'Visionary planning' looks at rail link to north

Attendees sign in at Union Station in New London Tuesday night for an informational session by representatives from New England Central Railroad on the proposed Central Corridor Rail Line that would connect Union Station with central Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada.
Attendees sign in at Union Station in New London Tuesday night for an informational session by representatives from New England Central Railroad on the proposed Central Corridor Rail Line that would connect Union Station with central Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada.

New London - It's only an idea, at this point. And a rather grandiose one at that. But that doesn't mean it can't happen.

About 65 people met at Union Station Tuesday night to hear from those north of the city who are interested in creating passenger rail service and expanded freight train service from New London to Brattleboro, Vt.

No official studies have been done to see if the idea is feasible, and there's no funding, but a core group of enthusiasts believes that New London's deep water port and the more than 60,000 students who attend colleges along the proposed route create a need.

"It's visionary planning,'' said Barbara Timken, co-owner of New London's Union Station. "It's exciting to think we are at the beginning of something.''

As ferries in the harbor sailed by the windows of the train station, and speakers were silenced by the roar of the Providence-Worcester train passing through, members of the Central Corridor Rail Project pitched their idea.

Trains would travel from New London, on tracks that already exist, with stops in Norwich, Mansfield/Storrs, Palmer, Mass., Amherst, Miller Falls and Brattleboro, and continue on to Canada. Freight rail would also be expanded.

The train would run by the Mohegan Sun Casino and stop within a mile of a proposed casino in Palmer.

"As a concept, it's developing,'' Jonathan Tucker, town planner in Amherst, said after the 90-minute meeting. "The next step is to raise preliminary funds to do some studies.''

Details, such as how many trains would run and the cost of a ticket, would have to be worked out, he said.

"We're still gathering information,'' he said. "Right now we're trying to show people what the potential is."

Representatives of the Central Corridor Rail Project, which began about 18 months ago in Palmer and originally was called the Palmer Railroad Coalition, said the project includes a 110-mile line that would run past 13 colleges and universities. Tracks would have to be upgraded to accommodate passenger trains and increased freight train capacity.

Those who attended the meeting, which was hosted by City Center District, included several city officials, state representatives, business leaders and environmental enthusiasts.

Also speaking to the group was George Betke of Farmrail, a company that has retrofitted passenger trains built in the 1950s, and Charles Hunter of RailAmerica, a company that owns 40 short-line and regional railroads in 27 states and Canada and more than 7,500 miles of tracks.

The group is looking for a coordinated effort from people in all three states and encouraged everyone at the meeting to get on mailing lists, call their state and federal representatives and promote the idea.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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