Communities throughout Connecticut are awaiting news, now delayed from an intended August announcement, about what route the Federal Railroad Administration will designate for the next generation of high-speed rail service. The Connecticut Trust is involved in this issue to raise the profile of potential historic resource impacts throughout the proposed rail corridors, as well as to oppose the poorly vetted “coastal bypass” alternative, which would severely impact historic communities between Old Lyme, New London, and Waverly, Rhode Island. Read below for a synopsis included in our fall newsletter and visit www.SECoast.org for the up-to-date details.
High Speed Rail: The Need for Planning
Over the last ten months, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has partnered with SECoast, a grassroots group based in southeastern Connecticut, to assess and publicize the impacts of proposed new high-speed rail routes through Connecticut. Public announcement of a preferred route was expected in early September, but has been delayed. A final decision, expected before year’s end, will determine rail investments in the Northeast through at least 2040.
Worries about the impacts of the new route through Connecticut started in the historic coastal community of Old Lyme, but through effective outreach and advocacy have now spread to other communities (and even Rhode Island) as a decision nears. The Trust’s concern is that committing to a route before understanding its effects on historic and natural resources is a fundamentally flawed process.
Unlike other states along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, Connecticut faces potential dramatic changes in where and how the Federal Railway
Administration (FRA) builds the next generation of high-speed rail service. Three options are proposed for the state; all involve construction of new rail lines outside existing corridors, with dramatic effects.
Internal emails from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, obtained by SECoast through a Freedom of Information Act request in June, indicate that the FRA committed to a preferred route just two days after the close of a national public comment period in February, despite more than 1,200 comments from Connecticut residents.
While the FRA and ConnDOT deny the preemptory selection of a route, all signs point to FRA’s recommitting to a coastal route throughout Connecticut, with fifty miles of re-routing for dedicated high-speed rail service between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, Rhode Island. A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the FRA for early details on their routing selection, process, and potential impacts remains unfilled five months after filing.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Representative Joe Courtney, have collectively called on the FRA to abandon the coastal bypass and assure Connecticut communities that historic, cultural, and environmental resources will be protected. In both committee testimony in Washington and appearances in Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal has repeatedly described the coastal bypass option as “hare-brained and half-baked.” State Senator Paul Formica and Representative Devin Carney have been highly engaged in representing their constituents’ concerns about bypass impacts.
Fairfield County communities also appear to be subject to new routing for the successor for Acela service. Upgraded service and new railroad cars appear to be planned for the Springfield/ Hartford/New Haven corridor to better integrate those cities to the coastal route.
Residents in Old Lyme remain extremely concerned about potential re-routing through the community’s National Register District, should the coastal bypass be selected. Impacts on communities further east are now also facing public scrutiny.
The FRA finally consented to hold a public forum in late August. The tightly controlled event required the public to submit questions in advance. A standing-room only crowd of more than 500 citizens heard political leaders from every municipality between Old Saybrook and Stonington express opposition to the bypass. Instead, elected officials asked for reinvestment and upgrades to existing infrastructure.
A senior FRA representative twice stated that that any bypass plan would commit to tunneling under the Connecticut River and Old Lyme’s National Register District. Another senior FRA official told the CT Mirror that the agency could not make that commitment, but retracted that statement the day following the event.
For details and the latest news, visit our partner’s website: www.SECoast.org
The Federal Railroad Administration’s initial plans called for an elevated 40-foot tall double-track train corridor through the grounds of Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. The agency has since made quiet reference to shifting to a tunnel crossing at the Connecticut River and under Old Lyme, an expensive alternative.
Amtrak’s current route is in gray on this regional map. The proposed new route – for high-speed trains only – shows here as a reddish-purple line, closely aligned with the I-95 corridor and providing a shorter, straighter, and thus faster route across southeastern Connecticut for riders between Boston and New York.
Documents discovered by the CT Trust and SECoast online at the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation indicate the Federal Railroad Administration's "Preferred Alternative" is a route that includes new routes for high-speed rail in Fairfield County and in southeastern Connecticut, as well as a connecting spur to Hartford and Springfield that brings those municipalities into the Northeast Corridor. FRA ordered the Advisory Council to remove these documents from their website after we publicized these plans.