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 feasibility study for restoring passenger rail service along the Merrimack River, from Nashua to Concord, in what has been dubbed "The Capitol Corridor" project. The project would result in service between Concord and Boston.
The vote is a reversal of one nearly a year earlier by the Executive Council.
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 Rtes. 3 and 93 and therefore less cost to maintain those roads, more transportation choices for residents, and decreased pollution.
A (Feb. 2011) UNH/Granite State poll reported 53% of residents strongly favor extending commuter rail service.
The NHRTA is fighting for its survival. In the spring of 2011, the Legislature passed HB 218, a bill that stripped the authority of any power.
Under the bill, the rail authority would no longer be permitted to issue bonds, take property by eminent domain, or lease a commuter rail line to an operation like Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). In terms of spending, this amendment places more power in the hands of the New Hampshire legislature.
Then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed HB 218 in June of 2011.
The N.H. Department of Transportation is drafting a state State Rail Plan. The plan will document and outline the state’s priorities “to improve or expand freight and passenger rail service.”
According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, a top priority is to “continue existing services” on Amtrak’s Downeaster and Vermont lines. At the moment, VT and ME foot the coast to pay for the Downeaster. NH opposes using subsidies to pay for passenger trains. The draft plan will recommend NH pay for the Downeaster in other areas, for example, providing infrastructure investments. Furthermore, the draft recommends extensions from Haverhill, MA to Plaistow, NH and from Lowell, MA to Concord, NH.