Southeastern Connecticut residents welcome expanded rail service for region

Jul. 19—Southeastern Connecticut residents had a lot of mostly positive things to say about the possibility of expanding rail service in the region.

Due to a bill that passed this past legislative session, the state Department of Transportation is set to study the possibility of extending Shore Line East rail service to Westerly, a new rail route from New London to Norwich and new passenger stations in Stonington and Groton.

The Day asked readers on Facebook and through the use of Hearken, a platform that helps media engage with their audience, if any of these developments would help them or those they know and how service to Rhode Island, new local routes and new passenger stations would affect the region.

The more than 50 people who responded showed that residents are ready for more rail service after what they feel is neglect of Shore Line East by the state in favor of Metro North.

Rich Martin of New London said it's taken "much too long" for the state to address a lack of service in area and that it would be "a significant boon to our region."

"We need to close the gap between Old Saybrook and Westerly," he added.

Erica Terranova of Westerly is an example of those whom lawmakers such as state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London and state Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, envision riding the train.

"I commute to Electric Boat," Terranova said. "This could be a big solution to the impending parking issues to come when all are called back to the office full-time."

Conley said before this past legislative session, she and other legislators, including Nolan and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, talked about the timing for a rail expansion project.

"We said, 'What can we do this year with Biden being our president, knowing that he's a big fan of rail, and hearing that there were going to be federal dollars for COVID relief and transportation,'" she said. "We said, 'What can we do to position a project here in eastern Connecticut to take advantage of these federal opportunities?'"

Conley said if a project were to come to fruition, the state would seek federal funding.

"We are dealing with Congressman Joe Courtney's office and our federal senators, making sure they're aware of what we're doing in the state so once we get the feasibility study, we can push toward the federal government refunding," she said.

She also addressed critiques from those who said Shore Line East wouldn't have the ridership necessary for this expansion.

"If there aren't trains on a regular schedule during commuter times, people aren't going to use them," she said. "You can say, 'there isn't ridership,' but there isn't ridership because there isn't reliable train service. To solve the ridership issue, we need to have reliable train service for commuters going to work."

AJ Thompson of New London said he is a frequent train commuter because he is a graduate student in New Haven.

"If such train service to Norwich does come about, the state should consider extending the train service to Willimantic, close to Eastern Connecticut State University, Storrs for UConn students, and to Hartford, where train tracks already exist, they just need upgrades," he said. "I consider it to be a hassle for those on this side of the state, to have to take an hour and half train to New Haven, then another hour train to get to Hartford."

Many, like Mike Cherry in Gales Ferry, noted how useful an extension of rail service would be for elderly people. He said he uses Shore Line East and Metro North to visit his grandchildren in New York City.

"It would be useful for travel to NYC, but parking at the train station is required," he said. "Old Saybrook is the closest for Shoreline East for service and parking."

Christopher Kennedy, originally of Groton Long Point, lives in New York City now. He said he visits his parents frequently in Groton Long Point."

"Many like me make this trip," he said. "A stop in Mystic would be a big improvement."

Nancy Butler of Waterford hopes the state Department of Transportation will look to see how many people would use the proposed new services and what needs to be fixed in order for the project to be feasible.

"Some of the issues that need to be addressed are where the stations and tracks would be located as far as ease of access, traffic, parking and noise for the homes or businesses in the area," she said. "On the positive side, if it helps enough people get transportation they need and helps local businesses have access to more customers, that would of course be a good thing. Until they have the data to support it, it's difficult to say if it would be a good thing or not."

Skip Whitten of Old Lyme commutes to his office in New Haven. He said the benefits include less wear and tear on his car, a greener way to travel, a more relaxing experience and one fewer car using the highway.

"With the shortage of employees facing many companies, it would make sense to provide prospective employees a convenient mode of transportation. For example, current bus service between New London and Norwich runs close to an hour each way. Commuter rail could save a considerable amount of time," he said. "Companies considering a move to eastern Connecticut need to know that there is a viable way for workers to commute to work. Not everyone owns a car nor can companies take on the expense of busing people to work (like the Casinos did)."

Lourdes Haynes of New London is a 15-year veteran of the trek from New London to New Haven on Shore Line East. Haynes said I-95 "reached capacity decades ago" so more rail service is always welcome.

"Do I support more rail service? Sure. But I'd like to see some substance, some demonstration from the state of a real commitment to improved existing service, and save the pipe dreams for another time," Haynes added.

Jeri Duefrene cautioned that if the state Department of Transportation "doesn't take care" of Shore Line East, "Why would they start new routes?"

"I stopped riding the SLE trains, instead I drive to New Haven three days a week for work," she continued. "We kept hearing about better cars and service, and from what my one friend who still takes the train says, it hasn't changed."

Jackie Alix of Old Lyme was one of several people to question Connecticut's transportation apparatus.

"How about the state DOT get approval to expand 95 to three lanes each direction for the whole length of the state?" she asked. "It is one of the heaviest traveled sections of interstate system in the country. Make it wider, and add photo speed cameras to bill speedsters."

Jonathan Sharr of Old Saybrook called expansion of Shore Line East an "amazing idea."

"Living in Saybrook and trying to reduce car usage, this would help for work and leisure," he added.

Libby Cooke of Stonington said expansion "would add tremendous convenience." Dozens echoed her claim about convenience on community Facebook forums. Many people said improved service would benefit those who don't have cars. Some noted that Norwich used to have a trolley that went to Westerly, and Stonington and Groton both have had train stations.

Mary Ann Karasevich-Moran of Norwich agreed with others when she said this extended service is "much needed and well overdue."

Joe Lewerk of Lisbon works in Killingly, and his wife works in Mystic.

"We're familiar with public transportation having used Shoreline East and Metro North for leisure travel," he said. "Good public transportation is reliable, frequent and affordable with feeder bus service and/or parking for trains and travel time close to driving."

Benjamin Stark of Old Lyme said he felt extending Shore Line East service to Westerly with new stops in Groton and Stonington "is a fantastic idea." He said the state should bring back an Old Lyme stop as well in part to aid with economic development and help reduce traffic from visitors traveling by car via Interstate 91 and Route 9.

"I can think of no greater economic development strategy for the town than having an Shoreline East train stop at the top of Hartford Avenue, where the train already passes," he said. "Could you imagine how amazing it would be to ride to Old Lyme from points west by train, stepping off the platform, and being able to walk down those new sidewalks to the beaches, with the water in view up ahead?"

Jennifer Bracciale of Waterford said she would definitely jump on a train to Westerly for dinner and drinks.

Douglas Andrews of Old Lyme, like Bracciale, said he would "absolutely take the train to points east to enjoy a day or night out."

Abby Stokes, who grew up in Old Lyme and now lives in East Lyme, commutes between New York City and East Lyme.

"I've ridden the Shoreline East (aka the Clam Digger) since it began. Great asset to CT. Extending it to RI is a fabulous idea. Also would love a stop in East Lyme," she said.

Tom Myers of Waterford said he would hop on a train from New London to Westerly as Uber is about $25 each way.