My name is Susan Clayton, a member of North Canaan’s Board of Selectmen, here today in support of a bill H.B. 6343, on behalf of our community’s efforts, calling for restoration of these State rails leased by Housatonic Railroad, whose freight operation is critical to North Canaan’s economy.
Housatonic Railroad currently serves two of North Canaan’s largest manufacturers, Becton Dickinson and Specialty Minerals. Rail has proven to be a cost effective and “greener” choice for moving their products.
Their use of rails helps keep nearly 18,000 semi-trucks out of our small downtown each year. More importantly, their access to rail has kept them from relocating to other states.
Both have indicated a desire to expand.
We see this project as more than a transportation project. We see the rail project as economic development. And it would make economic sense to improve the entirety of the line. The bones are already there.
Restoration would provide more efficient freight service, safer crossings, and quieter operations. It create jobs. It would be greener and would lend itself to future passenger service.
If you study the Downeaster service in Maine, measuring the benefits, you find that 22% of the riders were people who would not have gone to Maine without it. After two years of operation, that train brought 10,000 new visitors to the area. They spent $2.9 million, generating 87 new jobs.
Passenger service here would serve four major markets, three of which will generate new spending.
Commuters will bring dollars back to Connecticut, generating tax income for the state. The numbers will grow as passengers working in NYC seek affordable housing along the rail line.
Visitors from NYC will spend money on food, entertainment, lodging, and other purchases.
Visitor market research indicates the average age of the prospective rider is 37. Bringing and keeping younger citizens here is critical.
If ridership numbers are even half of what research has indicated, the number of new visitors would be eight times what they experienced in Maine because NYC has a population of 8 million, versus the 700,000 the Downeaster serves in the Boston market.
That suggests, if the experience in Maine is similar, and I suspect it is, new spending could be well over $23 million, creating about a thousand new jobs.
I do not advocate for only for North Canaan. I believe the restoration of this line will improve the economy and public transportation of the entire western third of our state.
Working with Housatonic Railroad, which operates a successful freight service and has the expertise and knowledge to develop a passenger service that can operate without state subsidy, makes good sense. This kind of collaboration could be a model for other public/private projects.
Restoring these rails should be an important component of any larger plan. For North Canaan, one of 28 distressed communities, it would be a lifeline.
Stealing a quote from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come!” In closing, I thank you for your kind attention.
Note: this is a slightly edited version of Susie’s remarks, published with her permission.