Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal both said they would support new rail corridors through Connecticut, at a press conference with Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti at the Windsor train station on Friday. The public appearance was in support of a $117 billion plan released on Thursday, called Connect NEC 2035, that would move forward the first phase of the Federal Railroad Administration’s NEC Future plan for high-speed and commuter rail along the Northeast Corridor from Washington, DC to Boston.
“I don’t think there was a lot of work put into the magic marker drawing that caused a lot of consternation a couple of years ago,” said Murphy. “We can do a lot better job of both straightening track and delivering on the promise of lower transportation times while also being sensitive to existing communities that live by the rail. I’ve said this repeatedly in meeting after meeting. The priority should be the right of way, but I think we have to be open to a conversation about new routes. But we need to do that in a process that really listens to the people who live along the rail.”
Murphy and Blumenthal both said they are fighting for a significant increase in federal funding for high speed rail through New England.
“We’ve been pounding on the White House, we’ve been pummeling our colleagues, we’ve been telling them, no infrastructure unless you do better and more for rail,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal echoed Murphy’s openness to a new rail corridor, particularly between Hartford and Boston.
“We definitely need new railroad, we definitely need new right of way and a new transfer between Hartford and Boston directly,” Blumenthal said. “That route between Boston and Hartford is really long overdue. I believe, frankly, with Senator Murphy, that we ought to be open to new routes if they’re doable.”
Last month, President Joe Biden appeared with a bipartisan group of senators to announce an agreement on an infrastructure deal. Blumenthal said that deal includes $30 billion in funding for high speed rail through New England, a far smaller number than he and Murphy are aiming for.
An investment of $30 billion would not even cover the necessary repairs, Murphy said, let alone new development. Both senators agreed that they would not support an infrastructure bill that did not more meaningfully transform rail service in the region.
The Connect NEC 2035 plan sets out a 15-year program, costing an additional $100 billion over current funding, that anticipates a savings of 28 minutes delivering passengers between Boston and New York in just over 3 hours, with significant additional benefits to commuter rail service, and travel between Washington, DC and New York.
The plan would also advance two studies to resolve the most controversial stretches of rail corridor — between New Haven and Providence, RI and between New Rochelle, NY and Green’s Farms in Westport.
Five years ago, a draft blueprint of proposed solutions included 79 miles of new rail corridor, sparking fierce opposition in towns across southeast Connecticut and southern Rhode Island.
While emphasizing that the primary source of funding would be from the federal government, Blumenthal and Murphy both said the infrastructure bill could open up new avenues for states to contribute to their own infrastructure spending.
“One of the things we’re looking at is allowing states to borrow 75-year money from the federal government, which would allow for states to contribute a lot more than they contribute today,” Murphy said. “I think we’re going to be focused on getting the biggest amount of federal dollars as possible, but we’re also going to be looking for innovative ways to allow states to contribute.”