The idea isn’t quite barreling down the tracks yet, but there’s a growing push to create a new commuter rail service between Waterbury and Hartford.
State lawmakers and the Department of Transportation are increasingly supportive of taking a hard look at the option, a change hailed by Bristol Mayor Art Ward.
The service would use an existing freight line railroad track that runs through Bristol and New Britain on its way to Berlin, where it can hook up with the Amtrak line that runs along the Connecticut River.
Light rail is “critical to the movement of people,” said Mike Nicastro, the president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce. Having it is a crucial element in restoring the city center, he said.
“It runs right through the center of our town,” said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat whose 79th District covers the southern third of the city.
“We need to see what we can do about getting our rail line open from Bristol into Hartford,” Nicastro said.
Nicastro said that “it would not be that costly” to begin passenger service on the existing rail line.
This is “a good time” to pursue the idea, said state Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat whose 22nd District includes portions of both Bristol and New Britain.
“To me, it’s something that would definitely help,” Boukus said.
Boukus said she can envision a time when Pan Am passenger trains might be able to take people from Bristol all the way to Maine, at the other end of the regional system.
Mike Nicastro pointed out that from Waterbury, train riders could connect to the Metro North system that runs trains into New York City.
The Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency last night renewed its support for the proposed commuter line.
It has three transportation initiatives that it’s pushing: the rail line, another rail plan to have trains between New Haven and Springfield, Mass., and the busway between New Britain and Hartford.
Ken Sooshan-Staller, a regional planner, said the current estimate pegs the cost of upgrading the tracks, including bridges and the construction of new depots, at $52 million.
Those pushing the idea say that perhaps old Metro North trains could be used without piling up much additional expense.
Sooshan-Staller said the last major study of the rail line’s possible use came 17 years ago. Another study is the next necessary step, he said.
“It’s very favorable that they’re talking about funding the feasibility study,” Ward said.
Officials said that some changes in the line would be needed to prevent traffic tie-ups at busy intersections such as Bristol’s Maple End or a handful of junctions in New Britain.
There are currently four freight trains a day running between Plainville and Berlin and one between Bristol and Waterbury.
The average speed on the single track is about 20 miles an hour, with some sections requiring slower speeds but some sections allow faster travel.
Ward said that with only one track, scheduling is going to be crucial. But, he said, if the service is a hit, perhaps another track could be added so trains could travel more easily in both directions.
Mike Nicastro said that rail travel is perfect for a greener America with many young immigrants who come from countries where trains are relied on much more than they have been in recent decades in the United States.
“Let’s start using mass transit. It’s a necessity,” Nicastro said.
Boukus agreed it’s the only way to go.
“I’m very into mass transit,” Boukus said.
Berlin to Waterbury rail line
Average speed is 20 miles per hour
Owned by Mass.-based Pan Am Railways
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