PHILADELPHIA — Federal officials are rethinking a plan to build new high-speed railroad tracks through parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island after complaints that the project would devastate neighbourhoods, marshlands and tourist attractions.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) dropped the proposal from the latest version of a $120 billion to $150 billion master plan, released July 12, to rebuild the congested Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., over the next 30 years.
Instead, the agency said it would continue studying options for adding track capacity and speeding service in the 100-mile stretch from New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, and that it’s seeking input from residents and officials in both states.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, called the idea of running tracks through historic Old Lyme and other communities on Connecticut’s southeastern shoreline "misguided," "poorly conceived" and "untethered from reality."
The FRA’s retreat, he said, is a testament of local residents’ and town leaders’ perseverance.
Construction couldn’t begin without the support and agreement of state leaders, FRA project manager Rebecca Reyes-Alicea said.
"We proposed an informed option that we wanted to put on the table and get reaction," Reyes-Alicea said of the now-shelved plan. "We really see the study as a positive move in the right direction."
The master plan July 12 calls for enhancing capacity, performance and reliability on the Northeast Corridor through updated infrastructure, more trains and new tracks that would allow speeds of up to 220 mph.
It’s the first comprehensive look at the future of the 500-mile corridor, which handles about 2,200 trains and 750,000 passengers each day on commuter and intercity trains.
The next steps will be deciding how the plan will be implemented and how it will be funded, all while making sure construction doesn’t cripple day-to-day operations, Reyes-Alicea said.
"That’s one of the greatest challenges," she said.
The FRA estimates rebuilding the Northeast Corridor would cut travel times between Washington and New York by 35 minutes, to about two hours and 10 minutes, on the fastest trains and save more than an hour on trips between Boston and New York, which now take close to four hours.
Work has already begun on some projects incorporated into the FRA’s plan.
They include a project to build new, expanded tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, so far pegged to cost $12.9 billion, and a project to replace a 143-year-old tunnel in Baltimore.