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State passenger rail study gains committee support

Staff report
January 09. 2013 10:21PM

CONCORD - A federally funded study of the feasibility of passenger rail connecting major Merrimack River Valley communities with Boston has new life.

The Capital Budget Overview Committee Wednesday approved the analysis of alternative transportation methods for the corridor. The study is expected to cost $1.9 million.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said the study should provide both supporters and opponents of the Capitol Corridor project with information to make their cases.

The study came to a halt last year when the Executive Council on a 3-2 vote failed to accept a federal grant to pay for it. Several councilors came under fire for their opposition to the study, including District 5 Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, who was defeated by Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, in November. Pignatelli made Wheeler's opposition to the rail project one of the key issues in the race.

Committee member Sen. David Boutin, R-Manchester, was skeptical of the feasibility of passenger rail but believes the study should be completed.

The lone vote against going forward with the study was Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, who disagrees with using turnpike toll credits to help pay for the rail project.

Federal funds will pay for $1.6 million of the cost, and the state will match the federal money with $360,000 in toll credits from the New Hampshire Turnpike System, such as Interstate 93. The federal government credits the state with toll money that has been spent on the system for such things as maintenance and plowing. The study grant now must go before the Executive Council for approval. A majority of the councilors elected in November have expressed support for the study.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said Thursday she was "encouraged" by the committee's decision and urged the Executive Council to move the project forward.

"Expanding commuter rail in this region is the right thing to do for our workers, our businesses, and our state's economy, and it will bring significant economic benefits to Nashua and beyond," Kuster said. "I'm also glad that if approved, the study will analyze the costs of this project so that we can make rail a reality in a fiscally responsible way."

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