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For a corridor that is just 62 miles in length, the NHHS Rail corridor has had a long and evolving history. Until President Obama initiated the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR Program) in 2009, the prospect for Amtrak funding to upgrade service between New Haven and Springfield was out of the question. Amtrak has struggled since its inception in 1971 to maintain the Northeast Corridor rail lines it inherited from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, in order to reduce the cost of maintaining the New Haven-Springfield line, Amtrak removed some 25 miles of track, converting the then double-tracked line to a single track with passing sidings. The capacity of the line is adequate for the level of service operated today by Amtrak – six daily round-trip trains – and for the freight trains that serve customers along the line; however, much of the infrastructure – e.g., the bridges and culverts—is old and requires upgrading and/or replacement.
Given the success of Connecticut’s New Haven-New York and the New Haven-Old Saybrook/New London commuter rail services, it has been a key objective of the Connecticut Department of Transportation to improve passenger rail service north of New Haven. In 2003, Connecticut initiated a major study to evaluate the implementation of new commuter rail service between New Haven and Springfield. This study included significant public outreach activities and initiation of an assessment of the environmental impacts of new passenger rail service along the corridor.
The Implementation Plan for Commuter Rail service in Connecticut was published in June 2005. An environmental impact analysis of this new commuter rail service was initiated in 2008. However, before this study was completed, President Obama and Congress created the HSIPR Program to support new intercity and high-speed passenger rail service. For the first time since Amtrak was created, the Federal government made funding available to support new intercity and high-speed rail investments. President Obama established a new national goal that 80 percent of Americans will live or work within 30 miles of a high-speed rail station by 2030. To date, some $10.1 billion has been awarded to states to implement new passenger rail service.
The new HSIPR Program provided Connecticut and Amtrak the opportunity to rethink plans for the NHHS corridor. Instead of a new commuter rail service, Amtrak and Connecticut developed a robust mix of intercity and regional trains that would provide frequent service throughout the day along the corridor, permitting passengers to connect to and from Amtrak and commuter trains operating on the Northeast Corridor. Some direct service from NHHS rail stations is planned to New York Penn Station. In addition, new trains serving Vermont and Massachusetts would operate on the NHHS corridor as well.
Connecticut, Amtrak and the New England states presented the new plan to the FRA in 2009 through applications for new funding. FRA indicated its support for the program through award of some $190.9 million to date in funding for NHHS corridor improvements.