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Transit study: Commuter rail would have economic benefits

Transit study: Commuter rail would have economic benefits 

Expansion could reach Concord

Concord Monitor

November 22, 2014

By KATHRYN MARCHOCKI 

Expanding Boston-bound commuter rail from Lowell, Mass., to Manchester with other stops at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and two others in Nashua, would be an economic boom for the region, bringing an estimated 5,600 new permanent jobs and 3,600 housing units by 2030, a two-year rail and transit study showed.

This Lowell-to-Manches­ter line known as the Manchester regional commuter rail alternative ­would draw a projected 668,000 annual riders and cost a total of $256 million­ about half of which could be eligible for federal grants and bonds, authors of the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor Rail and Transit Study said Thursday.

There is simply no economic development opportunity on the horizon that could transform New Hampshire’s economy like the expansion of passenger rail could offer,” New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority Chairman Thomas Mahon said. 

More than 225 people packed the public hearing room at the Nashua Public Library, stood in the aisles and spilled out into the hallway to hear the findings of rail and transit study, which has been in the works for two years and will be released by mid-December. They included many Nashua residents and elected officials and residents from as far as Manchester, Hollis, Mont Vernon and Londonderry. They were nearly unanimous in their support for rail expansion and urged elected officials and project authors to push for support among lawmakers. 

“This is one of the . . . biggest economic development opportunities for the state,” Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce President Chris Williams said. 

“The issue is about jobs. It’s about moving the economy forward,” Williams added. 

Williams urged executive councilors and state and local politicians to “have a real conversation about how the public and private sector can make this happen. We can’t do it without you,” he said to applause. 

Nashua resident and longtime Boston commuter Elise MacDonald said she drives daily to Lawrence, Mass., to get the train to Boston. Like several other speakers, she favors developing a rail station on the Tyngsborough side of the state line adjacent to the Pheasant Lane Mall. 

“If we can’t have New Hampshire rail yet, a stop in Tyngsborough would be wonderful,” MacDonald said to applause. 

Ken Kinney of URS Corp., the lead consulting firm the state Department of Transportation hired to do the rail and transit study, laid out several scenarios ranging from expanding existing commuter bus service to Boston – the cheapest alternative that brought nearly no benefits in increased jobs, housing and economic development – to rail expansion along the entire 73-mile corridor from North Station in Boston to Concord. 

The Manchester to Boston commuter option would feature 16 trains daily from Manchester and at least 20 daily trips from Nashua. 

A more limited regional option of extending rail service just to Nashua would cost a total estimated $120 million in capital costs, Kinney said. 

The Concord intercity option would involve four round-trips daily to Boston and would operate like an Amtrak-type service, such as the Downeaster that now runs from Boston to Maine. It would cost the most – an estimated $256 million, Kinney said. 

Developing a limited rail expansion to Nashua only would bring an estimated 1,200 new permanent jobs by 2030 and about 600 new housing units, Kinney said. 

Kinney recommended more discussion and debate is needed on the proposed rail and transit expansion. 

“In order to move any project forward, we need to make a lot of progress on developing a credible financial plan,” Kinney said, noting the federal government typically will pay for half the capital costs, but states and towns must show how they can pay the balance