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Lack of money stalls Boston-Montreal train study

Associated Press

September 14, 2003

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Lack of federal and state funds is delaying the second phase of a study on the viability of a high-speed train route from Boston to Montreal, with stops in New Hampshire.

A $400,000 first phase of the study found that the 329-mile route could be economically viable if the trains traveled fast enough to attract passengers.

State officials applied for $1 million in federal money to finish the second stage of the study, which would examine the nuts and bolts of what is required to establish the line. That study was supposed to start in July.

But Congress earmarked just $250,000 for the study. And the money must be matched with $67,000 each from
Massachusetts , Vermont and New Hampshire . While Vermont has allocated the money, the other two states have not.

Last year's ridership survey found that nearly 700,000 passengers a year would use the line rather than drive, as long as the service was fast and frequent and the fares reasonable. The study estimated the line would generate about $35 million annually.

The route would run through
Nashua , Manchester , Concord and Franklin , then turn west to cross into Vermont near Lebanon .

A preliminary study found that the trains could operate at up to 110 mph on the straights. Higher speeds would require many costly grade separations and sophisticated warnings and barriers.

Examining the alternatives more closely is being delayed by the lack of funding from
Massachusetts and New Hampshire , said Scott Bascom, who is project manager for the study and planning coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

``Right now we're sort of in an administrative hold,'' Bascom said.

Last week, Bascom wrote to officials in
Massachusetts and New Hampshire asking about the status of their funding and underscoring the urgency of getting back to work on the study before winter. He said a key part of the next phase of the study is videotaping and mapping the rail corridor, something that is best done in the fall, when leaves are off the trees.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation has yet to ask the governor and Executive Council to approve paying the state's share, said Christopher Morgan, the state administrator for railroads and public transportation.

Bascom said
Massachusetts officials seem ``more upbeat than in the past'' about paying the Bay State 's share.

``But I don't begin to understand what their concerns and their current politics are,'' Bascom said.

The inability to come up with $67,000 for the study reveals transportation officials' lack of interest in rail, said Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, a group that advocates for rail travel.

``Spending $500 million on widening Interstate 93, that's for the public good and there's never a question that we have to do it,'' Griffin said.

``Yet turn around and say, 'We want to spend a certain amount of money to re-establish a rail corridor,' and they balk at it. The fiscal caution lights come on. They say, 'I don't support something that requires a subsidy.'''