MONTVILLE — Boosting the speed of train travel along the Northeast corridor is a top priority, according to Sen. Chris Murphy, that will require new track and “dislocation” for communities along the rail corridor. Murphy made the comments at a luncheon sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut on Wednesday.
Murphy spoke to about 150 attendees in the Earth Ballroom at Mohegan Sun about “four big pieces of legislation that we moved in the last Congress” that included infrastructure, prescription drug pricing, renewable energy jobs and issues of gun violence.
“The rail line obviously matters to us. No matter where you live in Connecticut, that rail line in particular, the line that connects Boston to D.C., it’s the lifeblood of our economy, and with a stop in New London, it obviously matters greatly to southeastern Connecticut.
But it’s atrophying,” said Murphy. “You know the story — that it takes you 20 minutes more to get from New London to New York City today than it did in 1950. That’s inexcusable.”
Murphy said that of the $66 billion in the infrastructure bill designated for rail, he and his colleagues were able to “earmark $30 to $35 billion of that – half of that money – just for the stretch of rail from Boston to Washington, D.C.”
He said the funding will help put into action Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to decrease rail travel time for Connecticut to travel to New York and to Boston.
“That piece of legislation is really important for Connecticut – infrastructure matters more here than anywhere else,” Murphy said.
Responding to an audience question about building spurs along the rail lines to more cities and towns, Murphy said the focus needs to be on the main line first.
“I believe you’ve got to get the main line right first and that we have to improve the experience and reduce the time that it takes to get from New York to Boston, and that the bulk of our dollars should be going into that project first,” he said. “Because once you get that more reliable and faster, then you’re going to attract a lot more consumers to any branches that you build.”
Murphy said the only way to significantly speed travel along the existing line is to build new track “in places where there isn’t track today.”
“And building new track involves some dislocation. Nobody’s ever built anything important or meaningful in this country without there being some dislocation,” said Murphy. “I understand communities rightfully get very upset about that and we will work with every community to make sure that the dislocation is the least amount possible. But we have a choice to make as a state, we either want that rail line to be viable, or we want zero dislocation, you just can’t get both. And that’s just a tough conversation we have to have.”
New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study
Since joining Sen. Richard Blumenthal in 2016 to oppose a proposed high-speed rail bypass through southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island, Murphy has spoken in public on a number of occasions in favor of investments in high-speed rail and the need for improvements outside of the existing Northeast Corridor right of way.
Opposition to that planning left future plans for high-speed rail between New Haven and Providence unresolved in the Federal Railroad Administration’s NEC Future master plan for the Northeast Corridor. The 2017 record of decision, which put in place goals for speed and capacity along the entire corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, also mandated the completion of a New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study to identify on- and off-corridor infrastructure that could achieve those objectives.
The proposed Old Saybrook to Kenyon, RI rail bypass – FRA’s initial solution between New Haven and Providence – was set aside in the 2017 record of decision, but will remain part of the forthcoming study, along with a proposed expansion of the rail corridor between Branford and Guilford.
In a recent letter to the Charlestown, RI town council, Andrew Koziol, the assistant chief of planning at Rhode Island Department of Transportation, told Council President Deb Carney that Amtrak applied for funding the New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study on March 27.
At Wednesday’s luncheon, CT Examiner asked Murphy about the status of the study and the bypass. He responded that he didn’t know about the study and couldn’t speak to it.
Murphy reiterated that, in general, it is not possible to decrease the amount of time it takes to get from Boston to New York without building new track or straightening the existing track.
“We need to do that straightening and build that new track in a way that is the least impactful on communities, but we cannot expect that we’re going to make progress without building some new track,” he said.
Murphy said he understood the “uproar that happens in southeast Connecticut” and said there may be a way to do it better with less impact.
“But let’s be honest, there will be opposition anywhere we propose building additional infrastructure,” he said. “But if 100 years ago, we decided not to build, [or] to build no track anywhere, because it would involve dislocation, we wouldn’t have a single bit of… we wouldn’t have built the northeast corridor to begin with. So we’ve got to be sensitive, we’ve got to do this carefully, but we’ve got to build.”