail up and running. And he’s well aware of the battle for funding he faces from his own party.
“My colleagues in Congress, many of them, they’ll make the argument that Amtrak should just be eliminated and I think that’s wrong,” said Shuster. “My colleagues on the other side will say there‘s no passenger rail service in the world that isn‘t subsidized by the government, which is true.”
But Shuster, who traveled from New York to New Haven by rail and New Haven to Hartford by cab Friday due to a broken switch, said the United States also has the only freight rail system in the world that isn’t subsidized by the government. “The point is, I believe we can have a passenger rail service that doesn’t need large subsidies from the government.”
Shuster said the next step is bringing the private sector to the table to invest in getting the New Haven to Springfield high-speed rail line completed. Shuster and his colleagues envision Connecticut’s piece of the rail line as part of a high-speed network linking New York, Boston, Montreal and Washington D.C.
The federal government has already invested $160 million and the state of Connecticut has invested $280 million in the New Haven to Springfield rail line, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said. The total cost of the project, which involved double-tracking the line, has been estimated at $800 million.
In order to hold onto the money, DeLauro said “we have to make sure there are no rescissions in the economic recovery funds that were specified for high-speed rail.”
This project, which has been talked about for years, is within the state’s grasp, DeLauro said. “This is not pie in the sky.”
U.S. Rep. John Olver of Massachusetts, co-chair of the Northeast Rail Caucus, said this is the most important infrastructure project for this region.
The Congressmen gathered Friday at Hartford’s Union Station may feel that it is the most important infrastructure project in the nation. However, Connecticut has not always done as well as it could in securing funding for it.
“At times Connecticut has not put the full weight of the governor’s office or its administrative government behind applications,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “I think we totally blew the first round of competitive grants.”
In fact, other regions of the country including California, Florida, and Illinois, all did better last year when the last round of competitive rail grants was announced.
The $40 million Connecticut received last year is only enough to pay for double-tracking of 10-miles of line between Newington and New Britain. The New Haven to Springfield Amtrak line extends 62-miles along the I-91 corridor and the total cost of the project is estimated at $800 million.
“I think there are people in Connecticut who are skeptical about that project—just don’t see it,” said Malloy. “I firmly believe when completed it will be one of the economic drivers in Connecticut for the next 35 to 40 years.”
But Malloy remained optimistic and said his administration will be taking a more hands on approach to these types of projects.
Newly-elected U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called Friday’s gathering a “transportation pep rally,” and applauded the cooperation of the various states and elected officials. U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy were also in attendance. The meeting was organized by U.S. Rep. John Larson.