Waterbury-Hartford Line Could be Rolling in Two Years (Or Less)

I’ve been meaning to highlight this story, because it’s very exciting, and a great alternative to the busway plans which have been languishing for years:

Officials with Pan Am Railways told lawmakers that for $52 million, their company could bring the tracks on the Waterbury-to-Berlin stretch up to federal standards for passenger service and also build small stations in Bristol, Plainville and New Britain.

“We could get this [rail line] ready in 18 months, and we could do it for $50 million. I think that’s less than the cost overruns for the New Britain busway will be,” state Rep. David McCluskey, D- West Hartford, said Wednesday. (Stacom)

There’s a very good chance that this project could qualify for stimulus funds, but even if it doesn’t lawmakers should seriously consider it. The idea of connecting Hartford, New Britain, Plainville and Bristol to the Waterbury Metro-North line is a much better one than just running buses on a specific, paved route. Plus, if the line they’re interested in is the one I’m thinking, then the busway’s planned route would be untouched. DOT could still build the busway, should they ever get around to it.

Eighteen months. For commuter rail, we’re talking years. The busway, who knows? But if we can have a new passenger service ready by the end of 2010, we should go for it.

Rep. McCluskey has been right on top of getting mass transit up and running in central Connecticut, and he’s to be commended.

Here’s a map showing what such a line might look like (station locations in Bristol, Plainville and New Britain are my own speculation):

Source
Stacom, Don. “Legislators Press For Waterbury-To-Hartford Rail Service.” Hartford Courant 29 January, 2009.

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34 responses to “Waterbury-Hartford Line Could be Rolling in Two Years (Or Less)

  1. It would be a more direct route if they re-developed the train line from New Britain to Hartford and then routed trains from Waterbury to New Britain and then to Hartford. Check out this map:

    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=41.653804,-72.766914&spn=0.061437,0.109863&z=13

    The train line they’re talking about dips down from New Britain to the Berlin station and then back up to Hartford.

  2. Oops. You beat me to it.

  3. “We could get this [rail line] ready in 18 months, and we could do it for $50 million. I think that’s less than the cost overruns for the New Britain busway will be,” state Rep. David McCluskey, D- West Hartford, said Wednesday. (Stacom)

    50 MILLION!!!

    For what?

    The tracks are already there, right?
    There’s trains all over the place already, right?

    Where does 50 million come in, for what?

    It’s insanity.

  4. It would be a more direct route if they re-developed the train line from New Britain to Hartford and then routed trains from Waterbury to New Britain and then to Hartford. Check out this map:

    I agree–but I think the issue is that those NB-Hartford tracks that run through Newington are abandoned, and would need significant work to get them up to speed. The tracks Pan-Am is talking about are used for freight, currently, and so wouldn’t need the kind of repairs the other section would.

    Those abandoned tracks should be upgraded eventually, especially if this project goes forward and it becomes clear that rail, not a system of busways, is where transit is going.

  5. The tracks are already there, right?
    There’s trains all over the place already, right?

    Well, yes. But there are federal standards for passenger rail, and the tracks do need to be in somewhat better shape to meet them.

    The money would also go towards stations.

  6. For what?

    In the abstract, $50 million isn’t that much money. It’s about the price of 1.5 large parking garages and, as Genghis pointed out, would also include stations.

    The problem, as I see it, is getting people to use the train line. What sort of demand is there to get from Waterbury to Hartford, or vice versa? If it can be done for the same subsidy as Metro North (i.e., about 30% from the state and 70% from fares), I’d consider it, but I just don’t think that would happen. I think this would require a much, much larger subsidy for each ticket, and without a serious change in the business climates in Waterbury, New Britain and Hartford (i.e., what are the odds that any city would become a destination?), there wouldn’t be much of a point in improving rail transit between them.

  7. New Britain is already going ahead with transit-oriented development, so I’m hoping enough changes will happen there to make it a place more people will travel to and from.

    Rail links to other cities can be part of a larger economic redevelopment plan, and if they’re done right they can push economic growth.

    Also, it’s not just a link to Waterbury, but to the coast and New York City.

  8. I’m a big fan of commuter rail, as I often take Metro North from Milford to Grand Central for my job. I’d like to see more parking at the stations, perhaps a station somewhere between Milford and New Haven (which has already been in the works), and some older cars phased out for more modern ones. But overall, I think it’s a very good service.

    The Metro North line works because it goes through the most densely populated corridor in Connecticut, and the terminus is in mid-town Manhattan. Now, if they were building a railway from scratch to serve those central Connecticut locations that are less populated, they’d have a lot of difficulty justifying the expense.

