Transportation fficials from three New England states and Quebec are looking at a plan that to better link Boston with New Haven and Montreal via track upgrades and the purchase of trains that could reach a peak speed of 79 m.p.h. - faster than what trains can do on most of the tracks now but far slower than typical intercity trains in Europe and Japan.
Still, the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative says the plan, outlined in a report issued last month would have a number of benefits: The region's knowledge workers would gain a new way to get to conferences and jobs, tourists would love it and the trains would reduce the region's creation of greenhouse gases by taking people out of cars - and so indirectly by reducing congestion on the region's main highways. The report points to people who live in Maine who now commute to jobs in Boston via Amtrak's Downeaster service.
The report says that people with advanced degrees - of which Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut have plenty - are particularly enamored of the idea of taking the train instead of driving.
Under the proposal, tracks from Boston and Montreal would converge in Springfield and meet a revamped commuter-rail line Connecticut hopes to open in 2018 between Springfield, Hartford and New Haven. That line will let trains operate up to 110 m.p.h. at points.
Some eight to ten diesel-powered trains would provide eight daily round-trips between Boston and New Haven by way of Springfield.
Based on the commuters, students, and other anticipated users, the projected ridership for the Inland Route Service fifteen years after the initiation of service is 428,642 annual riders.
Up to five new diesel-powered passenger trains would provide three round trips daily between Boston and Montreal.
Each train set of a diesel and passenger cars would cost roughly $27 million.
Although the Boston-to-Worcester segment and the impending expanded Connecticut line can handle passenger trains going at faster than a crawl, the report's authors say much of the line between Worcester and Springfield and Springfield and Montreal would need to have a second or even third track added at points to allow for use of the line by both passenger and freight trains. Some parts of the line would also need the installation of signals. A US customs facility would also have to be built in Montreal.
The proposal is counting on the long stalled expansion of South Station to provide extra tracks for the additional trains, as well as on growth of Amtrak's Southampton Street yard for train storage and repairs. The plan also calls for a new platform at Worcester's Union station and an entirely new station in Palmer.
The report notes paying for the project remains a critical question. It suggests a variety of options, including federal grants, capital funding by Massachusetts and Vermont, public/private partnerships to pay for spending and even the use of carbon-offset credits that now typically go towards energy-efficiency programs.