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NEC Commission delivers promising rail plan

Connecticut residents who commute to work by rail, along with those who wish they could do so, got plenty of good news in recent weeks.

In June, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a rail improvement plan dubbed Time for CT. Following what appears to be an exhaustive study of rail conditions on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven line, state and rail officials called for an $8 billion to $10 billion rail investment that would result in faster commute times between New Haven and New York City. Additionally, the plan calls for investment in the fleet of train cars on the line. This would make commuting more comfortable and tech-connected, possibly enticing more commuters off the highways and onto the trains, which would help drivers, too.

Besides this plan, the Northeast Corridor Commission on Wednesday released a $117 billion, 15-year rail enhancement plan it calls CONNECT NEC 2035. This plan shaves 25 minutes off New Haven-to-New York express commutes on Amtrak's Acela by 2035.

Best of all, CONNECT NEC 2035 improves rail service for all of Connecticut. For example, it would provide direct express rail services from New London to New York, eliminating the need for commuting passengers to change trains in New Haven. It also proposes increasing Shore Line East service by 86 percent and reducing travel times between Boston and New York by nearly a half hour.

Infrastructure improvements along the shoreline are proposed to make the rail lines more resilient to sea-level rise expected with climate change. The plan also calls for more study of rail capacity between New Haven and Providence to determine whether more high-speed track could be added to enhance service between those cities. In addition, the plan calls for replacement of the aging railroad bridge over the Connecticut River and elimination of some grade crossings.

"We act like fast, reliable rail is a pipe dream, but in reality it's within reach — if we just make the right investments," Sen. Chris Murphy said in a written statement released following the announcement of the CONNECT NEC 2035 plan. "As we debate an infrastructure package in Congress, I'm pushing hard to secure federal funding to make this a reality and advance fast and reliable rail."

There's little doubt Murphy and other state, federal and rail officials advocating to make these plans reality have their work cut out for them. The price tags are enormous. The plans are complex and involve numerous agencies and levels of government. Even in the best-case scenario, improvements will be far from immediate.

As we've said numerous times, however, we believe rail is a sound investment: good for the environment, good for the state's economy, good for commuters. These plans would make such an investment a priority.

We are especially pleased that eastern Connecticut was included in the Northeast Corridor Commission's plan. While eastern Connecticut doesn't have the population density of Fairfield County, daily ridership on Shore Line East tops 2,000. We think this number could be considerably higher with train cars that didn't resemble railroad hand-me-downs and connection possibilities east to Rhode Island and beyond. There are southeastern Connecticut residents who regularly commute to Providence and Boston and would, no doubt, welcome a less-stress commuting option than Interstate 95. Shore Line East's current travel times also offer commuters little incentive to ditch their cars in favor of the train.

These two ambitious rail plans will move the state forward and help to end its highway congestion nightmare. We hope to see the commuting public get behind them, and let their elected officials know they want to see improvements.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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