Friday, August 02, 2013

Connecticut urged to aid Housatonic rail route

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick reiterated the Bay State's support for restoration of passenger rail service between the Berkshire Mountains, in western Massachusetts, and New York—but Connecticut must be a contributing player, he says.

Patrick, state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, and three Housatonic Railroad Co. officials including CEO John R. Hanlon, Jr., rode the Berkshire County section of the railway last week from Sheffield, Mass., adjacent to the Connecticut border, to Pittsfield, Mass., where the Housatonic interchanges with CSX Corp. Housatonic Railroad is based in Canaan, Conn., just south of Sheffield.

Housatonic Railroad runs roughly parallel with its namesake river, running north/south from Pittsfield to Danbury, Conn.. A 1992 right-of-way purchase added an east-west spur from Derby, Conn., to Beacon, N.Y. (the former Maybrook Line). The railroad in 2010 proposed restoration of passenger service between Pittsfield and Danbury, offering either connecting or overlapping service with Metro-North Railroad to New York. (Railway Age, Nov. 2012, p. 12.)

"I think we can afford the Massachusetts end," Gov. Patrick told local media. "But I want to be clear. In order for us to warrant this investment on the Massachusetts side we have to get Connecticut to participate as well. Because I think the maximum potential is to go all the way to New York not just the Connecticut line." Passenger trains last traversed the Housatonic in 1971, when the right-of-way was landbanked.

Last January Patrick announced $113.8 million to support upgrading the rail line to passenger service as part of his proposed $13 million transportation bond bill. The entire cost of upgrading the rail line is estimated to be $200 million.

Housatonic Railroad CEO Hanlon, in an interview last year with Railway Age, said he believes a regional passenger rail service offering six trains a day each way between Pittsfield and New York, with a running time of three hours, 15 minutes, "is certainly competitive with the automobile."