Describing the idea as “half-baked” and “harebrained,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal this week made clear that he is opposed to rerouting Amtrak’s coastal Connecticut tracks through Old Lyme.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing, Blumenthal told Amtrak Vice President Stephen Gardner that he supports long-term improvements to Amtrak’s heavily used but aging Northeast Corridor.
However, running train tracks through the center of historic villages near Connecticut’s shoreline doesn’t make sense, Blumenthal said.
The Federal Railroad Administration is in the midst of studying how to bring faster service to the 457-mile route between Washington, D.C., and New York City. The route links business hubs along the East Coast, and transportation planners say it will become even more critical to the nation’s economy as highway congestion — particularly along I-95 — worsens in the next two decades.
The proposal that Blumenthal opposes is actually among the least disruptive ideas that the FRA is considering. The more radical alternatives appear impractically expensive; one would require a new tunnel under Long Island Sound from Long Island to Milford, and another would create an all-new railbed cutting diagonally across Connecticut from Danbury through Waterbury and Storrs to Massachusetts.
Unofficial cost estimates for such massive projects range up to $165 billion, a figure that more transportation officials privately concede is entirely unrealistic in an environment where President Barack Obama’s $10 billion national high-speed rail initiative drew political fire several years ago.
By comparison, the Old Lyme proposal would relocate a 60-mile stretch of coastline tracks east of Old Saybrook to a slightly more inland route. The goal is to bypass a notoriously curving and bending route that Amtrak believes is susceptible to future flooding.
But even without the staggering engineering and cost implications of the other alternatives, the Old Lyme proposal is deeply controversial within Connecticut. Residents and community groups are opposing the idea because it would run tracks through the center of historic villages, business districts and the Connecticut River estuary.
“Unfortunately, some of the ideas the FRA has proposed are frankly half-baked, harebrained notions that will never come to fruition — including rerouting Amtrak straight through the community of Old Lyme … and other shoreline communities where there is strong, understandable and well-merited opposition,” Blumenthal told Gardner at a Senate subcommittee hearing this week.
Gardner replied that Amtrak isn’t in charge of the FRA long-term study, but said any alternative would have to undergo extensive environmental review with community input before advancing.
“I realize you have a process — you also have customers, and if your customers are telling you they don’t want that route, I would hope you would follow or at least heed and respect your customers’ views,” Blumenthal said.
The FRA has said that any alarm about its long-term alternatives is needless, since it’s only in the early stages of study. The agency has said it isn’t close to designing detailed plans for any of the alternatives.