May 28, 2017

Connecticut Trust Questions Amtrak’s Role as Inheritor of NEC Future’s High Speed Railroad Route Controversy

With a final Record of Decision on NEC Future expected as soon as late May, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation is reaching out to the National Passenger Rail Corporation (Amtrak) as the agency prepares to inherit the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) controversial plan to build new high-speed rail routes through shoreline towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

On Thursday, the Connecticut Trust released a letter to Amtrak, which asked the agency to clarify and reconsider its role in the controversial program. Since early 2016, when the public and legislators first became alert to the impacts of planned bypasses through southeastern Connecticut, the FRA has faced withering opposition across a broad political spectrum, opposition which has since spread east to Westerly and Charlestown, RI, and west to include Branford, Guilford, and Fairfield County, Conn.

“Eighty miles of new bypasses may be the Federal Railroad Administration’s dream for rail travel through Connecticut, but I fear this portion of the NEC Future plan will become Amtrak’s nightmare,” stated Daniel Mackay, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust. “If the Record of Decision contains proposed bypasses from Old Saybrook to Kenyon, RI or in Fairfield County, Amtrak will be risking decades of opposition from Congressional leadership, communities, and potential customers in Connecticut and Rhode Island.”

Amtrak Spokesman Mike Tolbert, and Director of Business Development Janet Campbell-Lorenc, attended a January 10meeting in Charlestown, RI to discuss the proposed Old Saybrook to Kenyon, RI Bypass which gave the agency a preview of the anger that the FRA’s NEC Future Preferred Alternative has generated in southern New England. As more than 400 residents packed the lunchroom of a local school, resident after resident voiced unanimous, and at times fiery, opposition to the plan.

“Amtrak officials took the blame for the plan when FRA officials wouldn’t attend,” recalled Gregory Stroud, Director of Special Projects for the Connecticut Trust, a speaker at the event. Stroud noted that Amtrak supported an alternative route, without either the bypasses or the planned expansion between Guilford and Branford, in its earlier comments on the draft proposal. “This isn’t Amtrak’s preferred plan, but it is the one Amtrak and taxpayers will be stuck with for the next 40 years. We’re hoping that Amtrak will advocate for removal of the bypasses.”

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