The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) finally released its once-in-a-generation blueprint for rail travel along the Northeast Corridor in a surprise announcement shortly before the winter holidays. The NEC Future FEIS document confirms reports published by the CT Trust and SECoast in September 2016 that revealed that the preferred route for new high speed rail service through Connecticut included 79 miles of proposed new alignments through New London and Fairfield Counties.
Since the release of the FEIS, the Connecticut Trust, and our grassroots partner SECoast, have been putting in the hours, working through the roughly fourteen-hundred pages of planning documents as we prepare our final public comment on the plan. We’ve also been fielding questions from the public and government officials in both Connecticut and Rhode Island, and responding to queries and calls from the Associated Press, Stamford Advocate, Harford Courant, Connecticut Mirror, New London Day, Westerly Sun, Providence Journal, NPR, and Politico.
Aside from a fairly popular planned upgrade and electrification of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield route, reaction to final route selection ranged from alarm to confusion and concern. Even after five years of planning, many residents and officials in Connecticut are still squinting at the poor-quality published maps and coming grips with a whole new vocabulary of “aerial structures” and preservation law.
By far the greatest concern has centered on the 79 miles of new rail corridor in two segments, from New Rochelle to Greens Farms in Fairfield County and from Old Saybrook through New London County to Kenyon, Rhode Island. These segments pose extraordinary impacts to historic, cultural and environmental resources in coastal Connecticut—possible block-wide swaths of neighborhoods in Riverside and Darien, significant view-shed concerns in Stamford and Norwalk, a devastating route through the historic heart of Old Lyme, and significant impacts to Mystic, New London (including the newly-minted historic district of Hodges Square Village) and North Stonington.
If Old Lyme has been Connecticut’s canary in the coalmine regarding proposed plans, there is growing concern, particularly in Fairfield County, about what potential impacts maybe hiding in the dense planning documents. Similarly, Rhode Island communities are now on full alert to potential impacts. Upon the FEIS publication on December 16th, town officials in Charlestown, Rhode Island discovered they were targeted to suffer among the greatest environmental and historic resource impacts along the entire Northeast Corridor. CT Trust executive director Daniel Mackay, and newly-hired director of Special Projects Gregory Stroud, were invited to lead off a town meeting attended by roughly 400 concerned residents, Amtrak officials, and various state and federal government representatives. The public’s unanimous opposition to the bypass (impacting approximately 100 properties) was followed by a town resolution opposing the bypass and has subsequently triggered a resolution of opposition by regional delegation of the Rhode Island state legislature.
The FRA will hold one final meeting on the NEC Future plans in New England, in Springfield, MA on January 25th—far removed from most the Connecticut and Rhode Island communities with the plans greatest impacts, but still worth attending. Trust staff will be attending and we expect municipal officials from Rhode Island and Connecticut to also be present.
Comments on the FEIS documentation are currently due January 31st. The Connecticut Trust and SECoast asked FRA for a Waiting Period extension to solicit more detailed public comment to the plan. FRA denied that request according to press reports. Subsequently, Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, and all members of the Connecticut House delegation have asked for such an extension, as have municipal officials in both Connecticut and Rhode Island. Nonetheless, the Trust continues to prepare our extensive comments for January submission. You can join us in submitting questions or comments to the FRA by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will be entered into the final record.