Saturday October 6, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Officials from Massachusetts and Connecticut rode a train Thursday from New London, Conn., to Brattleboro’s Union Station to bring attention to proposed upgrades that could improve traveling times.

The event was sponsored by RailAmerica, owner of the New England Central Railroad, and was held to bring attention to the work that still needs to be done on the line through Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The riders boarded the train in New London and rode through Willimantic, Conn., Palmer and Amherst in Massachusetts, before arriving in Brattleboro around 3 p.m.

The route, which is being billed as The Central Corridor Passenger Rail, stops near major colleges and universities, such as University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut University.

It also includes service to the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., and by using a connection in Palmer, Mass., would be able to reach Boston.

Larry Smith, former town manager of Amherst, Mass., and a consultant who is working with the Central Corridor Line Rail Coalition, rode the train Thursday and said the infrastructure was in place for the proposed upgrades, which he said would benefit every town and city along the route.

Smith said college students, who are interested in sustainability and environmentally sound transportation options, along with aging baby boomers who are looking for alternatives to driving, could both be important markets for the improved service.

"This plan makes a lot of sense, and we came to Brattleboro today to help see it through to fruition," Smith said. "You’ve got students all the way from UVM in Burlington to UMass in Amherst and through Connecticut. The line is there, and the riders are there, and we should make this investment."

Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann also pointed out that the upgrades would allow for high speed trains, and double stacked freight cars to transport more goods.

He said when the upgrades are complete, that freight can move from New London all the way up to Montreal.

"This is an investment for the future, for when gas is seven or eight dollars a gallon and truck travel is just no longer an option," Mann said. "It’s important to have that infrastructure in place for when that happens."

But while Vermont was able to upgrade its tracks with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Connecticut and Massachusetts still will need millions of dollars in investment to bring the tracks up to the new standards that would allow high speed trains and heavier rail cars.

Jim Finger, a planner in Windham, Conn., also rode the train to Brattleboro Thursday, and he talked about the importance of municipal officials throughout the region working together.

Each town could see benefits as the number of riders getting on and off of the train increases, but the towns can’t work alone to make the project happen.

"Everyone needs to pull together," said Finger. "We need to reinvest now to plan for the future. We came up here to show our support for this. There are a lot of puzzle pieces we have to put together to make this work, and it is gong to take some time, but we think it can happen."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.