My Turn: Trains must be part of our transportation future
As the rail and transit specialist on the Sierra Club’s New Hampshire chapter transportation action team, I am such a supporter of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority’s plan to extend rail service to Concord, that I have started to make the long trip to Concord to videotape the authority’s monthly meetings for broadband subscribers (nhrta.herobo.com) as well as for showing on interested public access cable TV stations (nhccm.org). I do so out of a conviction that passenger rail service is the most environmentally responsible form of line-haul transportation, and that commuter bus operations like the state-sponsored Boston Express bus service is not far behind.
Conversely, I am convinced that the state effort to expand Interstate 93 will only attract additional single-occupancy vehicles to I-93, and the associated gasoline/diesel consumption will only contribute to the ghastly prospect of global warming.
Unfortunately, I feel the necessity for a bit of nitpicking regarding the Monitor’s Nov. 8 editorial, “Wanted: a coherent plan to attract employers, workers.”
Amtrak’s service to Brunswick, Maine, is a regional service called the Downeaster that runs at a maximum speed 70 mph on MBTA tracks in Massachusetts and 80 mph in New Hampshire and Maine. Thus it can not be compared to the 135-150 mph service provided by Amtrak’s Acela Express between Boston, New York and Washington. The service proposed by the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority is likely to be either an extension to Concord of the existing MBTA commuter service between Lowell and Boston, or a new Amtrak route similar to the Downeaster service. Either way, the service will be a diesel-powered train with a maximum speed of 70 to 80 mph. Furthermore the availability of federal subsidies for an MBTA operated service is likely to strongly favor that option.
The fact that the existing (or expanded) commuter bus service must compete for space on the congested interstate and toll highways strongly favors a commuter train operating on relatively uncongested railroad tracks.
However since neither the MBTA or Amtrak currently has the rolling stock capable of cost efficient operation of one- or two-car trains, I would accept a compromise that called for train operation during well-known periods of highway congestion and substitute bus service during off-peak hours.
(Kenyon F. Karl lives in Wentworth.)