High-Speed Rail Project Called a ‘Serious Plan’
By Richard Kaufman
Back in early July, thanks to pressure and backlash from the public, the Federal Railway Administration dropped their proposal for an interstate, high-speed rail bypass, part of a larger project called NEC Future, that would have cut through Old Lyme and other eastern Connecticut towns.
Now, the gold coast and parts of southwestern Connecticut are in the crosshairs of the FRA, and residents are urged to come together and fight back in order to stop the project from coming to fruition.
“The broader the coalition, the more it serves the entire state, the less it pits one town against the other, the more likely you are to get that statewide support,” said Greg Stroud, Director of Special Projects for the CT Trust for Historic Preservation, at a public presentation on the project in Greenwich on July 26.
“In Southeastern Connecticut we managed to get every single municipality between Branford and Providence, R.I., — every single one against it. So that’s how you stop it,” he added.
Stroud’s presentation last month focused mainly on a section of proposed rail-line called the “New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass.”
The FRA believes NEC Future would greatly improve the efficiency of rail travel along the Northeast Corridor. It would offer a two hour and 45 minute commute from Boston to the nation’s capital at nearly 220 miles per hour.
The majority of the 29 mile New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass, especially in the Greenwich area, would feature aerial structures—two-track rail lines 40 to 60 feet in the air—following along I-95, with embankments and at-grade structures.
Stroud pointed out that the plan wasn’t proposed by happenstance; there is a major problem in the state, especially in the New York metro area and Fairfield County, with transit. By 2030, capacity on Metro North and Amtrak is expected to double.
“We have a problem,” Stroud said. “Whether you’re for this or against this, we have a fundamental problem.” But Stroud added that because Connecticut and Fairfield County are for the most part made up of small cities, high-speed rail is not a natural fit for the state.
Funding for the project would be provided on a piecemeal basis. 80 percent would come from the federal government and 20 percent from the state. “That’s the reason to take [this plan] seriously. When you look and you say this is unaffordable, if it’s unaffordable at 20 percent, it’s really unaffordable at 100 percent. We have real problems, how are we going to fund them?” Stroud said.
Attendees voiced concerns about the project, ranging from safety aspects of having high-speed trains traveling 60 feet in the air, to the placement of the route and dealing with future superstorms along the coastline. Several residents also asked about building a rail-line up the 84 corridor rather than I-95.
“Any regional cooperation that does not serve the needs of Stamford… that’s not good for Fairfield County,” Stroud said. “The reason this I-84 route was likely knocked off the table is in part because they want to send it to New Haven and to Stamford.” Stroud also said that the route and terrain along 84 wouldn’t be conducive to building a high-speed rail.
Many in Greenwich are concerned about the rail impeding on historical property and affecting the environment. One such historical area that could be affected is the famed Bush-Holley House, which sits less than 200 feet from I-95. But high-resolution maps of the route have not been made public, and Stroud urged residents and elected officials to request the maps to understand the plan better.
“Our sense at this moment is [the rail line] is more likely to run on the water-side of 95. It’s hard to imagine some of the impacts in Riverside, Darien. It’s part of the reason why the maps are so important, just to get a sense of them,” he said, saying that there could be the potential impacts from the rail line affecting block-wide swaths of neighborhoods.
Rich Kehoe, who heads up the Connecticut office for U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), said at the presentation that Blumenthal has been very engaged on the issue of NEC Future, and learned a lot from the Old Lyme/Eastern Connecticut fight and what it takes to influence the FRA.
Kehoe said that Sen. Blumenthal will be looking to convene a meeting soon to talk with the residents of Southwestern Connecticut. “[We’ll be starting to] lay the groundwork for getting the voices heard early on in this process because there’s still a lot of time for things to change and things to actually halt,” he said.
Stroud kept stressing the importance of coming together, not to try and stop the plan completely, but to find better solutions for the state because infrastructure and rail problems still exist.
“There are the resources here, there is the clout here. There is just a heft that if you guys speak together, they have to take you seriously,” he said. “This is a serious plan.”