Malloy: CTfastrak Proves Rail Service Will Transform 'Knowledge Corridor'

When Hartford Line trains start running next spring, they’ll fuel a long-term renaissance for central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday.

“You’ll be able to get from New York to New Haven and then come up to Hartford and Springfield and beyond. We’re going to run those trains regularly — it’s going to make it easier to go to school in the area, and easier to go to work in the area,” he said.

Malloy’s forecast met enthusiastic applause from an audience that could hardly respond in any other way: Attendees at a regional transportation conference.

Transit advocates, business leaders and officials from nearly 10 colleges gathered at Springfield’s newly renovated Union Station to talk about ways to promote the so-called Knowledge Corridor, which runs between Greater New Haven to Greater Amherst.

Their key target is federal funding to restore high-frequency passenger train service between Springfield and Boston, a way to connect college communities with the technology and finance jobs in eastern Connecticut. Coupled with the Hartford Line, that would establish a rail link from Connecticut’s coastline all the way to New England’s biggest city.

Connecticut is providing the southern end of the connection: The Hartford Line will run 17 round-trips a day between New Haven and Hartford, with 12 of those continuing through to Springfield. The state put about $500 million into upgrading the tracks, signals and stations, with more than $200 million of federal aid.

“Spending money on infrastructure is not a waste of money but an investment in our future,” Malloy said, citing CTfastrak as a success story.

“In a year and a half’s time we’re hitting targets for passenger usage that we weren’t expected to hit for 20 years. People will use these systems,” he said. “No members of the Hartford country clubs think anyone uses the bus because none of them use the bus. But the reality is a lot of people use buses, just not to go to country clubs.”

Malloy said CTfastrak was a response to heavy traffic congestion. The state transportation department still hasn’t provided traffic counts to show whether fewer drivers are using I-84 since the bus service began.

Malloy said developers are already showing interest in vacant industrial properties along the Hartford Line route, and projected extensive creation of jobs and housing after service begins.

“Gov. Malloy’s determination to improve that rail line is going to provide vast economic consequence for all of us across Connecticut and western Massachusetts,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts.

Malloy told listeners that electrifying the 62-mile route would cost $1 billion more; it’s part of a long-term vision, but isn’t something planned now, he said.

He urged the crowd to keep pressure on future Connecticut leaders to invest heavily in restoring the state’s transportation system. The highway system has lagged for decades, he said, leaving Connecticut with two main routes through Fairfield County: “There’s I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. One’s a parking lot, one’s a museum.”

Malloy is leaving office after the 2018 election, and cautioned that the whole region can’t afford for Connecticut to go back to underspending on transportation. Bottlenecks on I-84 and I-95 create delays for people and freight across New England, he said.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Massachusetts, told the audience that building the missing link for frequent rail service into Boston — a stretch from Springfield to Worcester — carries many challenges. Existing tracks are owned by CSX, a freight company that’s shown little interest in introducing passenger service.

“We have to work with them more. But if they won’t, we have to build a new track. On a state level, this ought to be a priority,” McGovern said. “Transportation is everything. It’s the single most important contributor to economic development.”

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