New Hampshire Commuter Rail Discussion

Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

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Postby Rockingham Racer » Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:55 pm

Ian,

Is your reasoning based on rumor, or was there actually balking in Concord over the "Boston" language? Inquiring minds want to know! :P
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Postby Dick H » Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:15 pm

Sorry, but I have to throw some cold water on the commuter rail to NH situation. Committees, Authorities, etc. are fine, but it all boils down to dollars. The NH Constitution bars using any gas tax funds for anything other than highway related purposes. This basically leaves the general fund for a source of revenue. NH has no general sales or income tax and is under the gun from the State Supreme Court to provide substantiantly more funds for public education and I just don't see many, if any, state dollars available for commuter rail anytime soon. Even the match for federal funds will be extremely hard to come by...

As part of the track/siding upgrades for the fifth trip Downeaster service, NH obtained a $1.5 million grant. The only way that this grant was approved by the Executive Council was for NNEPRA (Maine) to come up with the NH share of matching funds, which I believe was twenty percent.

While it does not have the political clout it did in the Publisher William Loeb days, the Manchester Union Leader is adamently opposed to any commuter rail service anywhere in the state. In addition, the current Commissioner of Transportation, Charles O'Leary, is also steadfast in his opposition to any passenger rail. He is supposed to serve only until the end of the year. Let's hope so. The most powerful polictical lobby in NH is the "Associated General Contractors of NH.". However, this is largely the highway lobby. The Union Leader was a major factor in killing the seat belt law last month, that passed the House, but died in the Senate. They editorialized numerous times against the bill and continue to editorialize against commuter rail at every opportunity. Unfortunately, many of the Legislators in Concord cow-tow to the paper.

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Postby Rockingham Racer » Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:19 pm

Yes, those are realities that need to be noted. However, if a newspaper has that much influence on politicians, one has to wonder who's in bed with whom up there!
As to the funding comment: yes, good reality check for our discussion.
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Postby NHN503 » Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:25 pm

Its not cold water,and it has been discussed, hence the creation of the NH Commuter Agency.

The creation of the NH Commuter Railroad Agency was a DIRECT result of the NH Supreme Court determining that rail infrastructure and service could not be funded as part of the gas tax or the highway maintenance budget. Other wise NHDOT would be the overseeing authority of the CR in this state.

The NH Commuter Railroad Agency will get some funding, otherwise it would have failed under an Unfunded Mandate clause in the house. The Commuter Rail Committee created however,really doesn't need funds as it was created under law to chose which insurance policy the NH Commuter Railroad Agency was to have....and they only have 2 choices, and there is a deadline....so its either policy A or policy B...no extensions, no bickering in committee.

Yes funding will need to be found, but I believe the full bill for the NH Commuter Rail Agency spells out how funding shall be funded for the agency. Whether or not it reaches 100% bill paying, thats to be seen.



Reasoning for the "Boston" was based on stuff I had heard during the bill process. The major pushers for the bill could not get MBTA I guess at that time to commit to running the servic all the way up to and into NH, so they had to go with what they could say they could do, and that was to offer to "bid" the service, and then work from there.
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Postby trainhq » Wed Jul 25, 2007 8:28 am

Well! Lots of things to be discussed here! First, a follow-up to the Portsmouth discussion. I don't think anybody envisions full CR to Portsmouth; it's too far to be run by MBTA trains. Also, I don't think there'd be enough demand for full CR. I would expect it to be run as a branch of the Downeaster, with maybe 2 trains in the morning and 2 in the evening, maybe 1 in the middle of the day, and that's about it. That way, they could probably somehow shoehorn a couple of trains in down the Wildcat branch, maybe making them do MBTA stops if the can't put more trains down it at rush hour. What I also think they would do would be to run full MBTA CR with double track up to Plaistow and then Amtrak beyond that; that should give them enough passing room, and if there isn't they might put maybe one more siding in around, say, Durham.

With regard to the changeover at Lowell, they might do this for starters, and once demand builds up, they could run maybe 2 or 3 trains into North Station each way, AM/PM. I think it would happen eventually.

With regard to $$$, there are many ways of solving the problem. There are other taxes that can be raised,
there are federal matching $$$ that can be gotten to build the lines. Also, they can slide highway $$ out of the general fund; only the gas tax is specifically allocated for roads. They can raise other taxes too, or have local levies (per the MBTA) for communities that use CR. Where there's a will, there's a way.
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Postby Aerie » Wed Jul 25, 2007 1:14 pm

Although it would be incredibly more expensive, given the growth in the Rte 93 corridor, it almost makes sense to develop the Manchester and Lawrence route. Towns that would not have used the railroad much in the 1800/1900's are bustling now (Methuen, Salem, Windham, Derry/Londonderry) and of course the M&L passes right through Manchester Airport.
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Postby cpf354 » Sat Jul 28, 2007 8:42 am

trainhq wrote:Well! Lots of things to be discussed here! First, a follow-up to the Portsmouth discussion. I don't think anybody envisions full CR to Portsmouth; it's too far to be run by MBTA trains. Also, I don't think there'd be enough demand for full CR. I would expect it to be run as a branch of the Downeaster, with maybe 2 trains in the morning and 2 in the evening, maybe 1 in the middle of the day, and that's about it. That way, they could probably somehow shoehorn a couple of trains in down the Wildcat branch, maybe making them do MBTA stops if the can't put more trains down it at rush hour. What I also think they would do would be to run full MBTA CR with double track up to Plaistow and then Amtrak beyond that; that should give them enough passing room, and if there isn't they might put maybe one more siding in around, say, Durham.