    But if they can keep the cost of this project close to their projections, and if they qualify for stimulus funding, then it’s probably a good investment in our infrastructure and it may help spur future growth in those areas.

  9. The problem, as I see it, is getting people to use the train line.

    I have never been on a train in my life.

    My distaste for all things resembling mass-transit had me turn in a plane ticket and drive to Charlotte, NC two weeks ago.

    It took my co-workers a total of 8 hours in transit to get there by plane.

    I drove 12 hours and it was pretty easy once I was past New Jersey.
    I’m glad I did too; the hotel they had us in (Omni) had the worst coffee I’d ever had in my entire life – so I could zip off and hit a Dunkin and save myself at least from that punishment.

    Next time it’ll be Nashville, I don’t know how long that’ll take; but I’m not putting up with the airport for anything less than 2000 miles.

  10. New Britain is already going ahead with transit-oriented development, so I’m hoping enough changes will happen there to make it a place more people will travel to and from.

    Rail links to other cities can be part of a larger economic redevelopment plan, and if they’re done right they can push economic growth.

    Also, it’s not just a link to Waterbury, but to the coast and New York City.

    There has to be a reason to get from Point A to Point B. Unless any of these cities slashes the cost of doing business there, there won’t be a reason for anyone to get to Point B, even if there are more options for doing so.

    Also, while this may provide more options for people to get from, say, New Britain to New York, or from Hartford to New York, it wouldn’t be as cheap as taking the bus, and wouldn’t be as quick as existing Amtrak.

    It’s a great idea, don’t get me wrong — but people won’t be flocking to the hardscrabble streets of New Britain just because a new train line or two open up. There has to be something more than that… much more.

  11. Bob,

    If you take a look at the cartogram you’ll see that the population of the towns on the route are comparable to towns down on the coast (NB, Plainville, Bristol, Waterbury). I think the population density is high enough that it has a good chance of working.

  12. easthartfordtaxpayer

    The fact that projects like this are even being talked about demonstrates the level of incompetence in our state government.

    This project will not cause redevelopment of central CT. CT’s business atmosphere is the reason we are not booming, not a lack of passenger rail.

    The people moving can be done faster, with better service and cheaper by van pool than rail could ever do. A bus line is a dumb idea too.

    Want to know what the Hartford line will look like? Take a peek at Shoreline East. The reason for Metro’s ridership demand (even though it’s a failure business wise) is not because they built a line to generate demand, but because the business density had the demand in place already.

    Please, don’t make me pay 50 million dollars just so I can say I told you so.
    I’ll personally drive 30 people to work everday and charge the state only half what the rail would cost per person and still get rich on the deal.

  13. Didn’t the sunbelt just boom over the past ten years? Sure, it related partly to the no-money-down, no-income-verification mortgages that proliferated. But businesses also moved there for lower taxes and other reasons… despite the infrastructure that was lacking.

    (I think Austin was pop. 200k in ’92 and is now closer to 750k… and their infrastructure was in place for that boom.)

    Also, is this intended to help commuters? Or say, reduce rush hour traffic? If so, then people will still need to get off the train and get to work. As Crusher’s favorite blogger suggests… population density (on both ends – homes and places of work) matter. Does CT have it?

    I love trains and enjoy taking the train to NYC once or twice a year… and less often to Washington… I even took it to N’awlins in 1998. But I don’t see this train line having any sort of noticeably positive impact on CT.

    A train needs:

    1) a terminus where lots of people need to be – where is this in CT?
    2) a pretty heavy schedule – I think that’s a problem for the three Metro North branches to Danbury, Waterbury and… New Canaan (??)

  14. whoops…

    (I think Austin was pop. 200k in ‘92 and is now closer to 750k… and their infrastructure was in place for that boom.)

    their infrastructure was not in place for that boom

  15. This project will not cause redevelopment of central CT. CT’s business atmosphere is the reason we are not booming, not a lack of passenger rail.

    Have you ever asked yourself why businesses remain in NYC, even though it’s one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions anywhere?

  16. If you take a look at the cartogram you’ll see that the population of the towns on the route are comparable to towns down on the coast (NB, Plainville, Bristol, Waterbury). I think the population density is high enough that it has a good chance of working.

    Population is not the same as population density.

    Key elements is how the train compares to driving and what do you do when you get there. Driving to NYC is a much greater hassle, and NYC has a vialbe inter city mass transit system. What are folks supposed to do when they get off the train in Waterbury?

