A More In-depth Analysis of FRA’s Record of Decision from SECoast

SECoast is our sister organization in Connecticut working to protect the land and towns in the Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass and beyond. They have been invaluable in this effort to remove the Bypass from the NEC Future plan. Below is their first analysis of the Record of Decision, released Wednesday, July 12, 2017. We will have more analysis in the days to come. The author below is Gregory Stroud.

As we work through the Record of Decision, including 2600+ pages of public comment, summaries and responses from the Federal Railroad Administration, I’d like to briefly touch on a few key issues for communities across Connecticut and Rhode Island, and I’d like to ask a favor. Read on!

For communities stretching from east of New Haven to Providence, where the Federal Railroad Administration has dropped plans for a “Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass,” from the just-released Record of Decision… a note of caution.

If you turn to Appendix A page 28 of the Record of Decision, we have identified a provision in the document which clearly suggests an intent to revisit ‘dropped’ plans to quad-track between Branford and Guilford stations in Connecticut, as well as to revisit plans for a Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass through the historic district in Old Lyme.

This is a bit technical, but here is the key portion of text:

Accordingly, the Selected Alternative includes the requirement for a capacity planning study (the New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study), in partnership with Connecticut and Rhode Island, that will identify on- and off-corridor infrastructure elements to achieve the service and performance objectives of the Selected Alternative between New Haven and Providence. The New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study will encompass the geographic area within the following limits: along the Hartford/Springfield Line from New Haven to Hartford, from Hartford to Providence, and along the existing NEC from New Haven to Providence. This study area includes the areas considered for capacity expansion between Branford to Guilford, CT, and Old Saybrook, CT, to Kenyon, RI. Completion of a New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study for this area will be a pre-condition to any Tier 2 projects that are intended to increase capacity.

We can’t really think of any reason to mention these ‘dropped’ routes specifically in the Record of Decision, other than to guide later planning, and to assure that plans for the Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass, and Quadtracking between Branford and Guilford are reintroduced into decision making at a later date.

When? The best answer, as usual, is in a piece by Ana Radelat for the Connecticut Mirror. The key quote:

There is no timetable for the capacity study, allowing for “a healthy process” to determine how to improve rail service in eastern Connecticut, said Rebecca Reyes-Alicia, who is managing the Northeast Corridor project for the agency.

She also said “there was no consensus” for the proposed Old Saybrook to Rhode Island bypass.

As a benchmark, we hope that  by a “healthy process,” Reyes-Alicia means more, not less, public participation.

Now while this eastern portion, which impacts towns from Branford, CT to Charlestown, RI falls asleep, what will be happening to the west in Fairfield County?

Three days ago, I spent two hours being briefed on the plan by a rail insider, and his take was this:

Pay attention to the New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass, because that’s “where the action is.”

If you don’t know already, the NEC Future Record of Decision selected this bypass as a solution to transportation problems in north/east of New York City. This plan proposes simply enormous impacts to the historic coastline towns in Fairfield County, including Riverside, Cos Cob, Stamford, and Darien.

So when does this planning start?

Our source tells us, that there is already an early working group at the CT DOT tasked with moving ahead piecemeal with the New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass. Last night, this was pretty much confirmed by Sue Haigh, in a piece for the Associated Press. Another must-read. Here is the key section:

Connecticut DOT Commissioner James Redeker said his agency first plans to examine ways to improve service frequency and travel times between New Haven and New York City. The FRA’s updated blueprint calls for improvements including additional railroad tracks, station and system upgrades, and the replacement of aging moveable bridges. A state-funded, $3 million consultant’s study is already underway. Redeker said DOT hopes to identify short-term initiatives in the next two years, followed by longer-term infrastructure upgrades.

“We’re sort of actually ahead of the game in terms of moving forward in Connecticut,” he said, adding how there is not an immediate rush to work with Rhode Island on the New Haven-to-Providence stretch of the rail line because there isn’t money available to make the improvements.

This raises a few key questions: Who is conducting the study? When did the study begin? What are the parameters of the study? And how could CT DOT begin a “state-funded $3 million dollar consultant’s study” without some prior knowledge of the decision to select the New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass as part of the Record of Decision?

So… it’s pretty clear that there is no time for delay, and that we need to actively engage communities in southwestern Connecticut in this process as soon as possible. The best solutions — and there will be solutions — will require serious, immediate, and informed engagement from the public and elected officials in Greenwich, Stamford and Darien.

And that brings me to that favor I’m asking of you… it’s a small state. I know all of our readers have friends and family living in Fairfield County. Please reach out to them… explain to them what we’ve accomplished here east of New Haven, and encourage them to “like” or “follow” our page on Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter on our website at SECoast.org.

For everyone living along the New Rochelle to Greens Farms Bypass, this is just getting started, and they are going to need all the help they can get. And lastly: PLEASE SHARE THIS POST.