“We could do both,” said New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart.
“We’re trying to shoot for them both,” said state Rep. Tim O’Brien, a New Britain Democrat.
But is that possible?
Not for Mike Nicastro, the president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, who argues, “You can’t do both. There is no room for both.”
Both sides have at least a little truth in what they say.
The existing Pan Am Southern Railway line follows the old Highland route from Waterbury to Bristol, cutting across Plainville into downtown New Britain. From there, it cuts sharply to the southeast to end in Berlin, where the main tracks between New Haven and Hartford run.
It could, however, follow a rail right of way from downtown New Britain to Newington and West Hartford, a much more direct route – the same route that passenger trains took until they ceased operating half a century ago.
There’s just one hitch with using the old rail route: if the busway is constructed, it won’t exist anymore.
Stewart said the right of way is too narrow to allow for a busway and train tracks between Newington and New Britain. Fairview Cemetery is just one of the obstacles in the way, he said.
He said, though, that the train could simply go on to Berlin and catch the tracks to Hartford from there.
With the busway and the commuter rail between Berlin and Waterbury, Stewart said, the region could have “the best of both worlds.”
But Nicastro said that doesn’t make any sense.
Without the ability to run tracks from downtown New Britain to Newington, the whole route is inefficient for commuters coming from the west.
If the busway is allowed to “eat up the right of way,” Nicastro said, the ride between Bristol and Hartford goes from less than half an hour by train to much more, too much for commuters to consider it.
“To backtrack to Berlin and then go up to Hartford is not the way we live,” said Tim Furey, a member of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency’s board.
A train that goes north from New Britain to West Hartford and Hartford, on the other hand makes for “a nice line,” Furey said.
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