(Updated 11:00 p.m.) HARTFORD, CT — New rail service announcements have become routine as Connecticut’s reliance upon trains has increased over the years, but the debut of the $755 million Hartford Line has brought with it some added buzz.
First, the expansion of the line into a full-service commuter corridor has been nearly a decade-and-a-half in the making, slowed by funding delays. Specifically, the line was only a single track for decades, severely limiting the number of trips available. Amtrak has been offering a limited schedule on the single track as part of its Northeast regional service.
Second, running high-speed trains along the busy I-91 corridor is expected to make the highway less congested.
Third, proponents of the expansion are hanging their hats on the economic development that comes with improvements to public transit infrastructure.
“The Hartford Line will revolutionize transportation in central Connecticut and is already spurring millions of dollars in transit-oriented economic development up and down the line,” Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said.
“Thousands of car trips in the I-91 corridor will be eliminated, millions of gallons of gas will be saved, and the overall quality of life in our state will improve with new commuting options, including easy connections to Boston, New York, and beyond,” Redeker added.
Aside from economic development, the expansion also is expected to provide central Connecticut residents with affordable access to job markets in Fairfield County, NYC, and Massachusetts.
The project spanned two administrations. It was planned and designed during the Rell administration, which began the process of setting aside much of the funding. Later, the Malloy administration finished the financing and oversaw the construction of the additional track, parallel to the first, to provide for simultaneous, two-way train traffic north and south. Less than a third of the money came from the federal government, while the state bonded for the rest.
The Hartford Line service begins on June 16, and riders are to be given an opportunity to try it out for free this coming weekend of June 16 and 17. The expanded weekday service begins on Monday, June 18.
The Hartford Line will increase weekday round-trip rail service between New Haven and Springfield significantly, from 6 to 17 round trips per day between New Haven and Hartford and from 6 to 12 round trips per day between Hartford and Springfield. The limitation is because the line from Hartford to Springfield is still only a single track — expansion there is planned for a another phase.
But the new service adds trains between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, and will operate at speeds up to 110 mph, with an average travel time of 80 minutes for the 62-mile route between New Haven and Springfield.
The estimated travel time from New Haven to Hartford is 45 minutes.
The basic one-way fare from Hartford to New Haven is $8. Seniors and people with disabilities are eligible for discounts, bringing their fares down to $4. The one-way fare from New Haven to Springfield is $12.75. And again, seniors and people with disabilities are eligible for discounts, bringing their fares down to $6.25.
There are also weekly, 10-trip, and monthly discount options.
There are currently nine stations where the Hartford Line trains will stop for passengers: New Haven’s Union and State Street stations, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford’s Union Station, Windsor, Windsor Locks, and Springfield’s Union Station. Plans for another phase of expansion have also included talk of building more stations in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford, and Enfield.
On the Hartford Line, any ticket may be used on any train between Springfield and New Haven, including intermediate stations, with the exception of the Amtrak Vermonter.
Amtrak tickets are accepted on CTrail Hartford Line trains, and CTrail Hartford Line tickets are accepted on Amtrak trains.
The Hartford Line is a passenger rail service developed through a partnership between DOT, CTrail, and Amtrak. The CTDOT is providing the expanded service using Amtrak and CTrail trains operated by a service provider chosen by CTDOT — a joint venture of TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts (TASI/ACI). Amtrak trains offer wi-fi while there are plans for upgrades to CTrail trains to include wi-fi.
In addition to more rail service within the I-91 corridor, the program includes significant infrastructure improvements to make the service safe, reliable, convenient, and comfortable, according to state officials.
State officials are planning a kickoff press conference this Friday at Union Station in Hartford.
They also are still looking at expanding options for a rail service from Springfield to Boston and north to Northampton and Greenfield.