WNPR

DOT Commissioner: Connecticut Will Focus On Rail Repair, Not New Tracks

Jul 26, 2017

The Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Transportation says in the wake of the controversy over a proposed new rail bypass, he’s focusing on repairing the existing system to improve service. 

The previously somewhat obscure Federal Railroad Administration managed to become a byword for government overreach in Connecticut this year. It released, and then partially retracted a plan that would have seen new tracks, tunnels, and bypasses create significant disruption in communities in southeastern Connecticut.

But to Jim Redeker, it was all a tempest in a teacup.

“So there was, from my perspective, an overreaction from the beginning to these representative alignments, because they didn’t really mean anything,” the DOT Commissioner told WNPR.

Redeker is actually one of the people who first requested the FRA look at the future of the Northeast Corridor -- the nation’s busiest rail route -- coordinating a vision that would involve multiple states.

“FRA was an appropriate entity, I think, to first create this high level idea,” he said, “but they don’t have any of the authority or responsibility or funding to do anything more.”

What Connecticut and other states asked the feds to do was to focus on where the line desperately needed repair, after decades of neglect. But FRA officials decided that they wanted to include bigger concepts, including how to implement true high speed rail.

“And so the scope of work ballooned beyond a state of good repair document to a visionary document,” said Redeker, “until the end, when governors [and] states said, you know, we really just want you to do what we asked.”

DOT Commissioner James Redeker in his Newington office.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

What’s known as the Record of Decision was issued by the FRA earlier this month. It says further study is needed of the most controversial section of rail -- the stretch between New Haven and Providence -- something the Connecticut DOT will eventually take the lead on.

That shift allows Redeker to return to what he always saw as the task at hand. “ The backlog of $38 billion of ‘state of good repair’ is the first priority, because with that will come significant reliability, speed, and frequency benefits, to everybody,” he said. “And we have to do it anyway, because otherwise the existing service just deteriorates.”

There’s no federal money attached to the FRA study, but states had to make sure all their planned projects were included in it, to make them eligible for any future funding. That’s why Redeker is pleased to see the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line included as an element of the plan.

He’s also awaiting the results of a $3 million study of the New Haven to New York portion of the line, commissioned by DOT.

Meanwhile, he said he doesn’t expect to see any significant new tracks laid in Connecticut in his lifetime. But if they are, anyone who wants to protest should try engaging with the DOT, which will take the burden of the planning and financing.