  17. Have you ever asked yourself why businesses remain in NYC, even though it’s one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions anywhere?

    Taxes are but one of many attributes that people and companies look at when they choose to locate somewhere. For companies, there’s also the issue of proximity to customers, availability of employees, etc. For people, there’s cultural stuff, crime, climate, job opportunities, etc. Taxes matter, but they are of course not the only thing. It’s similar the fact that people don’t always shop at the places that have the cheapest prices.

    Places that have high taxes usually have other attributes that keep people and companies there. For NY City, it’s sort of inertia. Financial firms locate there because there’s lots of financial firms there. This means that a company can find employee, network with other financial firms, etc. The stock markets are there.

    So when a state or city raises its taxes you have to ask, is this locality still competitive?

    Also, as far as NYC is concerned, its market share of finance jobs is down. Bank of America is headquartered in Charlotte. Many of the big brokerages do back office stuff in places like Omaha. I read somewhere (forget where) that of the top 500 companies founded since 1975, none of them are headquartered in NYC. So while companies don’t leave that quicky, people don’t view NYC as the place to start new companies.

  18. The thing is that there are lots and lots of reasons not to do this. Okay, fine–and some of them are legitimate concerns. Like for example: will anyone actually ride this? We don’t know. I don’t think anyone has done a study.

    But ask yourself: why doesn’t anything ever get done in this state? Why do we sit exactly where we were twenty years ago, complaining about highways, traffic, government, taxes and our quality of life in general?

    We, Republicans, independents and Democrats all, love to complain and nitpick ideas to death. It’s the Yankee way. But instead of doing that, I propose we actually try something new. Let’s take a chance on making Connecticut better, instead of believing that nothing will work, so why bother trying?

    We can do this for relatively little money, and in a surprisingly short period of time. We should grab it now. Let’s get something up and running.

  19. easthartfordtaxpayer

    If we are just going to try stuff and see what sticks we should attempt the things that have no cost, like lowering taxes to make the state competitive, restraining the Attorney General, limiting the general assembly sessions to 1 week a year. that kind of stuff.

  20. Let’s take a chance on making Connecticut better, instead of believing that nothing will work, so why bother trying?

    Harbor Yard, the CT Convention Center and Rentschler Field… the list of CTs improvements goes on and on.

    But perhaps this is my main problem – the people in Hartford have no credibility. And no… they’re not all crooks… but The Gang of 187 sits silent every time one of their own gets in trouble. Why do they sit silent? Because their top 10 priorities include maintaining their reserved parking space and jockeying for their share of the annual $36 million slush fund.

    Besides, the answer to your question

    will anyone actually ride this?

    is central to this project. If people will ride it, it’ll get the support it needs.

    Based on the realities of CT today (population density, cost of gasoline, etc.), I doubt people would ride it. But I’m happy to hear scientific arguments to the contrary.

  21. The light commuter rail system in Charlotte works very well and is heavily used. Here’s a link: http://www.charmeck.org/Departments/CATS/LYNX/home.htm

  22. I propose we actually try something new.

    New? Does this look new to you?

    Let’s take a chance on making Connecticut better…

    Blowing 50 MILLION to subsidize only some commuters ride to work will make their lives better; but it’s still nothing less than another wealth redistribution scheme.

  23. Have you ever asked yourself why businesses remain in NYC, even though it’s one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions anywhere?

    That’s a pretty ridiculous thing to say. It’s like you’re implying that if Connecticut raises its taxes to New York City’s levels, businesses will flock here in droves. Unequivocally, that’s wrong.

    Blowing 50 MILLION to subsidize only some commuters ride to work will make their lives better; but it’s still nothing less than another wealth redistribution scheme.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the $50 million is only capital costs, not an operating subsidy (which will not be small). The proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is slated to cost $300 million (capital) and lose $10 million a year (operating).

  24. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the $50 million is only capital costs, not an operating subsidy

    It doesn’t matter Jack; I’ve rethought the whole thing and ya know what?
    No matter what the cost it’s really nothing less than a wonderful idea!

  25. But ask yourself: why doesn’t anything ever get done in this state?

    Because the cost is too high due to too much regulation and artifical overhead due to thinks such as prevailing wage laws, requiring extra duty police for traffic control, etc.

  26. It has been said above….

    What is the need for this service?? I don’t see these two cities as destinations.

    Just because it can be done in two years doesn’t mean it should.

  27. That’s a pretty ridiculous thing to say. It’s like you’re implying that if Connecticut raises its taxes to New York City’s levels, businesses will flock here in droves. Unequivocally, that’s wrong.

