HARTFORD, CT — Federal railroad officials endorsed a controversial plan to bring high-speed rail through a historic part of Old Lyme as part of the new Old Saybrook-to-Rhode Island bypass for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. But no one in Connecticut seems to be on board.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said the Federal Railroad Administration’s report “continues to ignore strong and consistent concerns expressed by the State of Connecticut and local citizens about the eastern shoreline realignment plans.”
The route chosen by the FRA has “inflamed impacted communities stretching from Fairfield County to Stonington where the proposed alignment will eviscerate neighborhoods, historic landmarks, and real estate values,” Connecticut’s elected officials said in a joint statement.
At a press conference Friday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Blumenthal said emphatically that it will never be approved.
The lack of federal funding is another reason Blumenthal and Connecticut officials gave as evidence that the proposal will never see the light of day.
They said that without the support from the state, the FRA will not be able to get the necessary permits, and Connecticut officials plan to use the permitting process to deter the FRA’s proposed route, which would include developed and undeveloped acreage in proximity to I-95 across the Thames River in New London through Groton and Stonington. The plans include a tunnel through an historic section of Old Lyme, instead of an elevated track.
“What is deeply troubling is the FRA’s continued adherence to a vision, for lack of a better word, a plan, a concept, that involves a realignment of the current route of the shoreline rail,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal held up a photo of the borer that would be used to create the tunnel.
“Imagine this coming to your neighborhood,” Blumenthal said.
As far as the proposal is concerned, “This plan is dead on arrival. It’s a non-starter,” said Blumenthal, who joked he would tie himself to the tracks if the plan was approved.
But the Federal Railroad Administration concluded it was crucial to improving service for 1.4 million riders a year between Boston and New York. They said the improvements would decrease travel times from Boston to New York City by 45 minutes and New York City to Washington by 35 minutes.
“While building this recommendation would require significant investment, the cost of doing nothing is much greater,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “The communities and the economies of the Northeast cannot grow and flourish without significant, new investment.”
But the improvements will come at a cost.
Gregory Stroud, executive director of SECoast, a regional organization leading grassroots opposition to the planned bypass, said they’ve been working full-time since January to stop it.
“We have yet to find a single resident, local, state or federal representative, or group, actively supporting the idea of a tunnel under the Connecticut River and Old Lyme,” Stroud said. “Why? Even if a tunnel could better preserve the immediate historic downtown of Old Lyme, it would no doubt be much worse for the environment, and would simply shift the historic and economic impacts onto the communities to the east, whether East Lyme, New London, Mystic, Stonington, or Westerly. We find that unacceptable.”
The recommendation FRA released Friday is just that — a recommendation for what FRA believes the Northeast Corridor could be in the future.
The FRA admits that it will be up to states, cities, and railroads to take the next steps and decide whether to move forward with any specific projects. Each individual project, just like any other infrastructure project in this country, will require more review and more environmental studies, as well as significant funding, according to an FRA press release.
“In order to keep moving forward, we need a new vision for the Northeast Corridor — a corridor that can move an ever-increasing population safer, faster and more reliably than before,” FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg said. “We need a corridor that provides more options and more trains for commuters. One that allows for seamless travel between the nation’s capital and New York, and New York and Providence and Boston. A corridor that provides streamlined connections between a city’s airports and its city center. And a corridor that can efficiently and reliably serve a population that is growing quickly.”