Thursday, October 01, 2009

New Hampshire bows out of HSR funding scramble

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Numerous U.S. states, singly or in groups, have jockeyed for a portion of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds to advance one of 10 proposed high speed rail routes nationwide. Subtract the state of New Hampshire from the competition, at least for now.

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The Granite State’s Department of Transportation says it will not submit a $300 million funding request, and blames freight railroad Pan Am Railways for the latter’s uncooperative stance in establishing a 39-mile “New Hampshire Capitol Corridor” route. The state already has applied for $1.4 million in planning funds.

Said DOT Commissioner George Campbell, "By walking away from this unique and exciting initiative, Pan Am has effectively closed the window on strengthening New Hampshire's economy. Our citizens and businesses along this corridor deserve better transportation choices than they have today."

Pan Am Railways owns the right-of-way for the route, identified by New Hampshire for service running roughly northwest of Boston’s North Station to New Hampshire locations including Nashua, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and Concord. Amtrak's Downeaster service currently traverses the state on a coastal route linking Boston and Portland, Maine, stopping in New Hampshire at Dover, Durham (University of New Hampshire), and Exeter.

Mark Richardson, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, said that if HSR is established linking Montreal and Boston via Vermont instead of New Hampshire, New Hampshire would lose an economic opportunity.

David Fink, president of Pam Am Railways in North Billerica, Mass., said he would be willing to negotiate with Amtrak if Amtrak approached him about using the rail line between Concord and Nashua for passenger rail. "I do business with Amtrak every day," Fink said. "They run the Downeaster for me every day. They're business partners." But Fink said any focus on HSR for New Hampshire was misplaced.