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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Susan Morrell shows the knife presented as evidence that Corey Furgal was to have used to stab Christopher Vydol. Furgal is on trial for killing Vydfol in October of 2009.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

House GOP set to derail rail proposal

CONCORD – House Republican leaders want to end the discussion about bringing commuter rail back to southern New Hampshire through Nashua.

They’ve gotten behind the bill (HB 218) of Rep. Donald McGuire, R-Epsom, to repeal the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which the Legislature created four years ago with bipartisan leadership from Nashua area legislators.

“If it made sense, the private sector would do it,” said McGuire, who called the notion of expanding public commuter rail transit in a rural state like New Hampshire “senseless.”

Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, said these tight, fiscal times force policymakers to put away their wants that would include commuter trains that require expensive taxpayer subsidies.

“I love trains, but what I love more is good public policy,” Jasper told the House Transportation Committee at a hearing last week. “Whether it’s federal money or state money, it’s money from the taxpayers. Buses are much more economical; they can run without deficits.”

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, who attended the Tuesday hearing, said the state is poised to get a $4.1 million planning grant that will precisely identify the capital and future operating cost of commuter rail from Lowell, Mass., through Nashua and onto Concord.

“I think it is shortsighted of us not to complete our look and look at all the options regarding rail,” Lozeau said.

“This is the worst possible time to send a message that we were not interested in rail.”

Last year, Obama administration officials told Lozeau and state officials for the first time that federal rail and transit money can be merged to support commuter train operations.

“That may not seem like a big deal but it is,” Lozeau continued.

If final studies show that local taxpayers have to spend millions each year to support trains, Lozeau said she would lead the opposition against it.

“Don’t we at least, after all this time, owe it to ourselves to know what it really is? We speculate what it is, but we don’t really know,” Lozeau said.

“It is important that we know these answers.”

Rail Authority Chairman and ex-Sen. Peter Burling said the group hasn’t spent a single dollar and that there is strong support in the Obama administration for a high-speed corridor that would run all the way through NH and link with one in White River Junction, Vt.

Government subsidies have been used to jump start other transportation advancements from the federal interstate highway system in the 1950s to expanded commuter bus service to the Nashua area five years ago.

“Doctrine and political philosophy aside, there is no mode of transportation that is not subsidized by someone in some way at all,” Burling stressed.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, tried to discredit two market studies on interest, the second sponsored by the rail authority that predicted three times the ridership interest than a second study 18 months earlier.

“At the end of the day, this legislation should pass because the state of New Hampshire should not make market choices,” Kurk added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or