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Simmons calls on Amtrak and FRA to address safety, noise issues at rail crossings

Stonington — First Selectman Rob Simmons is taking advantage of controversy over a potential new Amtrak rail line through Old Lyme to work with the state’s Congressional delegation to convince Amtrak to improve safety at the Elihu Island and Walker’s Dock crossings and stop blasting train horns as they pass by.

When Amtrak first implemented high-speed rail through the region two decades ago, it originally proposed to construct a series of bridges and tunnels over the six at-grade crossings in town and close others like Elihu Island and Walker’s Dock.

That project was met with widespread opposition from residents and never went forward.

But so-called quad gates, which prevent cars from going on the tracks when a train approaches, were installed at other crossings but not Walker’s Dock and Elihu Island, which are located just east of the borough.

Simmons said Tuesday the quad gates and vehicle-detection technology are needed to meet minimum safety standards for high-speed rail operations.

And while the Federal Railroad Administration has declared the town a quiet zone, which means no horns and whistles, the practice continues at the two crossings because the improvements have not been made.

Simmons said the train whistles are so loud that, during the summer, he can even hear them from his home more than a mile from the crossings.

There are many homes much closer to the crossings.

In addition, Simmons said, the crossings are used only in the summer but the horns sound year round.

Pointing to recent comments by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, that they support making safety improvements to the existing rail line before proceeding with a new route, Simmons said, “Well, we’ve got projects right here.”

One of the FRA's proposals for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, called NEC FUTURE, includes a $10 billion to $15 billion bypass from Old Saybrook to Kenyon, R.I., that appears to cut through the center of Old Lyme.

During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee hearing last week, Blumenthal urged Amtrak to heed opposition to a potential rail bypass through Old Lyme and reject any plan that would include it.

Blumenthal called some of the ideas the FRA has proposed as “frankly half-baked, hare-brained notions that will never come to fruition — including rerouting Amtrak straight through the community of Old Lyme, Connecticut, and other shoreline communities where there is strong, understandable and well-merited opposition.”

He added the FRA’s time and money in his view would be better spent improving rail rather than on plans that have no realistic notion.

Courtney agreed with Blumenthal and said the focus should be on upgrading safety equipment and existing infrastructure.

He pointed out that the Connecticut River Bridge, a rail bridge between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook, is “way overdue” for an upgrade.


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