With regard to the changeover at Lowell, they might do this for starters, and once demand builds up, they could run maybe 2 or 3 trains into North Station each way, AM/PM. I think it would happen eventually.

With regard to $$$, there are many ways of solving the problem. There are other taxes that can be raised,
there are federal matching $$$ that can be gotten to build the lines. Also, they can slide highway $$ out of the general fund; only the gas tax is specifically allocated for roads. They can raise other taxes too, or have local levies (per the MBTA) for communities that use CR. Where there's a will, there's a way.

I thought I read the ROW is slated to become a trail between Hampton and Seabrook.
Portsmouth would be about 60 miles from Boston. The B&M ran commuter service between the two cities up until 1965, so I don't think it's "too far". The Fitchburg trains go 50 miles out, and at one time they went 65 miles out to Gardner, over 20 years ago now.
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Postby Jonny Bolt » Sat Jul 28, 2007 1:41 pm

The last thing we need is the Rail Trail. Another way of drawing attention to an already littered area here in town. Who's gonna clean it up when the degenerates attack? My local sportsmen community already cleans up the interchange, but who's gonna care for the length of this stupid trail? If these people dont think it will be pounded by scumbags, they are SORELY mistaken. I am thinking about rounding up the guys and going to battle with the lady in Seabrook who is pushing for this crap.

Question is, how many peeps can we stuff into the Portsmouth/Hampton area? We are running out of room. And in the Summer, it's miserable. Too many Humanoids, no room. No parking. No space. How much more residential development can we handle? And how much more tourism can we stuff into town? Speaking for Hampton, we have no parking garages, and a lack of space to begin with, but they are talking about making Hampton Beach a year round "resort", with a year round aquarium and other stuff? Come on.....people need to wake up from their ignorant haze. Having delusions of grandeur I tell ya.
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Postby l008com » Mon Jul 30, 2007 12:34 am

How much federal money is there available for commuter rail expansion? Is there likely to be more money made available in the not too distant future, what with the price of gas and all. Clearly Americans need to become at least a little more public transportation-friendly. This would be easier if there was public transportation (thinking about NH specifically right now).

And for the record, though I've said it many many times, I think the Lawrence-Manchester is the best route to take. Salem, Derry, Manchester (and probably Windham) are just exploding with population. I think Lowell Line to Nashua, then Haverhill Line (or whatever, its really more of a new line than an extension) to Manchester. Eventually, it would be great to have all lines to pretty far up, and even bring back that east/west line from nashua to... I forget where it went to. But NH has one advantage going, SPACE. As fast as its growing, there is still space to put new and relocated ROWs. In MA, there is no space. We're kind of stuck working with what we have, or not working at all.

Another angle on this. Does this mean anything for freight service? New customers, increased service? If PanAm had been bought by another company, would there likely be some team work going on that would get new trains on the track even sooner? Or not really?
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Postby trainhq » Mon Jul 30, 2007 11:45 am

There were a fair number of federal $$$$ allocated several years ago for Nashua CR; there was a problem with the money not being spent, so I don't know if it's still there. Certainly, they could apply for more for that or the other lines later; they might get something.

Two other points.

1. Portsmouth. Remember, rail to Portsmouth would
also serve Kittery Maine. That adds greatly to the total
number of potential riders.

2. Lawrence to Manchester- having lived in Derry, I think
it would be doable. However, I still don't think there are enough people north of Salem to justify it right now. If they showed that ridership from Merrimack on the Nashua side was decent, I think people might give it a more serious look.
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Postby l008com » Mon Jul 30, 2007 11:49 am

Also, free parking. If these NH train stations had huge parking lots that were free to use, and never filled up, I suspect the trains certainly would. :-)
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Postby Meyblc » Mon Jul 30, 2007 1:06 pm

Parking is a good point. I have called Manchester home for almost 30 years now. If they put a CR station in downtown Manchester, where whould they put a large enough parking lot to handle the sheer number of cars that would fill it up. Canal street just doesn't have any "open" room for several hundren parked cars.
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Postby trainhq » Mon Jul 30, 2007 1:24 pm

Manchester is a long ways from Boston; a survey a few years ago showed that less than a thousand people a day commuted from that area to Boston. I
don't know how many would ride the train if they brought it it, but my guess is less than half that number.
If there were really a significant overflow of parking, they could add more parking spaces down at the airport station. That would be close enough.
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Postby ceo » Tue Jul 31, 2007 2:16 pm

Jonny Bolt wrote:The last thing we need is the Rail Trail. Another way of drawing attention to an already littered area here in town. Who's gonna clean it up when the degenerates attack? My local sportsmen community already cleans up the interchange, but who's gonna care for the length of this stupid trail? If these people dont think it will be pounded by scumbags, they are SORELY mistaken.

