Is commuter rail service a good idea for New Hampshire?
By: LFDA Editor
Attempts to get commuter train service in southern New Hampshire appear to be back on track.
In February 2013 the Executive Council voted 4-1 to approve a $3.6 million federally-funded feasibility study for restoring passenger rail service along the Merrimack River, from Boston to Nashua to Concord, in what has been dubbed "The Capitol Corridor" project. URS Corp., the group completing the study, will present a report in the fall of 2014. For details on the study, visit the NH Capital Corridor website.
In June 2013, the Executive Council then voted 5-0 to approve a $659,000 federally-funded feasibility study to evaluate a commuter rail connecting Haverhill, MA to Plaistow, NH.
Arguments in favor of commuter rail
In general, commuter rail supporters argue that a rail would stimulate economic development, decrease traffic congestion, and decrease pollution from cars.
In 2012, the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority (NHRTA) estimated new rail service would bring in about $2 billion in new business and more than 19,000 jobs over the first 20 years, and another $258 million per year from sales during construction.
The state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has said service would result in other benefits including an increase in property values of 5 to 10 percent in towns not served by the trains, increased tourism, reduced traffic congestion on Routes 3 and 93 and therefore less cost to maintain those roads, more transportation choices for residents, and decreased pollution.
A February 2011 UNH/Granite State poll reported 53% of residents strongly favor extending commuter rail service.
In October 2014 the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority launched a website touting the benefits of a commuter rail. Opponents argued the website was premature, as the website went live before the completion of the Capital Corridor study.
Arguments against commuter rail
Commuter rail opponents, on the other hand, generally argue that a rail would not necessarily increase economic development, could pose unknown costs for the state, and might create new pollution problems.
Some stakeholders question the NHRTA's estimates on the economic impact of a commuter rail. Josh Elliott-Traficante, policy analyst for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, says rail stations do not prompt new businesses to open, they only change where businesses choose to locate.
Opponents also point to financial problems faced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
Regarding pollution, a 2010 study by the Bookings Institution found that transit investment only changes the metropolitan landscape if there are other incentives to decrease car use. Residents of Plaistow have also expressed concern about noise and air pollution if New Hampshire builds layover stations where trains idle for an hour or more.