Niantic could be stop for railroad

Hartford - State transportation officials have completed an initial assessment on re-establishing a commuter rail stop and station in Niantic after a four-decade absence.

Their report, released Thursday to local officials, considers four potential locations for a Shore Line East train station in the village, and details the steps to get the project on track.

While the Department of Transportation stopped short of estimating the total costs of a new Niantic station, it anticipates that about $1.3 million would be needed for design work and a rail line capacity analysis.

"They didn't say 'no way,' so that's good news," First Selectman Paul Formica of East Lyme said Thursday.

Niantic has been without a rail station or stop since the early 1970s, when Amtrak discontinued the "Clamdigger" commuter service. That train was said to be popular among local businessmen, who enjoyed the opportunity to get into New York City early in the morning and accomplish a full day's work before having to return.

The Hurricane of 1938 destroyed the village's early train station, a handsome wooden structure that stood along the shoreline at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, near the former Mobil station.

Formica said that if a new station gets built, Niantic would become more attractive to commuters. Local residents now must travel to New London or Old Saybrook to catch a train.

"We have a possibility now, if we get a train stop, for people to seriously consider living here and working somewhere else without having the trouble of traversing I-95," Formica said.

State officials worked with members of the local Train Stop Committee to identify four possible station sites: Cini Park under the bridge, the Hole in the Wall Beach and either the main beach area or the pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park.

The DOT initiated the project feasibility study at the request of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, of which state Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, is a member.

"Overall, I think it's a good blue print for what we need to do to go forward with this," said Jutila, who saw to the request.

The state is looking to expand weekend Shore Line East service. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed an additional $260,000 to allow for five new weekend round-trips between Old Saybrook and New London starting April 1, 2013, along with one new round-trip from New Haven to Old Saybrook.

In a separate rail project, work crews are busy constructing Amtrak's new $125 million bascule train bridge across the Niantic River between East Lyme and Waterford. The replacement bridge is to open next spring.

j.reindl@theday.com

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