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New England states make pitch for high speed rail funding

(The following story by Martin B. Cassidy appeared on the Connecticut Post website on July 13, 2009.)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Connecticut has joined forces with other New England states to compete for a share of an $8 billion chunk of federal stimulus designated to expand high-speed rail service around the country, officials said Monday.

On Friday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell filed a request, along with Massachusetts and Amtrak, for a five-year, $880 million project to fix and expand the rail line between New Haven and Springfield, Mass., providing high-speed service by 2017. The additional expanded, faster service would better link inland Connecticut residents to New York City, Bradley International Airport and Boston, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The addition of two 62-mile tracks between New Haven and Springfield, as well as other improvements, would allow Amtrak trains to travel at up to 110 mph, according to the application.

The project is one of six that Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut are putting forward to the federal government as part of a plan to link the region by high speed rail. These include projects to expand high-speed rail service between Boston and Portland, Maine, and upgrading rail service in New Hampshire and Providence, R.I., to provide connections to regional airports.

The six New England states hope to double rail ridership in the Northeast by 2030. "If we are to be successful in this effort, the key will be the regional collaboration we are voicing today," DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie

said. "By taking the long view, our governors have ensured that everyone will win -- commuters, businesses, and ultimately the economy of the Northeast."

Faster, more frequent trains between New Haven and Springfield will increase economic potential in Connecticut by allowing companies to locate in Hartford and Meriden or lower Fairfield County while drawing on the statewide work force, said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County.

"As we expand from highways to mass transit, it begins to allow people to move more freely between communities and come to jobs in Fairfield County," McGee said.

Rell said that cooperation between the states to create a joint plan will demonstrate the region's commitment to mass transit.

"Speaking with one voice and presenting a united, cohesive front will be crucial to winning the battle to secure commitments and funding that will provide greater mobility for our citizens and better freight options for moving goods throughout the Northeast," Rell said in a statement.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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