Federal Railroad Administration drops plans for the Saybrook-to-Kenyon high-speed rail bypass

Federal Railroad Administration drops plans for the Saybrook-to-Kenyon high-speed rail bypass

Record-Journal


The Federal Railroad Administration has withdrawn the controversial New Haven-to-Providence “Kenyon Bypass” portion of its proposed Northeast Corridor planning initiative, known as NEC FUTURE.

In announcing the decision Wednesday, the administration also called on leaders in Connecticut and Rhode Island to work together and with federal rail officials to develop improvements under the “New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study” to determine the best way to meet future needs.

The decision came in the form of the administration’s official “Record of Decision,” and is considered a victory for communities across southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island where the vast majority of residents and officials opposed the plan, which would have added tracks inland, parallel to the existing shoreline tracks, through residential, business, farm and conservation land.

The Record of Decision completes the “Tier 1” Environmental Impact Statement for NEC FUTURE and identifies the final selected route of the FRA’s planning initiative for improved passenger rail service between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Rhode Island state Sen. Dennis Algiere of Westerly said he was happy to hear of the decision despite his advocacy of rail use and improvements.

“I’m a supporter of rail service and improving the railroad infrastructure, but I was vehemently opposed to the bypass,” Algiere said Wednesday. He added that he supports the concept of the two states and the rail administration working together on improvements to service.

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons issued a statement via email soon after the decision, saying “This proposal promised to destroy the communities we love, was outrageously expensive and would not provide significant improvement in service or speed to the traveling public. Now I hope the FRA, Amtrak and the state focus on what we really want — Shoreline East Service to Mystic and Westerly, reliable and affordable train service to Boston and New York; tilt-technology to improve train performance on curves; and fixing the un-safe crossings at Walker’s Dock and Elihu Island here in Stonington.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (Conn.-2nd District) hailed the withdrawal of the plan and commended the work of citizens across the region who were opposed to the bypass.

“The welcome demise of the misguided and poorly conceived plan to realign railway tracks through communities across the southeastern Connecticut shoreline is a testament to the grass-roots effort and perseverance of local residents and town leaders,” Courtney said in a release.

“From the start, the creation of a new bypass was a proposal untethered from reality. Whether it was the plan’s exorbitant cost without a funding source [or] the disruption ‘Kenyon Bypass’ would cause from Old Lyme to New London to Stonington, the mere existence of this map cast a cloud of uncertainty and doubt across a region with a history and environment as rich and valuable as any place in our nation.”

Courtney said he “could not be more pleased” that the proposal to cut new tracks through and tunnel under Old Lyme, the Connecticut River and towns to the east, had been completely scrapped.

Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki, though, cautioned that planned further study of New Haven-to-Providence capacity means the region must still be vigilant.

“We did not win or lose the battle — YET!” she said in an email. “The good news is that the Old Lyme to Kenyon bypass is no longer listed as a preferred alternative. This is a very positive step for property owners and property values. A black cloud has been removed, which will encourage continued economic development and future investments along the shoreline.

“We now place our faith in RIDOT and CTDOT to work with the FRA on a good-faith process to evaluate the New Haven to Providence corridor and impacts of the various route alternatives.”

The Record of Decision removes the track realignment proposal — published in the December 16, 2016 Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement — between New Haven and Providence. Instead, it calls on leaders in Connecticut and Rhode Island to collaborate on a new initiative called the “New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study” to determine the best way to meet future service and capacity needs.

The railroad administration is expected to cooperate with the two states in the new study, and will recommend that Massachusetts and other stakeholders, such as Amtrak, collaborate in the process. In addition to the study, the Record of Decision recommends that this section of track improve rail service through a state of good repair along its current footprint.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also commended the railroad administration for responding to his “consistent urging” to focus future recommendations on upgrading and maintaining a “state of good repair” of the tracks and to enhance the performance of the existing rail corridor rather than realigning the tracks.

According to Malloy’s statement, the administration’s decision does not include any specific “alternative alignments” in Connecticut and along the entire corridor but, instead, identifies “areas for future capacity planning efforts to be initiated and led by the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.”

“The Federal Railroad Administration has developed a vision for the future of the Northeast Corridor and issued a decision that provides a path forward for expanding capacity and improving performance of the existing railroad,” Malloy said. “They have responded directly to requests made by the State of Connecticut to enable significant and necessary investments to address an estimated $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair assets, and we thank them for their consideration of our concerns.”

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com

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