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Courtney, Blumenthal, Murphy Call on Federal Railroad Administration to Work with Connecticut Stakeholders on Rail Upgrades

February 8, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Friday, U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (CT-2), U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to host listening sessions along the Connecticut shoreline to hear local concerns about how early proposals for rail upgrades may impact their communities. In a letter to FRA Administrator Feinberg, Courtney, Blumenthal, and Murphy raise specific concerns they have heard from constituents regarding the proposed rail line realignment outlined in Alternative 1 of the NEC FUTURE Plan. This proposed new segment would shift the main rail line northward ahead of the Old Saybrook Station and run through several Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline communities before reconnecting to the existing segment in Kenyon, RI.

“While we understand that the FRA is still in the project planning stages of NEC FUTURE and many more steps remain ahead in this process, we believe consistent community involvement will serve as the most important tool for finding agreeable alternatives, increasing local buy-in, and instilling a sense of trust among affected residents,” wrote Courtney, Blumenthal, and Murphy. “As the planning process moves forward, we request that the FRA host listening sessions along the Connecticut shoreline where the proposed Alternative 1 new track segment will be constructed in order to hear the views and concerns of the communities in this area.”

The proposals for rail upgrades, including the alternative 1 realignment, were contained in the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is currently in a public comment period. This initial report will be followed by a Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) which will be completed in 2016. The next stage of the process would be the Service Development Plan (SDP) in 2017 which will make the business case for why projects proposed in the EIS were selected for implementation.

The full text of the letter is available online and below:

February 5, 2016

Administrator Sarah Feinberg
Federal Railroad Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590

RE: NEC FUTURE Tier 1 Draft EIS

Dear Administrator Feinberg:

As the Federal Railroad Administration continues the NEC FUTURE planning process, we write to underscore the importance of creating and maintaining a sense of open communication with communities who may be affected by new track segments constructed under the proposed Action Alternatives. Furthermore, we believe that it would be prudent for the FRA to consider hosting additional meetings and listening sessions in southeastern Connecticut.

As representatives for the southeastern shore of Connecticut, we have seen firsthand the major need for improvement along the rail line. In fact, the vast majority of our constituents support upgrading our rail infrastructure to benefit our local economy and boost tourism. Unfortunately, these same constituents believe that the FRA has not done its due diligence in providing proper community outreach in towns that will be the most impacted by new track construction.

Specifically, we write to raise concerns we have heard from our constituents regarding the proposed new segment construction outlined in Alternative 1. As you know, the new segment in Alternative 1 will shift northward east of the Old Saybrook Station and run through several Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline communities before reconnecting to the existing segment in Kenyon, RI. Connecticut’s shoreline boasts a rich, vibrant history and is home to quiet villages and historic port cities. Importantly, according to the assessment of cultural resources and historic properties in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Connecticut is home to the greatest amount of properties on the National Register of Historic Places that may be affected by new rail construction.

To that end, it is understandable that the NEC FUTURE Draft EIS has raised alarm among many Connecticut residents. Many in the region were surprised to learn about the potential placement of a new rail line in the towns. For example, as currently proposed Alternative 1 would run straight through the center of Old Lyme, impacting the cultural, historical and geographic integrity of the town – which is concerning to town leaders and community stakeholders.  We recognize that FRA held listening sessions and public meetings in several Connecticut cities, and we understand that the proposals in the EIS are just the beginning of any analysis—a more thorough vetting with local stakeholders consistent with federal law would happen before any project moves forward. Still, it appears that little engagement was done in these communities to assess even the preliminary views and concerns of those potentially impacted by the proposed new segment in Alternative 1 prior to inclusion in the report. 

While we understand that the FRA is still in the project planning stages of NEC FUTURE and many more steps remain ahead in this process, we believe consistent community involvement will serve as the most important tool for finding agreeable alternatives, increasing local buy-in, and instilling a sense of trust among affected residents. As the planning process moves forward, we request that the FRA host listening sessions along the Connecticut shoreline where the proposed Alternative 1 new track segment will be constructed in order to hear the views and concerns of the communities in this area.

Thank you for your consideration of our request, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal

Christopher S. Murphy

Joe Courtney

Cc: Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, Program Manager
NEC FUTURE
U.S. DOT Federal Railroad Administration
One Bowling Green, Suite 429
New York, NY 10004

James P. Redeker, Commissioner
Connecticut Department of Transportation
2800 Berlin Turnpike
Newington, CT 06111