On Monday, members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation took a three-stop tour to promote updates and investments in the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program. The first phase of this new commuter rail line is supposed to open in 2016 and only includes double track rail service between New Haven and Windsor, rather than all the way to Springfield. This phase includes 17 round trip trains running every 45 minutes during peak commuter hours and every hour during non-peak hours, as well as shuttle service to Bradley International Airport. When the project is complete, which is currently projected to be 2030, it is expected to include double track all the way to Springfield and will allow for 25 round trip trains running every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during non-peak hours and additional connections to Boston and Montréal.
Plans for a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line have been under consideration since as early as 2001, under the Rowland administration. An earlier plan only included rail service between New Haven and Hartford and was considered as early as 1994. The 2001 plan involved trains running in both directions every 30 minutes during peak commuter hours and every hour during non-peak hours.
The total expected cost of the NHHS Rail Program is currently $750 million. So far, the state of Connecticut has secured $365.6 million in funding for the project. This funding includes $190.9 million in Federal Railroad Administration grants and $141.9 million in state funding. The state still needs to come up with $384.4 million in order to fully fund the project.
One of the major goals of the NHHS Rail Program is to generate sustainable economic growth, which communities hope to achieve through transit-oriented development at current and future stations along the line. Transit oriented development initiatives are currently underway at current and future stations in Meriden, Enfield, Windsor Locks, Windsor, North Haven, and Berlin. Many of these initiatives involve plans for mixed-use development adjacent to the stations, which includes commercial, retail, housing, and parking.
According to a 2005 DOT study, the rail line has the ability to attract four different types of potential users. These potential users include commuters accessing employment hubs in New Haven, Hartford and Springfield; intercity rail ridership to points off the corridor, specifically connections to the Amtrak service in New Haven and Springfield; users that would have access to Bradley International Airport; and off-peak non-commuter and weekend users. The study projects that daily weekday ridership for the start-up phase would be between 3,000 and 5,000 people per day. Including all the proposed stops, the average travel time from New Haven to Springfield is projected to the one hour and 30 minutes, which is comparable to the current drive time between the cities on existing highways. The study projects an annual operating cost of $10,079,000 and revenue of $1,117,600, which leaves an annual deficit of $8,960,400.
Since 2009, about $73 million in federal stimulus money has been spent on major renovations to train stations along the route. Since the election, Gov. Malloy has been more definitive about the project and it sounds like the Enfield station is definitely going to happen, which is great news for North Central Connecticut. These are the types of infrastructure improvements Hartford needs to make it competitive with other thriving urban centers across the country.