December 15, 2017

What’s the Latest on That High Speed Train?

Many readers have contacted us to inquire what has happened — as well as a sea of other questions — to the Federal Rail Administration’s (FRA) proposal to route a high speed rail track through the center of Old Lyme bifurcating Lyme Street just to the south of the I-95 bridge.  The ‘comment period’ closed Feb. 15 and so we feel the questions raised by our readers  — many of whom submitted comments — are entirely justified.

We turned to Gregory Stroud to seek some answers.

Stroud, an Old Lyme resident, has taken a deep and enduring interest in the FRA’s proposal and has, in the process, become extremely knowledgeable on the complexities of the project.  For regular readers, you will recall that Stroud wrote the original editorial on LymeLine.com that sparked an avalanche of interest in and concern about the FRA’s proposal.  He graciously agreed to respond to our questions and we are planning to publish his responses — question by question — in a series starting today.

Stroud has also created a Facebook page titled SECoast at Old Lyme where readers can glean a plethora of information about the project and be kept current on developments.

And if you ready to be shocked, take a look at the rendering below to get a sense of how the railroad will intrude into our quiet, relatively reclusive life in Old Lyme … and we stress, this image is to scale.

Rendering by Robin Breeding of the high-speed train in Old Lyme drawn/created to scale.

Rendering by Robin Breeding of the high-speed train in Old Lyme drawn/created to scale.

Here’s our first question:

Question (LymeLine.com ): What has happened since the “Comment” period was closed? 

Answer (Gregory Stroud): Great question. But first, let me offer a little background. The Federal Railroad Administration actually outsources the planning process to a contractor, a huge multinational based out of Montreal, called Parsons Brinckerhoff. They specialize in this sort of project.  They worked on The Big Dig up in Boston. They are same people who planned the Baldwin Bridge, and who electrified the rail lines to our east a few years ago. Parsons Brinckerhoff knows Old Lyme. They’ve faced local community activists before.  And they’ve won.

So … with two weeks to go before the comment deadline, Parsons Brinckerhoff was reading a lazy stream of public comment, averaging just a comment every other day for a few years, and suddenly all heck breaks loose. Comments start pouring in from Old Lyme—1,200 comments out of 3,000 received from every town and city from Washington to Boston. Those numbers pretty much guarantee that more people cared enough to comment in Old Lyme, than in Manhattan, or Boston, or even Baltimore, which has its own contentious tunnel project.  Add in the outreach to Hartford and Washington, and suddenly  Old Lyme is on the map.

The good news is that the contractor has actually reached out to Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, to Daniel Mackay at Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, and others. Parsons Brinckerhoff is making cordial, if maybe grudging, efforts to respond to the local outcry. You have to understand, as a contractor, they are in a tough place. They need to get this done by the end of the summer. They want to make their bosses at the Federal Railroad Administration happy. They have to make the people funding this in the Senate and Congress happy. It has to be something that Hartford can swallow.

In this grand balancing act, Old Lyme is a bit of a nuisance. I don’t get the sense that Stamford or New Haven or Hartford are somehow secretly plotting to send high-speed rail through Old Lyme. It’s not malicious. From what I understand, nearly everyone in-state would actually prefer Alternative 2, connecting Hartford to Boston. Parsons Brinckerhoff just wants to get this done. Right now they are busy with their statutory obligation of weighing every one of those 1200 comments.

That said, no one really wants a small town at the mouth of the Connecticut river to upset the tea cart. If at the end of the day, Washington and Hartford decide that a train has to run through Old Lyme, then they plan to run a train through Old Lyme. I think it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone wants us to pipe down and behave.

So, of course, they start telling us what they think we want to hear. Most importantly, for the first time the idea of tunnel is floated, privately, details to be determined at some uncertain date, perhaps 2 billion dollars added the price tag—quite an accomplishment for a few weeks work! But don’t believe it for a second.

At Tier 1, the current planning stage, these vague promises mean almost nothing. Sure, they can relabel the purple line running through Old Lyme, and call it a tunnel. But it’s the purple line that really matters. In two years they can just decide that a tunnel is too expensive or impractical, and it’s a bridge all over again. To be clear, no one has actually carried out engineering or environmental studies on a tunnel. In this planning process, the decisions are coming before the studies. The cart before the horse.

So, where are we now in the process? Everyone should understand that the Federal Railroad Administration is replacing their master plan for the Northeast. The current plan dates back to 1978. The next plan will reshape rail in the Northeast for the next  25 years.

A decision will be made, probably in August. The choice will be announced around September 1. And if the Federal Railroad Administration chooses Alternative 1, and Alternative 1 still has a purple line running through Old Lyme, then we are in for the fight of a lifetime. We have a once-a-generation chance to shape federal plans for Old Lyme, and we need to get this right.

Editor’s Note:  This is the opinion of Gregory Stroud.

