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On Monday U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney successfully displayed the substantial local and state support for a proposed upgrade of rail lines that run through Connecticut from New London harbor north to the Massachusetts border. The political and business leaders who gathered for the forum at Union Station, New London - arranged by Courtney's office - recognized that the relatively modest investment in the project could pay huge economic dividends.
Now the region's congressman has to persuade the U.S. Department of Transportation that the project is worth of an $8.3 million TIGER grant - Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. Rep. Courtney meets July 9 with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
If funded, the project would pay for improvements to the New England Central Rail line that runs from New London's port to the Vermont-Canadian border. In Connecticut, the line does not meet the 286,000-pound railcar capacity standard for freight established by the Association of American Railroads in 1995. It means railcars on the Connecticut section of the line can only be partially loaded.
Improving the load-capacity will help drive increased use of the New London port. It would also open the potential for manufacturing development along the line and potentially passenger service.
Speaking from the audience, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, a Republican candidate for the 20th District state Senate seat, was quite right that this project would be worth more state investment if the DOT does not award the federal grant. However, the project deserves the federal money given the TIGER programs goal of generating economic growth. Connecticut has pitched in, allocating $3.6 million to upgrade bridges and make track improvements along sections of the line.
The state and region have demonstrated the need. We urge the U.S. DOT to approve the grant request.