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 currently 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.
As one who has proposed and sold systems to municipalities for mass transit services, I have some knowledge of municipal agencies look for. There is a cost vs benefit proposal that must be made to get the financial support. Somewhere in a prior comment I made, I mentioned that there is an imbalance in “interest” that I saw with this project. For example, why would NY State be interested in further subsidizing Metro North to provide these additional services when the benefit is clearly to Mass. The same point is what the CT Governor is making regarding his state’s funding. I don’t think what he is expressing is wrong and should not be viewed as a state vs state issue. If Mass is to receive the benefit, Mass should be prepared to fund it, disproportionately as it may be.
I haven’t figured out why there’s an assumption that it’s MA only that benefits. There are benefits to Metro-North, in fact, and very much to CT towns and to companies located there, who depend on rail service that now runs on 100-year-old tracks. Our challenge is to make this clear in all our outreach, and then to weigh benefits so that there is proportional investment. Thanks for your comments.
I agree. I think the State of Connecticut would benefit as much or more than Mass. Back in the old New Haven Railroad days, many students were carried to and from Kent. The other towns along the line in both CT an Mass would also benefit. In my own personal, honest, humble opinion, this is a project that should be spearheaded to move forward. Why “study” this for another 25 or 30 years? My suggestion would be to get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed so that when and if there ever really is an “infrastructure” bill coming out of Washington, this could be piggybacked onto that.
One question I have had for a long time, however, I am not sure about the wisdom of sending the south end of the line west from Danbury over the presently moribund Maybrook Freight line. Wouldn’t it make about as much sense to just send the trains on south to South Norwalk then over to Grand Central via Stamford?
Fred M. Cain
Fred, good to hear from you. I will check about the line – I don’t think it’s the Maybrook line, but could be wrong. More soon and all best, Karen.
The “Maybrook” line was so called because back in the old New Haven Railroad days it ran all the way west to Maybrook, NY where it connected with some other railroads, notably the Erie, that ran on to Chicago. The Penn Central was forced to take over the New Haven in 1969 and they decided they didn’t want to keep the Maybrook line after there was a fire on the Poughkeepsie bridge in 1974. Most of the line is now moribund or sees little activity. Also, west of Hopewell, Jct, the tracks have been removed from there west, over the bridge and on to Maybrook. There is also a moribund branch line that connects Hopewell Jct and Beacon, NY.
If my memory serves me correctly, Metro North bought the Beacon-Hopewell-Southeast-Danbury-Devon segment a number of years ago. Their plan, I think, was to rebuild the line and offer an outer ring suburban commuter rail service between Beacon, NY and New Haven, CT. However, for reasons unclear to me this has never come to pass and has been pushed so far back onto the back burner that is may well be dead.
If the “Train Campaign” succeeds, the Danbury-Southeast section of the old Maybrook line will need to be rebuilt. To me, the most ideal arrangement would be to offer service from Pittsfield to Grand Central via “Southeast” and White Plains AND via Norwalk and Stamford, CT. Unfortunately, that might be too much to hope for,
Fred M. Cain
I think a cost-benefit analysis of this proposed line shows that it does not really serve ANY interest to build, since you need a car as soon as you get off the train. You cannot get to much of anything in either Berkshire or Litchfield County. Meanwhile Metro-North runs a line less than 20 miles west of Housatonic RR, which you can use to access a car-free experience. This passenger service would ruin view of Housatonic River and hurt animal access to river. It is masquerading as a green project, when it is just a boondoggle with incredibly low use potential. Sad that people are not more thoughtful about this, in a time when we do need access to transit alternatives. This proposal is not one that is good.