The new Legislature has repeated their impressive performance of the first week in January.
Amazing! On Jan. 9, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Capital Budget approved a request to use a tiny fraction of New Hampshire’s “toll credits” (a kind of federal specie or chit) to match Federal grants that will pay for the study of passenger rail service for the central corridor to Concord. Whew; I know, a little background may be in order.
New Hampshire has been trying to recreate rail service from Concord to Boston for several years. The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority was created in 2007 by the Legislature to accomplish this complex task. As part of the effort, the Authority obtained two federal grants, totaling $4.1 million, to be used to pay for a study of the proposed project. The study would look at the advisability of including the proposed passenger rail service in New Hampshire’s transportation infrastructure. Among other things, it would study alternatives to rail, like busses, or more cars.
The previous legislature (or at least the conservative majority thereof) made killing passenger rail a top priority on their political agenda. Sadly, they tried to do away with the Rail Authority, which had worked for four years without costing the taxpayers a penny. That effort failed. Then they set about defeating the effort to use the federal grants to make the study. That effort succeeded in the Executive Council. But then there was an election, and we have a new council, the majority of which supports passenger rail for New Hampshire. And now we have a House and a Senate, both of which have voted to let the study go forward. That is very good news for the majority of citizens in our state who want to at least find out if passenger rail service from Concord to Boston might be at least as successful as the Downeaster, which increases its ridership every year.
Does this mean that trains will soon be running? No, it means a contractor chosen by DOT will conduct a professional study of the rail proposal, and report back. Some of the people who voted to let the toll credits be used expect that the study will come out against the project. That may happen. But for the time being, a rational process has returned to the Statehouse, a process that may allow us to choose “rail or no” on the foundation of informed thought, rather than partisan presumption.