Actually, the degenerates and scumbags generally go away when abandoned railroad corridors get turned into rail trails. Something about lots of people coming through all the time gives them incentive to find another place to hang out. And, in most cases, rail trails tend to increase local property values, as now you have this nice trail behind your house instead of an abandoned corridor populated by said degenerates and scumbags. Real estate agents selling properties abutting the Minuteman Bikeway outside Boston make sure to put a for-sale sign on the bikeway as well as on the street.

(I'm not saying the rail trail is necessarily the best thing to do in this instance, but I wanted to clear up a common misconception about the effects they have on crime rates and property values.)
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Postby mental757 » Wed Aug 01, 2007 10:05 am

By RYAN J. HALLIDAY, Telegraph Staff

Published: Saturday, Jul. 28, 2007

NASHUA – With a few flicks of his pen Friday, the governor created an independent authority charged with restoring commuter rail service from Massachusetts to the city and throughout the Granite State.

Flanked by state lawmakers, city officials, business leaders and rail boosters, Gov. John Lynch signed into law a bill creating the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority at a City Hall ceremony.

The 27-member authority will develop and manage the return of passenger rail service from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua and Manchester and possibly to other points in the state.

Lynch called the creation of the new authority “a significant step forward in the effort to bring commuter rail back to New Hampshire.”

“Re-establishing rail in New Hampshire is critical to our future economic growth as a state,” Lynch said. “It well help reduce congestion on our roads, improving public safety and reducing air pollution.”

Southern New Hampshire has been without daily commuter train service for more than 40 years. An experimental federal pilot program that briefly brought passenger rail from Lowell to Concord ended in 1981.

Sen. Joseph Foster, D-Nashua, one of the bill’s nine co-sponsors, said returning commuterfor the economy, good for the environment, and it’s going to be great for the quality of life of my constituents and the people of New Hampshire.”

The authority’s mandates include:

• securing federal and state funding;

• purchasing and leasing land;

• negotiating deals with other transit authorities, governments and railway companies, including the current right-of-way owners of the rail-line;

• setting and collecting fares;

• and establishing rail schedules.

The authority will also have the power to issue bonds once the service is up and running, take land by eminent domain, and survey private property.

The authority’s first goal is to extend the rail from Lowell to Nashua and then on to Manchester.

But the new law also empowers the authority to bring the service to other parts of the state, including Concord, if deemed practical. Communities represented in the authority include several municipalities scattered beyond the Nashua-Manchester-Concord Corridor.

For now, stations along the route are expected to be built in downtown Manchester, at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and in southern Nashua.

Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, said the city is hoping to buy a parcel of land in southern Nashua that would be ideal for a new rail station.

The land, roughly 6 acres in size, is between exits 1 and 2 along Route 3, parallel to the Merrimack River and Daniel Webster Highway.

Williams declined to name the sight because the city has not begun negotiating with the owner but did say the city hopes to acquire the land by the end of this year. The site is large enough to accommodate a rail station and parking for between 600 and 700 vehicles, he said.

Roughly 95-percent of the purchase would be funded through state and federal grants, leaving the city to pick up somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000 of the remaining tab, Williams said.

While Lynch said he looked forward to someday taking a train trip to Boston to catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, the governor conceded that the rail service wouldn’t be ready by the end of this season.

The law does not set a specific timetable for the authority to restore the rail service.

The authority’s board of directors will meet yearly and issue annual reports, but the state Legislature will not formally review its progress until 2012.

Finding funding for the rail line extension will be the main challenge for the authority. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the state constitution prohibited the state from tapping into the gas tax to pay for the project.

Under federal law, state and local authorities must commit at least 20 percent of the funding for the rail.

The authority will be able to borrow money against its operating revenue once the rail service is running but will need to rely on federal funding to get the wheels moving.

The rail lines from Lowell to Nashua and Manchester are owned by the Pan-Am Railways and are now used for freight travel. It could cost as much as $80 million to connects the lines and upgrade the railway for the much faster commuter service.

The state has set aside $1 million in matching funds from the capital budget to build railway station platforms in Nashua and Manchester. And the federal government has committed more than $20 million to the project so far.

Besides funding, the other major stumbling block is the issue of liability. State lawmakers are still debating whether to impose a $75 million liability cap for damages incurred in rail accidents.

The authority’s 27-member board of directors will be comprised of officials from Nashua, Merrimack, Bedford, Manchester, Concord, Dover, Durham, Exeter, Rockingham, Strafford, Claremont, Franklin and Berlin.

Members of the state Senate and House of Representatives, planning commissions from the central and southern New Hampshire and the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee regions, and a representative from the Manchester Airport will also join the board of directors.

Wayne Gagne, the chairman of the Commuter Rail Advisory Committee who has advocated for the train service for 17 years, called Friday’s bill signing “a great moment for the state.”

“I know what a commuter rail can do for the communities and the economy,” said Gagne, who has worked in the railroad business for 34 years. “Our citizens need to have another mode of public transportation.”
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