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Study finds ridership for new Boston-Montreal high speed line

(The following article by Lisa Rathke was distributed by the Associated Press on October 14.)

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- High-speed rail service between Boston and Montreal would attract enough passengers to make it worth pursuing, an initial study has determined. Now comes the hard part: Calculating how much it would cost to get the 325-mile rail corridor up to speed.

The study, financed by the federal government and the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, has focused so far on whether there would be a market for the train.

The conclusion of the just-released final Phase 1 report is that there is.

"We were pleased to see the ridership. We really did not know what it was going to be," said Scott Bascom, a planning coordinator with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which is managing the study.

The next phase will look at what it would take to get the service up and running. The study will focus on the costs of improving the tracks and operating the service.

"At the end of this we should have enough information for policy folks to make a decision," Bascom said.

The release of the final Phase 1 report coincided with an announcement by U.S. Sens. James Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont that Congress has appropriated $248,375 for the next phase of the study. The federal government has been financing half the cost of the study while the three states are splitting the other half.

The analysts used different variables -- train speed, fares and number of stations. They concluded that the most likely scenario -- acknowledging that the train speed would be restricted at some points -- would take just under six hours and would attract 683,667 riders annually.

The study found that the infrastructure needs substantial improvements to support high speed rail service. However, the report concluded that since "a significant number of riders would use the service," further study is warranted.

The biggest competition to the train would be the automobile. In the United States, vehicles are used 80 percent of the time for trips greater than 100 miles. In the Boston to Montreal corridor that rate jumps to 97 percent, the study said.

"There's some air service, but not much. There's some bus service," said Bascom.

Potential riders tended to be leisure travelers, such as tourists or students returning to college, rather than people traveling for business, he said.

Ridership increased with lower fares, more frequent trips and more train stations, he said.

The Boston to Montreal corridor was designated one of the country's three high speed rail areas by the Federal Railroad Association in 2000 to study alternative forms of transportation. A total of 10 corridors around the country are in various phases of study, Bascom said.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

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