CT: Residents, officials voice support for commuter rail expansion

CT: Residents, officials voice support for commuter rail expansion

Dec. 16 – GROTON – Local residents and officials on Thursday expressed strong support for the rapid transit expansion as the state Department of Transportation examines the feasibility of expanding Shore Line East to Westerly, RI, and adding a passenger rail service between New London and Norwich examined.

As part of its Eastern Connecticut Corridor Rail and Transit Study, the DOT is also studying the feasibility of building new railroad stations in Groton and Stonington Borough.

About 50 people attended an informational session at the Submarine Force Museum on Thursday. Another meeting took place on Monday evening and virtually on Thursday evening at the Kelly STEAM Magnet School in Norwich.

According to the DOT’s presentation, a feasibility study is “the first step in evaluating the viability of the service,” and depending on the results of the study, “increasingly detailed studies and designs may follow.” The DOT, which made a public survey available online this month and is conducting outreach and working group discussions, expects the study to be complete, including cost projections, in fall 2023, but a preliminary feasibility assessment is expected in early 2023.

Officials representing Groton, New London, Stonington and Westerly, RI were among those speaking out in favor of expanded rail travel on Thursday.

While examining the feasibility of rail passenger service between New London and Norwich, Jill Cahoon, rail and transit director at AECOM, a consultant on the project, said freight tracks currently exist between the two cities and are operated by Genesee and Wyoming, Inc. One to two trains a day run on the tracks, so according to preliminary information there are not many capacity bottlenecks.

However, with freight trains operating at fairly slow speeds, significant infrastructure and technology upgrades would be required to accommodate rail passenger service on the Thames River corridor and follow-up studies including bridge inspections, level crossings and utilities would be required. She said. The DOT also searches for sites to pinpoint potential stations.

According to the preliminary results outlined in the presentation, it would be “conceptually feasible” to run one commuter train per hour in each direction between Westerly, RI and New London. A second hourly commuter train might also work, but not without significant changes; One train per hour is really all that could be made in each direction with the limitations of the movable bridge, Cahoon explained.

The DOT surveyed the 2-mile areas around both potential rail corridors — the Thames River corridor and the Northeast Corridor from New London to Westerly — and found six of the area’s eight largest employers, as well as concentrations of office buildings and apartments, Cahoon said.

She said future projections show both population and employment growth, which may bring new opportunities. Transport officials look forward to this growth and what these new opportunities could bring in terms of new investments in local transport, including travel times and direct services for local employers.

In response to a question about what type of drag the DOT expects, DOT project manager Elise Greenberg said all of the feedback the agency has received so far has been positive.

Several legislators have spoken out in favor of it. State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said it was very important to the region, calling it an “economic engine.” She also said it would help drive carbon emissions.

State MP Anthony Nolan, D-New London, pointed to the number of people traveling through the region and how many more would travel if more rail transport were available.

Aundré Bumgardner, state representative-elect for the 41st House District, spoke out in support and made comments including that if Shore Line East is extended, he wants to ensure the level crossings have the best technology to ensure safety.

Local residents were also enthusiastic.

“I’m so excited about this,” said Penny Parsekian of Westerly, RI. “Rail has been in my heart for a long, long time.”

She asked if the DOT is looking at the aging population in the area because as people get older they want to keep moving and visit places like the Garde Arts Center in New London but don’t want to drive. She said the demographic also tends to have more money than many other demographics.

The DOT said it is considering all demographics and how that could lead to new demand for services.

Paige Bronk, the City of Groton’s economic and community development manager, said the city fully supports the feasibility study. Bronk and Susan Cullen, Stonington’s director of economic and community development, spoke about the importance of the Rhode Island connection.

Eugenia Villagra, co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates, said the proposal to extend Shore Line East from New London to Westerly and Norwich will provide a way to travel in and out of Groton, resulting in less pollution and clearer skies, healthier communities, and reducing harmful chemicals.

In a written comment, Zell Steever, chair of the Groton Resiliency and Sustainability Task Force and a member of the CT Commuter Rail Council, said, “Expanded train and transit services will not solve all the problems that lie ahead, but they may begin to solve some the more difficult issues related to traffic congestion, road deaths, public safety, climate change, air pollution and sustainable development.”

Speakers also said it would be nice to expand the commuter rail to TF Green International Airport in Rhode Island and connect Electric Boat Quonset Point in Rhode Island to Electric Boat in Connecticut. DOT officials said the Rhode Island DOT set the parameters for this study to extend only to west winds.

Visit https://portal.ct.gov/Eastern-CT-Rail for more information

[email protected]


(c) 2022 The Day (New London, Conn.)

Visit The Day (New London, Connecticut) at www.theday.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *