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Study on Boston-Montreal rail continues

NASHUA, N.H. -- A study looking at high-speed rail service between Boston and Montreal has found enough positive information to warrant continuing, the Nahsua Telegraph reported. .

“The findings would say there is enough ridership to go forward,” project manager Ronald O’Blenis of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff said. The study was started last year by the Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont state transportation departments, which pooled resources to hire O’Blenis and take a look at the possibilities.

Public meetings are being held next week in Concord, Lowell, Mass., and Montpelier, Vt., and later this month in Montreal, for people to review the first phase of the study.

O’Blenis said this part focused on the ridership possibilities – not on costs. Using three scenarios where the train ran between 60 and 110 mph, with three trips each way seven days a week, the study found some where “options in that range warranted further study,” he said. “We were looking for a fatal flaw.”

There are many issues that would have to be worked out, however – not the least of which is cost. Substantial improvements along the line would have to be made, and safety and signaling issues addressed, among others. The costs will be looked at in the second phase of the study, which will hopefully begin next year, O’Blenis said.

One of the things that made the study seem feasible to continue is the existence of a state-owned rail corridor in New Hampshire between Concord and White River Junction, Vt. O’Blenis said the existing tracks would more than likely have to be ripped out and replaced, but the existence of the corridor means the state wouldn’t have to buy land.

In the scenarios that were tested, O’Blenis said there were 13 potential stations. While not cast in concrete, he said he “certainly expected Nashua to be involved.”

City and regional officials have been bickering recently with trucking lobbyists and the Executive Council over the council’s decision not to approve the use of gas tax money for study of a rail station on East Spit Brook Road. If the money isn’t approved, the city’s efforts at getting commuter rail may be seriously damaged.

While some of the solid answers for high-speed rail are still unknown, O’Blenis was optimistic about the possibility that high-speed rail service between Boston and Montreal could deliver passenger ridership numbers similar to the Downeaster, the connection between Boston and Portland, Maine.

That service has exceeded all expectations. Ridership for the first year is expected to top 323,000, with revenues reaching $4.7 million. The revenue figure exceeds projections by 44 percent, according to a statement from the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The ridership predictions for Boston-to-Montreal show the route would draw more tourists than businesspeople. The Downeaster attracts more business traffic, O’Blenis said.

The most direct commuter rail link between Boston and Montreal was broken in December 1994, when Amtrak discontinued the Montrealer.

After a meeting of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors in 2000, the governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts put in an application with the Federal Railroad Administration to have the route considered a high-speed corridor, making federal funds available for studies and some safety work.

The federal government approved the application in October 2000 and granted $200,000 for the study, which was matched by $200,000 from the three states involved.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

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