Christmas Surprise for Charlestown from Federal Railroad Administration
One week before Christmas the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has released their Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to straighten the tracks of the Northeast Corridor over the next several decades. The impacted communities have just 30 days to respond. The FRA estimates the cost of its proposal at nearly $130 billion, plus an additional $2 billion a year to operate. The states will be expected to pay part of this cost.
It is important to note that the plan cannot happen without approval from the state of Rhode Island.
The new path of the rail lines would cut off an estimated 45 minutes of travel time between New York and Boston by straightening out curves that currently exist in the rail lines. Some of this curviness is in Charlestown where the rails were originally built to serve the mill towns or follow natural features. The train currently spends at most about 5 minutes traveling through Charlestown. It’s not known how many minutes or seconds of the upgrade depend on the straightening in Charlestown.
The proposal calls for rerouting the rails through the Grills Preserve in Westerly, rerouting in the Burdickville Rd. Area in Charlestown, cutting straight through the Frances C. Carter Memorial Preserve, then transecting the Amos Green Farm, Columbia Heights, and Kenyon. The new rail lines would rejoin the old rail bed in the Great Swamp Management Area in South Kingstown where a third rail would be added to increase the railroad width by 50%. Wetlands would be filled in Burlingame and the Great Swamp Management Areas. Blasting and trenching would be needed to get through hills and keep the train at a steady elevation. A small area of Narragansett Tribal Land will also likely have wetlands filled in the Indian Cedar Swamp. There would likely be one or more temporary staging areas in the Great Swamp in South Kingstown to facilitate development of a third rail. Public and private property is effected, including many homes along the new rail path that would have to be removed.
EIS Map Showing Path Through Westerly and Charlestown
The EIS contains a series of maps. The maps below are more informative. Their map above is a little hard to read and leaves out most detail so we include some others below which impose their rail lines onto other local maps. Click on the maps below to enlarge for more detailed viewing. The maps below show only the impact in Charlestown.
Path of Proposed Rail Line Through Charlestown
In the map above, the proposed new rail line (in red) can be clearly seen dividing the Carter Preserve into two pieces. This 1,112 acre property owned by The Nature Conservancy is one of the largest protected properties in the state. It joins several thousand acres of contiguous forest and contributes to an 11-mile corridor of open space running from the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge to the state’s Carolina Management Area. Impacts to the Carter Preserve and the wildlife it protects are never identified in the EIS. The FRA map does not show a park in this location at all. The existing rail line is the crossed line that currently forms the northern edge of the Carter Preserve and runs through Shannock and Kenyon. At the ends of the red line you can see the existing railroad as well. Click on the map for a more detailed view.
Shannock Area Impacts
Above is the new railroad impact area in the vicinity of Rt. 112, Sand Plain Road, and Shannock Road. Our red dash line is wider than the actual new proposed rail line. The existing rail line is the crossed line in the upper right. Because the FRA maps have so little detail it is not possible to show precisely where the new line is proposed, but it appears to fall within the area covered by the red dashed lines above. The rail lines would certainly cut through the Amos Green Farm, an eighteenth century historic farm that is preserved by the Charlestown Land Trust and recently hosted a Revolutionary War Encampment. From there it would cross through other private properties on Sand Plain Rd. and then Columbia Heights into Kenyon. Click on the map for a more detailed view.
Burdickville Road Area Impacts
Above is the new railroad impact area in the vicinity of Burdickville Road, Shumankanuc Hill Road, Kings Factory Road, and Narragansett Trail. Again, our red dash line is wider than the actual proposed new rail line. The proposed rail line goes through a new subdivision on Hidden Meadows Dr., off of Burdickville Road and then through more lots on Burdickville and Shumankanuc Roads. Then it passes through a large cattle farm, dividing it into two pieces, then part of Narragansett Tribal Land and then another farm on King’s Factory Road. Before entering the Carter Preserve the new rail line passes through a few more lots on Narragansett Trail. The existing railroad is depicted by the dark gray crossed line that begins in the lower left. Click on the map for a more detailed view.
The plan was greeted with defiant opposition in Connecticut where officials vowed that the route through Old Lyme was “dead on arrival.”
Gregory Stroud, executive director of the nonprofit group SECoast said, “A $100 billion dollar infrastructure project shouldn’t be planned in secret and announced by surprise, on a Friday, just nine days before the Christmas holiday.”
At a press conference held by Connecticut officials, United States Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said “this concept and plan, just to reassure people in Connecticut, is simply not happening.”
Stonington CT. First Selectman Rob Simmons, a Republican, said the FRA plan could never win environmental and other approvals, nor was its $135 billion cost feasible.
But in Rhode Island, the government response was much different. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed was thrilled that Rhode Island was not being bypassed by the new rail line and that the proposal was good for Providence. Reed is the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that provides Amtrak funding. It’s not clear if Reed is aware of the negative environmental, cultural, and homeowner impacts in South County.
Connecticut’s opposition might not kill the planned changes in Rhode Island. The FRA has already made changes to the plan to try to accommodate Connecticut and may continue to do so. The FRA has held meetings in the effected towns in Connecticut and received thousands of pages of comments while towns and effected property owners in Rhode Island seem not to have even known the plan existed.
Public Comment Accepted
The full Environmental Impact Statement and other documents is at http://www.necfuture.com/
The Federal Railroad Administration will accept feedback on the Tier 1 Final EIS during a 30-day waiting period ending on January 31, 2017. This waiting period allows the public to review and provide feedback on the Preferred Alternative and the contents of the EIS. This is not a formal comment period, and the FRA will not respond to individual comments as was required for the Tier 1 Draft EIS.
To contact the NEC FUTURE team:
U.S. DOT Federal Railroad Administration
One Bowling Green, Suite 429
New York, NY 10004
You may also want to call Senator Reed’s office at (401) 943-3100. Ask to speak to an aide and let them know your concerns. They may patch you into Washington.
Video of Connecticut’s US Senator Richard Blumenthal speaking in unified opposition together with other members of the state and federal and local delegations from CT.
Story on Channel 12 WPRI with very positive comments about the plan from Rhode Island’s US Senator Jack Reed who said the project is good for Providence.
SECoast is a Group in Connecticut fighting the proposal.Visit Our Railroad Page For More On This Issue