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Conn., Mass., getting $121M in federal rail funds

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press Writer / October 25, 2010

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HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut and Massachusetts are sharing nearly $121 million in federal funds to help launch high-speed passenger rail service through the heart of southern New England, officials announced Monday.

The grant, announced by U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and other federal and state officials, will be used to overhaul the tracks and other infrastructure along the rail corridor between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Mass.

Officials hope to bring high-speed, intercity rail service to the corridor within five years. But first they would need to upgrade and build stations and add a second track on portions of the 62-mile line that have only a single rail track.

The states asked earlier this year for $220 million to overhaul the rail corridor. It needs better tracks and other repairs to support that high-speed rail service.

The project received $40 million in January with the promise that more might be coming under the Obama administration's $8 billion stimulus funds package for rail projects nationwide.

The $121 million announced Monday is in addition to $260 million that Connecticut's State Bond Commission agreed to borrow to match whatever federal funds Connecticut can garner.

Kerry said he spoke to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday about the project.

"He really understands the difference this investment will make for jobs, infrastructure, and development all along the Knowledge Corridor from Western Massachusetts down to Connecticut," Kerry said in announcing the grant with Neal.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said although the grant is less than the $220 million originally requested, it's sizable and the state could still get more federal money.

"We will have to make adjustments in our plans to reflect the level of funding, but our belief in the promise of this project is unchanged," she said. "There are future rounds of funding that we will be pursuing with the same vision and vigor, and it is our intention to see it through to completion because we understand how much it means to the future of our state and our region."

The announcement came on the same day that U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire announced more than $2 million in stimulus funds to study a $300 million high-speed rail corridor. That project would run from Boston to Nashua, and on to Concord. Maine also received $600,000 to look into the Boston-to-Portland corridor.

The western New England line would link high-speed trains from New York City to New Haven, then north to Hartford, Springfield, and eventually to Vermont and Montreal.

Massachusetts has already received $70 million in federal money to upgrade deteriorated tracks from Springfield to Vermont. The tracks now carry freight trains at speeds no faster than 10 miles per hour, but repairs are expected to eventually boost speeds to about 60 and 70 miles per hour.

Train service for years has been diverted east to Palmer to avoid the run-down tracks. Transportation officials want to rebuild those tracks to provide north-south passenger service to population centers in Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst and Greenfield.

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