Thanks to Terry Cowgill at the Berkshire Record for continued coverage of the Train Campaign. We’re especially glad to get an update direct from Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy. More next month (and next year! – welcome 2016) on the Massachusetts DOT, which is not winning hearts and minds in the Berkshires. Here’s Terry’s recent cover story, which quotes Karen Christensen on the Train Campaign:
CT Gov. tells Berkshires rail boosters: Bay State must pay by Terry Cowgill
HARTFORD, Conn. — If train aficionados want to restore passenger rail service from Grand Central Terminal to the Berkshires, then the state of Massachusetts will have to pay more than its share of the tab to upgrade freight tracks to passenger train quality.
So says the governor of Connecticut. In an interview at the Capitol with Record News Editor Terry Cowgill, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy insisted that since the Bay State would derive far more benefit from the restoration of passenger service than Connecticut, then they[Massachusetts] must have pay “a disproportionate amount.”
“Don’t get me wrong; I understand it might serve [their] needs,” Malloy said. “But in terms of the numbers of people that get served, it really is driven by Massachusetts traffic, and there is no way to afford to do that project if this is ‘they take care of their side of the map and we take care of our side of the map.’ And by the way, that’s just not how projects get done.”
Malloy pointed out that his state has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to a New Haven–Hartford–Springfield high-speed commuter rail line, which is currently under construction. Connecticut paid the lion’s share of the costs to upgrade the Massachusetts portion of the line.
“They would have to pay a disproportionate amount, just as we have to pay a disproportionately large amount to establish commutation to Springfield,” Malloy said.
“Think about how much of that system has to be improved in Connecticut — how many miles have to be improved here to get service into New York City, which is what they’re looking for, right? Versus how much of that system would have to be improved in Massachusetts to get there.”
The Massachusetts portion of the tracks current used for freight by Housatonic Railroad is about 35 miles from the state line at Canaan to the intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield. From the Canaan-Sheffield line to the Danbury Metro North Station is about 55 miles, with another five miles needed to reach the state line at Brewster, N.Y.
Malloy acknowledged that Connecticut is already “spending a lot of money” to upgrade its portion of the degraded tracks so that Housatonic Railroad can continue its crucial freight service. But “with the added number of trains that this would require” and the construction of train stations and parking lots, an upgrade to passenger specs could not be justified, the governor said.
“I understand why they want to do it, because they get a lot of service for very little money and we get relatively little service for a lot of money,” Malloy continued. “So I’m open to discussions with the folks in Massachusetts but it’s gotta be about how it’s paid for. The current proposition is not possible.”
Messages seeking comment from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office were not returned by press time. Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes would not say whether the Baker administration planned to pursue passenger rail for the Berkshires.
“In January, MassDOT will be holding a series of public meetings around the state to solicit feedback on its draft five-year capital investment plan, which will be an opportunity to gauge the demand for future passenger service along this line,” Verseckes said in an email.
While that plan is being developed, MassDOT will proceed with a long-range state rail plan, “that will take a longer term view of the state’s existing rail infrastructure and the investments required to optimize the network for future freight and passenger needs, statewide,” Verseckes added.
But state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli told The Record in March he sees no indication that Baker will honor former Gov. Deval Patrick’s pledge to move forward with the Berkshires passenger line, especially with the well publicized problems that the MBTA had over the winter.
Karen Christensen, who heads The Train Campaign, told The Record, “Gov. Malloy has a lot of other, much more costly transport projects on his mind, but this one shouldn’t be an interstate tug-of-war.” Christensen noted that the Connecticut portion of the line is about 100 years old and that “it’s a miracle that it can carry freight for companies that are some of the biggest employers in that part of his state.” For that reason alone, the tracks are worth upgrading, she said.
“And we should be at the table now, discussing a fair allocation of other costs and future benefits to both Connecticut and Massachusetts,” said Christensen, whose organization is dedicated to restoring passenger service to the Berkshires.
The initiative to restore passenger service to the Berkshires started under the administration of Patrick, who owns a home in Richmond and toured the Berkshires in 2013 to promote passenger service to New York.
MassDOT announced in the summer of 2013 it had reached an agreement to buy the railroad tracks currently used for freight traffic from Housatonic Railroad for a little more than $12.1 million. The money for the purchase a year later came from $113 million set aside by the state to rebuild track infrastructure in anticipation of the revival of passenger rail service between New York City, Danbury and Pittsfield.
But the project cannot come to fruition unless the state of Connecticut decides to move forward with significant improvements to passenger grade to its own tracks.