State abandons rail study funding

Donchess: ‘They are turning their backs on the future’

NASHUA – Mayor Jim Donchess said Friday the city will continue to go after a commuter rail service despite a vote in Concord against funding a train study.

“They are turning their backs on the future,” Donchess said of legislators who opted to remove $4 million of federal funding from the 10-year transportation plan.

The Capitol Corridor study looked at bringing commuter rail from Massachusetts up to Nashua and Manchester. It came to a halt in 2016 when the legislature voted against using the federal funding. Chris Sununu called the commuter rail proposal a “boondoggle” when he ran for governor.

Mike O’Brien, a city alderman and Democratic state representative who long fought for the funding, said getting the state behind the effort makes sense. Nashua and Manchester make up 35 percent of the state’s economy. A commuter rail line would boost the region’s economy, creating thousands of estimated jobs and boosting the real estate market.

“It would be nice if the state took the lead,” O’Brien said.

The money was put back into the state’s 10-year transportation proposal by Sununu after finding out Amazon wanted to see a commuter rail and other modes of public transportation as part of the bids for its second headquarter search. New Hampshire did not make the short list for Amazon.

Donchess said it is clearly what businesses and industries want. He called the vote on Thursday to take out the funding short sighted.

“It’s a defeat for the jobs and economic growth in New Hampshire,” Donchess said.

Critics of the plan cited the $270 million cost of getting the service started, and that fact it would require some form of government subsidy in order to operate. Even with millions in federal funding for the plan, it is estimated a commuter rail line would cost New Hampshire about $5 million a year.

State Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, blasted the he senate colleagues Friday for voting to take the federal funding out the 10-year plan.

“It is truly disappointing that a number of my colleagues continue to deny that there is a desire and need for commuter rail in New Hampshire,” she said in a statement. “This kind of infrastructure improvement would have countless economic, social, and environmental benefits for the entire state.”

Nashua isn’t counting out getting a commuter rail line yet, however. The city has an agreement in place with Boston Surface Railroad, a private company the is exploring a commuter rail line that would connect Bedford, Nashua, and Lowell, Massachusetts. This could allow Nashua residents to travel to Lowell on the private line, and then take the MBTA service into Boston. This service would not be subsidized.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.