    No, I’m implying that the services provided there are worth the money to the people and businesses that pay the taxes. The ideology that the only good government is less government is not supported by history, facts, or the market that you goons claim to revere.

  28. The ideology that the only good government is less government is not supported by history, facts, or the market that you goons claim to revere.

    Really?

    Then where is the USSR now?

  29. easthartfordtaxpayer

    No, I’m implying that the services provided there are worth the money to the people and businesses that pay the taxes. The ideology that the only good government is less government is not supported by history, facts, or the market that you goons claim to revere.

    Where is the history and related facts supporting good big government? I looked and couldn’t find a single example where it made the subjects, because that’s what citizens under a big government are, more free, prosperous or safe.

    By calling us goons are you implying that we are stupid people or that we use tactics of terror to dissuade our ideological rivals?

    We may be goons in your mind but in mine you are unlettered on this subject.

  30. We may be goons in your mind but in mine you are unlettered on this subject.

    Are we regular goons, or jack-booted goons?

  31. No, I’m implying that the services provided there are worth the money to the people and businesses that pay the taxes. The ideology that the only good government is less government is not supported by history, facts, or the market that you goons claim to revere.

    I don’t think it’s the services. Under that line of logic, there’d be few services for poor people. Because the people paying most of the taxes aren’t benefitting much from those services.

    Places that are nice to live have high taxes because the local governments know that if they tax a lot, people will not move. The wealthy Californians that pay the bulk of California taxes aren’t staying in California because of the state funded health services, the bus systems, etc. They tolerate the taxes because the weather is great, and their friends are there, and inertia keeps the tech businesses there because they were already there.

    It’s what I like to call “Network Economics”. People locate in NYC for Finance or California for movies and tech because that’s where you go. That’s where the people are, that’s where the businesses are, that’s where businesses that cater to those businesses are. It’s much like a social networking or auction website. Facebook is popular because everyone uses it. EBay is popular because everyone uses it. If someone developed a much better auction site that had lower prices, no one would use it, because no one else used it.

    Is there anything that keeps people in CT if the taxes go up? Well, of course. Family, friends, jobs. But where is the tipping point before people leave, or at least stop coming in? I think we’ve certainly crossed it long ago for certain sectors like manufacturing. We were probably before the tipping point for hedge funds, at least the whole Fairfield County / Westchester / NYC area was. However, that segment, not because of anything that CT did, is shrinking fast. Funds are closing, and funds are not making as much money as they were, and thus not paying their employess as much, who in turn don’t pay the taxes that they were (Funds don’t pay taxes themselves since they are partnerships, but the management companies pay some taxes). So if we raise taxes again, do we stay competitive? We can’t compete with NYC on an equal tax footing, but our taxes are lower than NYC’s. Taxes are but one of many attributes that people use when deciding to locate a business or themselves.

  32. As long as you “loons” from the west side of the river pay for it go ahead and waste $50M. Look at the morning and afternoon traffic most have only one person in an auto. Are you going to “force” people to ride the rail?

  33. [quote]50 MILLION!!!

    For what?
    [/quote]

    Boston & Maine…errr, Pan Am…gets their tracks rebuilt for free and can carry freight on them for minimal operating repairs for 20 years and minimal capital improvements for 50.

    I guess I’m not from that part of the state to understand why you would need or how you could support a commuter train system between Waterbury & Berlin. Sure looks to me like a Bus could go down I-84 a heck of a lot faster…which leaves you with Bristol-New Britain-Berlin which could be served by local bus service.

  34. It’s what I like to call “Network Economics”.

    Excellent point gmr!

    Why were all the famous gun manufacturers at one time located in an area bounded by Bridgeport/Springfield/Norwich/Worcester? Because that’s where all the gun manufacturers were.

    The entertainment industry remains rooted in Los Angeles, but they’re more then willing to travel to places like Toronto in exchange for tax breaks during the high expenses of actual production.

    Imagine what Manhattan would look like today if it still was the corporate headquarters it once WAS? You do know the Chrysler building was named after the car company that was headquartered there? That GM once was headquartered in Manhattan. Standard Oil at 26 Broadway…imagine Exxon/Mobile/Chevron/Conoco and heck of a lot of BP still being in NYC. IBM. General Foods. Just about every company in downtown Stamford.

    In the days before telephones were cheap and plentiful, and long before the internet was conceived…major corporations wanted to be in NYC to be able to network in person quickly and easily. What’s in NYC today is residual momentum from those days, as it is in most major cities in the U.S. and Europe.

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