The possibility of establishing commuter rail between Waterbury and Hartford, with stations in at least Bristol and New Britain, deserves study, two congressmen who represent the region said Monday.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol, said that transportation links through the area are going to be crucial as high-speed rail moves forward between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.
Spurs that replicate the historic rail travel patterns in Central Connecticut could be a key element, Larson said.
“Investing in rail transit is always a good idea,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Cheshire Democrat whose 5th District includes New Britain.
Both Murphy and Larson said more study is needed on the prospect for commuter rail between Berlin and Waterbury before anything can move ahead.
Before any “big public investment” in the line, Murphy said, there would need to be a serious look at its capacity to handle the necessary trains.
In addition, private ownership of the rail line by Pan Am Railways presents another issue that needs to be addressed, Murphy said.
State lawmakers have $250,000 to conduct a preliminary study of the 24.5-mile line included in a transportation bonding package that’s likely to be approved in the weeks ahead.
Bristol Mayor Art Ward said he’s happy the two congressmen are taking an interest in the project.
“That opens the door for the potential for funding” from the federal government, Ward said. “That’s going to be instrumental for the establishment of a commuter line.”
Pan Am has said it would cost $52 million to upgrade the existing single-track line to allow for commuter trains. That includes several new depots. But others have said they think the price tag will be higher because new road crossings may be needed.
Murphy said the only study he’s seen, done two decades ago, is outdated and needs to be done again to determine what’s feasible.
Larson said that in the past, rail lines provided more transportation between Connecticut cities than the highways provide today.
He said he would like to see rail, road and airports tied together into a hub that would allow residents of the region to go to Boston and New York, or by air from Bradley Airport to anyplace in the world.
“Whatever it takes,” Larson said.
“Connecticut has a huge opportunity,” Larson said, if it can seize the chance to remake its transportation system.
Ward said that during hard times, new ideas often get floated that would make drastic improvements possible.
They sometimes fall by the waywide as the economy improves, Ward said, but he hopes the exploration of a commuter line running through Bristol won’t get tossed aside.
“We owe it to future generations to move forward,” Ward said.
Update: Take a look at what New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart has to say. He's pushing the busway to Hartford as the best option, though it would clearly do much less for Bristol.
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