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Feds Back Away From Controversial Rail Plan Along New England Coast

The Federal Railroad Administration announced Wednesday that it won’t go ahead with a controversial plan to re-route a major rail artery in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The feds had planned to cut travel time between Boston and New York with a high speed rail line. But there’s a controversial stretch of track running through Eastern Connecticut and parts of Rhode Island that would need to be built to reach those time savings.

“We heard very clearly from nearly all stakeholders that the first and foremost priority should be repairing the existing Northeast Corridor,” said FRA spokesperson Rebecca Reyes-Alicea. “We found that most travelers are actually more concerned about convenience than they are with speed.”

A study released last December called for major changes to the Northeast Corridor train line between New Haven and Providence.

The plan included a tunnel that would have disrupted the town center in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It also bypassed Union Station in New London, and drove a new route through the city’s neighborhoods.

In Mystic, the plan would have taken the line through the middle of the town’s famous aquarium.

The initial study set off a grassroots movement opposing the FRA’s vision. But Wednesday's announcement was met with approval.

In a statement, Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal praised the decision to abandon what he called a “half-baked and hare-brained scheme.”

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Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
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WNPR
The John Sill House in Old Lyme was built in the early 1800s. Advocates rallied against plans for a rail bypass that would go through the historic section of the town. One of the early plans included a bridge that would fly over the house.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called the FRA’s decision the right move. “They have responded directly to requests made by the State of Connecticut to enable significant and necessary investments to address an estimated $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair assets, and we thank them for their consideration of our concerns,” he said in a statement.

The FRA in its decision notes the need to improve the rail line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island.

“But due to physical constraints and the geography of the area, we found that expanding largely within or along the existing Northeast Corridor right-of-way just is not possible,” Reyes-Alicea said. “Additionally, there was a lack of consensus regarding the correct rail solution in that portion of the corridor.”  

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Credit Federal Railroad Administration
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Federal Railroad Administration
The FRA plan forestalls any decision on a revised rail route from New Haven to Providence, and it calls for further study.

The administration now says it’s heard the communities’ concerns, and it will instead focus on putting the existing line into good repair, while launching what it’s calling a capacity planning study to seek other ways to address problems like speed constraints on the line.

The study will be conducted by the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, Reyes-Alicea said,  in coordination with the FRA and other stakeholders.

WSHU's Cassandra Basler contributed to this report.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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