TRANSIT: Costs soar on New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail line system

Line will now open in 2018 and be on the hook for $135 million more than expected

December 07, 2015

The New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail line system, it was announced, will now take about a year longer that scheduled to reach operability, and cost $135 million more than expected. State officials, however, maintain that they have secured a crucial commitment from Amtrak that will keep work on budget and on schedule.

New tracks and signals will be ready for trains to run by January 2018 at a revised cost of $570 million.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wanted service to begin in December 2016, but in order to push that agenda, a prolonged stalemate with Amtrak would have likely occurred, meaning far longer delays.

"The train is leaving the station. We're going to get this thing built," Malloy said late last week.

Railbed owner Amtrak runs a half-dozen trains per day on a single track along the 62-mile route, and is now eager to see the line expanded and modernized as the foundation of a long-term plan to link New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Montreal by high-speed rail. Concurrently, communities along I-91 have voiced their desire for Metro-North-style commuter rail access, convinced that it will bring commercial and residential development to neighborhoods near train stations.

State transportation planners forecast as many as 750,000 passenger trips per year when the operation gets underway, and more than 1 million per year when the system, which will open with 17 daily round-trips between New Haven and Hartford and 12 continuing north to Springfield, is completed.

As to the history of the project’s funding: The Federal Railroad Administration put up $191 million to build a second set of tracks, add bridges, widen culverts and modernize signals along the route. The state of Connecticut contributed $244 million, expecting that a total of $435 million would be enough.

This past May, however, Malloy began complaining to Amtrak that work was behind schedule and over budget with no final cost figure in sight. Subsequent negotiations between the state of Connecticut, Amtrak and the FRA concluded that it would take an additional $135 million to finish the work.

As a result, Amtrak has made two essential promises: that construction won't go over the revised budget of $570 million, and that the line will be ready to go in January 2018.

"It may take more money, but it will get done — and it will be built to appropriate standards," Malloy said.