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In Connecticut And Rhode Island, Federal Rail Decision Seen As Win For Preservationists

Jul 13, 2017

Residents in Connecticut and Rhode Island’s coastal communities are cheering the Federal Railroad Administration's decision to back away from a controversial rail plan that would have re-routed a section of the Northeast Corridor through historic towns and important ecosystems along New England’s southern coast.

Communities in the two states were critical of earlier plans to change the railroad, claiming new routes would cut through protected areas.

In Old Lyme, Connecticut, First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said the fate of her town’s historic district rested on whether the FRA would run high speed trains through it.

"When you travel through Old Lyme, and you look at how our center is, how small it is, everything would have been impacted," Reemsynder said. "Our commercial area, our historic district. The heart of our community -- it would have been decimated."

The feds had planned to cut down on travel times between New York and Boston by building a section of tracks between Old Saybrook, Connecticut and Kenyon, Rhode Island that would bypass the existing rail line along Connecticut's coast.

On Wednesday, the FRA said that it will instead focus on repairing the current rail line and further study the route between New Haven and Providence.

Reemsnyder said this is a victory for Connecticut’s coastal communities, whose property values were impacted by the FRA’s proposal.

"I think people can make decisions about property with confidence that the train is not going to go anywhere near their property," Reemsnyder said.

A postcard distributed by SECoast, a branch of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation that helped organize the campaign against the coastal bypass.
Credit SECoast

In earlier plans, the proposed rail line could have run by the Florence Griswold Museum, a national historic landmark which sits on the banks of a historic salt marsh. Museum Director Jeff Andersen said that he supports the development of high speed rail in the region, but the previous plan didn’t offer much to Connecticut residents.

"So it wasn’t going to be beneficial to anyone that lived in this region," Andersen said. "And in fact, quite the reverse, it was going to be very detrimental to not only Old Lyme, but Old Saybrook, all of the towns along the shoreline. So, let’s all work together and figure out a way that it can be a positive attribute for not only people moving through Connecticut, but for Connecticut residents as well.”

There’s still the possibility of high speed rail running through Old Lyme in the future, but Andersen said it’s good that the FRA and state will be looking more closely at how that could impact the communities it would cut through.

"I think a lot of folks here will be looking at what the experts are proposing -- and looking at it with optimism, but also an equal measure of skepticism," Andersen said.

The FRA’s initial proposal also sparked protest in Southern Rhode Island when residents learned the bypass could run through tribal lands and conservation areas.

Westerly Rhode Island resident Linda Turano said she’s happy the FRA won’t move ahead with its original plan for the area.

“I think a lot of people don’t want it to go through all the wildlife land and everything -- tearing up more land for more railroad tracks, just to have it faster,” Turano said.

Officials in Connecticut and Rhode Island will work with the FRA and other stakeholders to study options for improving rail service in Eastern Connecticut. There's currently no timeline for the study.

RIPR's John Bender contributed to this report.