Connecticut Opens Up to Transit Expansion

Commuter rail service likely to expand across the state, while light rail and busways being pushed in citiesConnecticut Transit Expansion

The Hartford Courant reports today that the State of Connecticut has become an active proponent of transit expansion, with a focus on improving commuter rail. The state Transportation Commissioner, Joseph Marie, has been working under Governor Jodi Rell (R) to expand connections between lines and to improve transit within cities.

For years, the state has been considering how to implement a new commuter rail line from New Haven to Springfield, via the state capital in Hartford, but only recently has the state put aside funds to make the project happen. In addition, the government is considering reactivating a line between Hartford and Waterbury, which would allow for faster trains between the capital and New York City, as well as a line from New London to Providence, via Norwich. The Metro-North railroad line that currently terminates in Danbury may be extended to New Milford and the Shore Line East line that ends in Old Saybrook may be expanded to New London.

One project that may be abandoned is the bus rapid transit line proposed on an abandoned rail right-of-way between Hartford and New Britain, because the rail connection between Waterbury and the capital would require the use of the same corridor. This may ultimately be good news if it means the commuter rail system can be implemented, because the BRT system would have been unfit for the corridor, as its density is too low for a mass transit line. In addition, the BRT line failed repeatedly to receive funds from the Federal Transit Administration, so a new plan might make sense.

But perhaps most interesting about the state’s strategy is its focus on improving transit within the state’s biggest cities. Light rail or streetcar lines within New Haven and Stamford, both along the Long Island Sound, have garnered state support after years of efforts by those cities’ mayors to get the projects built. Each city is relatively dense by American standards and each has been experiencing extensive downtown renewal over the past fifteen years. Streetcar systems connected to the well used Metro-North commuter lines to Manhattan would expand dense development in those cities’ cores and attract expanded transit ridership. As a former resident of New Haven, I can tell you that a streetcar line downtown would be a good project.

A light rail line from Hartford to its airport in Windsor Locks is also under consideration. I have my doubts about the usefulness of such a line – most of its path would go through rural areas, and the service would already be provided by the New Haven to Springfield line. Perhaps a line connecting East to West Hartford, via downtown, would make more sense.

12 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I wonder how many people will use the new commuter lines to travel from NY to Hartford. Even New Haven is at the outer margin of the range of commuter rail to New York: it has 272 commuters who work in New York, compared with 3,500 daily Metro-North riders, most of whom work in Fairfield County or are reverse commuters working in New Haven.

  • This company (http://www.rail-pod.com) could be a low cost alternative for some of the light rail proposed areas.

  • Kyle - Boston

    I’m glad to hear that CT is starting to put together some extensive plans for rail across the state. The Spring – Hartford – New Haven line is a great idea (as long as the track is drastically improved) and will coincide with the overhaul of the original Union Station in Springfield, which has been laying dormant for decades. I don’t know when this project is supposed to actually start, but they are getting some stimulus money. Hopefully this can start to bring some level of prosperity back to the Springfield area, which has been having problems for quite some time.
    Another issue that is still being talked about is the Boston-Worcester-Springfield commuter rail line. Currently there is only one Amtrak train a day in each direction and it is extremely slow. I hope all of these projects can come together some time in the near future.

  • Great post.

    Very good idea to extend MBTA Worcester service to Springfield.

    A light rail line from Hartford to Bradley would be a disaster, an unwelcome revisitation to the past. Better to concentrate big $ investments on grade separation projects on NHHS corridor.

    A different visioning of commuter rail can address many unmet transportation needs.

    Instead of a static New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line, think of an unfolding multi-fold corridor: (1) New York, New Haven, Hartford service, which services downtown New Britain via the New Britain Secondary (the abandoned rail right of way the busway was hoping to capture); (2) a Waterbury-Hartford-Bradley Airport service (that takes advantage of an upgraded rail spur to Bradley Airport – part of it already state-owned – why build expensive light rail – when commuter rail (rail freight) track already exists to within 600 feet/yards? of the airport terminal); (3) 2 lines, one beginning in Northhampton, MA – the other starting in Amherst, MA passing through & revitalizing Springfield, MA & Hartford, CT before running as a big-city express to GCT.

    Another future commuter rail line that should be explored is Middletown to Bradley Airport

    Service scheduling to GCT from 5 Colleges area & Hartford should actually be more frequent on weekends when more people have more time to travel longer distances. Weekend service out of New Haven is currently more than double than weekday commuters.

    Just getting commuter rail from GCT to Norwich, with a Mohegan Sun station,would dramatically reduce car trips over the Q-Bridge. That of course entails building high-level train bridges over Connecticut River, Niantic River & Shaw’s Cove – a great stimulus infrastructure project.

    Extending electrified track from the Brewsters (Brewster and Southeast) on the Harlem Line to Danbury via Maybrook LIne is another super worthy investment.

  • Kyle - Boston

    I definitely like the idea of the Amherst and Northampton lines. I think that Amherst and Northampton are actually on the same Amtrak line that runs up to St. Albans. The Amherst stop is still in use, but the train no longer stops in Northampton and they turned the really nice old station into a restaurant. The five college area is really cut off from the rest of the area regarding rail transportation. A quick hop to Springfield to change trains to Boston or CT, NY would be a great idea. A lot of college kids in that area could take advantage of that.

  • Kyle - Boston

    I just check the map, you’re right, they are separate lines.

  • No need to change trains in Springfield, MA, the train would continue on to CT & NY. Boston to Pioneer Valley service could be scheduled as 1 seat ride, too.

    Conversion of train stations to restaurants, or other uses is often an intractable problem.

  • Boris

    Alon,

    At least one person- me. I know I can take Amtrak, but Metro-North would probably be cheaper.

    What’s really needed in that area is BRT or LRT on the enormously wide stretch of I-84 between Hartford and the suburbs. It would make it easier to get to the station and to downtown.

  • NHtransportationfan

    ok I would love a commuter rail in CT. Honestly we have to see that New haven and hartford are both bog cites in the state, and new haven is more livable, and honestly alot of people in ct perfer it to hartford. The reason why i am getting to this is WE CT people need our own commuter rail..
    right now Amtrack is the only way toget from new haven- hartford-springfeild…and you have to pay there prices.
    Shoreline east (amtrak owned) runs only to old saybrook with maby 3 trains a day to new london. and on that note, they are not really used much because every stop on the shorline east is literly nowhere near anything. They need to build more stops IE..clinton crossins mall, beaches ETC that the curent tracks run right by!
    I would love it if they took new haven union station that sees tons of people a day, and made commuter rail lines off that. i would love to go from my house in hamden get on at a unused state street north haven stop to go see my bud in new haven…yes it maybe only a 5 minute ride, but it would save me gas and headach of downtown new haven.
    If ct wants to improve, they need connect there major cites. I would love work in hartford, by taking a commuter rail train in.

    also how about a line to the casino”s

  • Matt Fisher

    Has anyone denounced the New Britain busway? That should be light rail instead.

  • Matt Fisher

    Oh, I’m sorry about my earlier comment, but what I meant is, it should have been LRT. But since the busway is being built, BRT is inevitable. :(

  • Matt, I think you are probably right about BRT.

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