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Comments

  1. In an upcoming Q&A, we will explain our new partnership with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. They have agreed to take tax-deductible donations which can be earmarked for the fight in Old Lyme. These donations will help support a lean professional advertising-organizing effort, to pair with lobbying, political outreach, etc., This effort is locally-based but under the umbrella of a special project of CT Trust.

    The link is here (just say it’s for Old Lyme!):

    http://cttrust.org/cttrust/page/become-a-member-or-renew-your-membership

    • Peter Butt says:

      Thanks Gregory, for leading the charge on this extremely important fight for preservation.
      Aside from making contributions the the CTHP, how can town residents help ?

      • The best thing that town residents can do is get out in front this thing and spend some personal capital while we still have leverage and room to maneuver. I don’t just mean money. I mean calling or writing the cousins and neighbors, the old friend who happens to work at NPR, or the New York Times, or Good Morning America, Daily Beast, or the Hartford Courant. Maybe you know a curator at the Met or the National Gallery, a popular writer or blogger, a respected environmentalist, a political donor or Senate staffer. Cash in some chits. Make those connections. Old Lyme hasn’t really worked its connections nearly as much it should. Have a contact you think I should write? Write me and let me know at gregorystroud@SECoast.org

        I have to say that I am pretty happy about our outreach on Facebook. The last post got over 3000 looks. We have a bit less than 400 follows on Facebook in 10 days… not bad. But of those 400, less than 10 have invited their friends to ‘like’ the page (meaning they follow it), and that’s completely free. The same thing for the Daffodil Riot on April 10. We are putting up posters, and are sure to have a crowd, but there is a Facebook invite (to invite friends) that only a couple of people have taken advantage of. Social media is powerful when it goes viral. That means sharing posts, inviting friends, etc. It’s a numbers game. And when people in Washington check out our posts (and I can see they have) I want them to see 2000 followers. Why? Because it shows that Old Lyme really cares. And if Old Lyme doesn’t really care, then no one will care for them!

        Of course, a lot of people aren’t on Facebook. But most everyone has email. Sign up for our mailing list at SECoast.org. Just add your address in the upper right corner and check for a confirmation in your spam folder if you don’t receive one. We promise not to share your contact information or spam you. Know someone who wants to know more about Alt 1? Tell them about the mailing list so we can get that information to them.

        Put aside cynicism and call or write Blumenthal, Murphy, Courtney. In particular, tell them the answer isn’t a tunnel, it’s taking Old Saybrook to Kenyon off the table until it is properly studied. Blumenthal can deliver that. And he hasn’t. Call and ask why. This isn’t NIMBYism. What we are asking for is simple due diligence before deciding on a plan to shape Connecticut for the next two decades! A tunnel hasn’t even been studied. What happens when it falls through? Old Lyme needs to make these calls, because no one is going to call for us.

        Lastly, lend your expertise, your skills and time. Write to us at info@SECoast.org. Instead of me telling you how you can help, I’d love for you to write me, and tell me, how you can help.

        This sort of people power and sharing is a critical complement, and honestly it could save the town huge amounts of money, as we turn to legal options and lobbyists.

  2. Bob Potter says:

    Thank you Gregory for this update. As an Old Lyme village resident, I share the grave concern that a high speed rail line through the heart of our historic Old Lyme will be a disaster for business, quality of life, safety, and the environment. I will pledge all of my support to defeat this proposal along with my fellow Old Lyme neighbors. When were the meetings at Town Hall on this??? Sadly, by all measures, it appears this proposal had little or no review with Old Lyme citizens led by the Town Selectman and other local officials. With a late summer, early September decision date, this is even more alarming.

  3. Bryan Sardo says:

    Thank you for the update Gregory. My wife and I are new to town and have taken up interest in this story. Do you know why the rendering above details the rail traveling north-south relative to the highway while the map from the previous article details the rail traveling purely east-west (the purple line)? If the rail in fact will be traveling north-south for a jog in Old Lyme, do you know how far north and south it will go?

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and research. -Bryan

    • I’m glad I can help. The picture above is intended to show relative scale, not the precise direction, or proximity of the structures. I apologize that this is a little confusing. The rail line would cross over or under I-95 at some point close to the bridge, but the precise location and angle is unclear (and likely not planned yet). A tunnel would likely have to involve both boring and cut and cover (basically dig a trench, add a tunnel and cover). The relative heights assuming a bridge are a product needed clearance over the river and a 1% grade. There are no simple solutions for this crossing.

    • I’m glad I can help. The picture above is intended to show relative scale, not the precise direction, or proximity of the structures. I apologize that this is a little confusing. The rail line would cross over or under I-95 at some point close to the bridge, but the precise location and angle is unclear (and likely not planned yet). A tunnel would likely have to involve both boring and cut and cover (basically dig a trench, add a tunnel and cover). The relative heights assuming a bridge are a product needed clearance over the river and a 1% grade. There are no simple solutions for this crossing.

  4. This cannot be true. How could we not have heard of this. It certainly would affect everyone in the town of Lyme as well as Old Lyme. Did our Town Selectman have a say in this?

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