On Wednesday, the NEC Commission announced the launch of Phase 1 of the NEC Future vision for improving rail service along the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston. Dubbed Connect NEC 2035, the plan calls for the completion of 150 significant projects over 15 years at an additional cost of $100 billion dollars.
These plans include a new rail station for Hartford, the elimination of three at-grade crossings in Mystic, new rail stops along the Hartford Line for North Haven, Newington, West Hartford, and Enfield, and new rail platforms for Clinton and Madison.
Service upgrades would include new direct train service between New London and New York City –maintaining stops along Shore Line East and then providing express service from New Haven to New York. A similar service would serve the Hartford Line, making regular stops between Hartford and New Haven before switching to express service to New York.
Connect NEC 2035 also calls for the construction an additional parking garage at Union Station in New Haven.
The plan stops short of NEC Future’s long-term goal of 2 hour-and-45-minute service between Boston and New York – from the current 3 hours and 36 minutes – but anticipates 28 minutes of time savings by 2035 to deliver service in just over 3 hours.
The announcement marks the next step in a process that sparked significant opposition five years ago for towns across Connecticut and southern Rhode Island, after a draft document proposed 79 miles of new rail corridor between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, RI and New Rochelle, NY and Green’s Farm in Westport.
At the time, Senator Richard Blumenthal called those plans, which would have crossed the historic district of Old Lyme at a height of 40 feet, with significant additional impacts to New London, Charlestown, RI and several wealthy towns in Fairfield County – “half-baked and harebrained.”
A Freedom of Information Request filed in 2016 with the Federal Railroad Administration for documents related to those plans remains outstanding.
NEC Future – which replaced a master plan for the Northeast Corridor dating to 1970s – eventually dropped the Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass, and the widening of the rail corridor near Guilford from a binding record of decision released on July 12, 2017. But NEC Future included plans for a New Rochelle to Green’s Farm Bypass through Fairfield County.
At the time, Rebecca Reyes-Alicia, who managed the federal project for FRA, told Ana Radelat, a reporter for CT Mirror, “there was no consensus” for the proposed bypass through southeastern Connecticut. Reyes-Alicea said there would be instead a later “healthy” process for finalizing a route between New Haven and Providence. That process would still require any solution to meet the overall goals for service and time savings between Providence and New Haven and would consider on-corridor and off-corridor solutions.
The Wednesday announcement of Connecticut NEC 2035 takes a step toward finalizing those controversial routes across Fairfield County and southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island in the form of two studies: a “New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study,” and a “New Haven to New Rochelle NEC Capacity and Trip Time Planning Study,” which would investigate “potential realignments” and a “new modern regional rail station” in Fairfield County.
According to the binding record of decision, “Completion of a New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study for this area will be a pre-condition to any Tier 2 projects that are intended to increase capacity.”
Connecticut 2035 also includes plans for Guilford “capacity improvement.”
Yet to be resolved is if and how the raft of 150 projects would be funded on the state and federal level, though the planning documents ask that it be funded as a single program rather than a piecemeal menu of investments over time.
In a May 13 Appropriations hearing, Senator Chris Murphy called investments in the corridor a “once in a lifetime chance” and promised support for “as big an appropriation as possible,” but pressed for “some mechanisms to get state buy-in”
“We’ve got a 10-year-old train station in Branford, CT that has a sign posted outside of it ‘parking area prone to flooding,’ and there are lots of days where you can’t get into that parking lot. You can’t access the trains because it’s underwater, and there’s been exhaustive studies about the vulnerability of the entire line given that so much of it rests, especially in Connecticut, right along the water,” Murphy said. “I think we’ve got a once in a lifetime chance to be able to adapt the rail line for climate but also to be able to improve the experience of riders, and I’m going to support as big an appropriation as possible, but I think it’d be a lot easier to get bipartisan support and taxpayer buy-in with respect to the rail investments if we find some mechanisms to get state buy-in.”
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats announced a $3.5 trillion deal for a broad package of infrastructure spending that would include $579 billion in new spending on water, sewer, road and rail projects.