December 13, 2017

Opinion: Let Your Presence Make a Difference (Since Your Voice Can’t be Heard) — Go to the FRA Meeting

Back in February of this year, we wrote an opinion piece titled, “The Menace in our Midst.”  about the proposed high speed rail route through Old Lyme, about which we as a community had just heard. Surprisingly, not a whole lot has changed since then with the exception that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has finally decided to pay Old Lyme a call. That meeting is this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Lyme-Old Lyme High School auditorium.

We’re re-publishing most of our editorial from February, but changing the message.  Back then, we urged readers to write to the FRA and say what you thought about Alternative 1 during the official Comment Period.  Today, our message is simply, “Go to this afternoon’s meeting.” You will not be able to speak — at this point it seems public comment is not being allowed, but our numbers will tell a story … so let’s pack that hall!

The saddest thing about all of this is that we all (or most of us) support high speed rail — please read the open letter to the FRA from Alex Twining that we received last night, which discusses some different solutions to Amtrak’s challenges in the northeast.

Here’s our editorial from February:

In the space of just a few short weeks, the residents of Old Lyme have become aware of a menace in their midst. Most unusually for these same residents, their response has been to a man (or woman) identical.  When that happens in this town — unquestionably, a rare event — you can be sure that, ‘Something is rotten (to misquote Hamlet) in the state of Old Lyme.’

The ‘menace’ in this case is Alternative 1 of the four high-speed railtrack routes proposed by the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) in their Northeast Corridor (NEC) Future plan.

But let’s backtrack for a second — why is the FRA proposing these new routes? Their objective is, “to improve the reliability, capacity, connectivity, performance, and resiliency of future passenger rail service … while promoting environmental sustainability and continued economic growth.”  Let’s say right away that we are fully supportive of this objective — we are huge fans of rail-travel — you cannot grow up in Europe without taking rail travel for granted.  The trains there are fast, clean and efficient … they are a way of life.  We absolutely wish it were the same in the US.

So what is the difference here?  Why has the reaction to Alternative 1 been so strong, so united, so passionate?  In case you are unaware, Alternative 1 calls for the high speed rail track to cross the Connecticut River over a new bridge a little higher up the river than at present and then travel to the center of Old Lyme bisecting Lyme Street by eliminating both the western and eastern campuses of Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts before turning north and crossing I-95.  [Note: This has now become a tunnel under the Connecticut River according to the latest information from the FRA.]  The 1817 John Sill House, currently owned by the Academy and situated on its campus, would likely be acquired by the FRA by eminent domain and then demolished.

The impact of a high-speed railtrack through that sector of town would be totally devastating for our community, effectively destroying its very heart.

This editorial could now run for pages to explain the full spectrum of impact to Old Lyme of this proposal.

We could discuss the horrific effects on our incredible local environment — one which has inspired artists for generations including some of the greatest impressionist painters in American history and one officially designated as a “Last Great Place.”

We could talk about the untold damage to the storied structures on Lyme Street and list the irreplaceable buildings that will either be completely destroyed or permanently scarred by this new train track construction, many of which are either National Historic Landmarks or on the National Historic Register.

We could mention that Lyme Street is the joyful, bustling hub of our little town — it has a unique personality and touches every aspect of our community life.  It is home to our town hall, our public schools, our daycare, our youth services, our library, our churches, our village shops, our art college, our art association (the oldest in the country), and the Florence Griswold Museum (a national institution.)  Can you even begin to imagine Lyme Street with a high speed railroad running across it?

And let’s just consider for a minute what this proposal, if implemented, would achieve?  Bearing in mind that you can already travel from London to Paris (286 miles) in 2 hours and 15 minutes, would we be able to hop on a train in Old Saybrook and be in Washington DC (334 miles) roughly two hours and 45 minutes later?  No, the current travel time of six hours would be reduced by a grand total of 30 minutes to 5 hours and 30 minutes.  Unbelievable.

As we said, we could go on for pages but others have kindly taken care of that for us.  There was a splendid press conference yesterday, which spelled out the craziness of Alternative 1 from every angle — coldly, clinically and objectively.  The Old Lyme-Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library has a full print copy of the NEC Future tome if you care to read it in its entirety.  There are links galore on the Old Lyme Town website to the statement and attachments submitted yesterday (Feb. 10) on behalf of some 20 local organizations to the FRA.

So please read and educate yourself on Alternative 1, but most importantly, please, please write to the FRA with your thoughts.  There are many questions as to why and how this proposal was able to be presented without a single public hearing being held closer than 30 miles away from a town on which it was having such a major impact.  But that is history now …

Back to today — the FRA is coming this afternoon … will you be there?

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