— City officials on Tuesday were briefed on the progress of a study examining the feasibility of extending passenger rail from Boston to the Queen City and beyond.
Patrick Herlihy, the director of aeronautics, rail and transit for the state Department of Transportation, told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that a regional train service running between Manchester and Lowell, Mass., would cost the state and local authorities $8 million to $10 million a year to operate.
This assumes that federal agencies would cover at least 50 percent of the capital costs to build the system. The total cost of the project is projected to top $200 million.
Herlihy is overseeing the ongoing federally funded study of the Capitol Corridor, which, in its most ambitious form, would run from Concord to Nashua, with stops in downtown Manchester and at the airport, and then connect with the MBTA commuter rail system. The study is also considering on-shoulder bus service to Boston as an alternative to rail or in conjunction with it, with the goal of reducing highway congestion in southern New Hampshire.
The line would largely follow the course of the Merrimack River, where there is already a rail line that serves freight trains. New track would have to be laid for passenger train service.
Herlihy said the consultants conducting the study still have many questions to answer, including how the project would be financed. The study is expected to run through the end of 2014.
Still, Herlihy said bringing passenger rail could have many economic benefits for the state, such as greater access to jobs in the Boston area and a boost in tourism.
He said Manchester in particular could benefit from transit-oriented development near a rail station downtown. “We’re looking to attract and retain younger, highly educated professionals in the state,” he said. “Many of them prefer to not drive automobiles and prefer alternative forms of transportation.”
Herlihy said the consultants have estimated that a train line between Manchester and Boston would have about 3,100 boardings per weekday.
He said the consultants have identified two possible sites for a station in downtown Manchester, one off Spring Street in the Millyard and the other off Granite Street, near the WMUR-TV station.
The airport station would be off Raymond Wieczorek Drive, on state land that could also accommodate a park-and-ride.
Herlihy said the consultants are focusing on a regional rail option for Manchester, which would make about 16 trips a day, fewer than a commuter line but more frequent than an Amtrak-style service.
Several aldermen expressed optimism about the prospect of passenger rail coming back to Manchester, while others expressed concerns about the cost.
Mayor Ted Gatsas said after the meeting that there needed to be more financial analysis to see if the project was worth the investment in Manchester.
“There’s no doubt it makes sense to try and spur economic development, but you’ve got to find out what the end results will be, what the subsidies are going to be and what’s expected of local communities,” he said.Nashua officials have expressed strong support for commuter rail and are actively considering plans to build at least one station in the city.More information about the rail study can be found at: www.nhcapitolcorridor.com