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Nashua rep. not sold on commuter rail service for southern NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 19. 2013 11:29PM

NASHUA - Bucking significant local consensus, a state representative from Nashua says he still isn't ready to support commuter rail service coming to town.

"I wouldn't say I never would support it, or that I outright oppose rail service," Republican Don LeBrun said last week, "but I would need to have a lot of questions answered before I could think about changing my mind."

The Nashua Board of Aldermen has voted unanimous support for the idea of rail service. Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has been a driving force behind efforts to bring passenger and freight rail back to New Hampshire. Lozeau's efforts gained steam this month when the state's Capital Budget Overview Committee approved using state toll credits, combined with a federal grant, to fund a $1.9 million rail feasibility study.

LeBrun's reaction? "They studied it 10 years ago, and it was a waste of money then," he said. "They tried to study it again and got nowhere. Now they want to try again. How many times are they going to try looking at it? What do they think is going to change?"

Former Executive Council member David Wheeler has opposed the rail idea for a while. He represented Nashua on the council until losing to Debora Pignatelli in the November election. Wheeler voted against funding the last Rail Feasibility Study attempt, in early 2012.

"I think it's disingenuous to take highway toll credits and use them to bring a train to Nashua," he said last week.

Wheeler estimates the cost of extending rail service into New Hampshire and constructing a park-and-ride station at 25 Crown St., near East Hollis Street in Nashua, at $300 million. He disputes claims the project would create many jobs in New Hampshire, because the project would be overseen by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

"The MBTA has already said they would be in charge of building this project, extending the service on up into Nashua," said Wheeler. "Those tracks all need work on them and the MBTA would send its own union crews here to do the work. It's not going to create New Hampshire jobs."

Wheeler maintains not all members of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce back bringing rail service to the area, but would not name who they were, saying only that he has heard from them on the issue.

"They don't want to speak out publicly because they feel like it's a done deal and they have businesses in the city and want good relations," said Wheeler.

LeBrun said he believes that for the project to work, the line would have to extend to the state capital.

"I couldn't support it if it only serves the southern tier of the state," he said. "It would have to extend up to Concord. Do they think someone would drive 40 miles down from Concord to then get on a train? I don't think so. A lot of people live between Nashua and Concord, and there would have to be some benefit to others in the state for me to consider it."

LeBrun also cited the success of the Boston Express bus line as another reason he has trouble seeing the need for rail service. The line, which offers 12 daily trips from Nashua to Boston's South Station, with nine on the weekends, saw a 22 percent increase in passengers from 2011 to 2012, according to New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton.

"I just don't see someone who is using the commuter bus now, dropping that to take a train," said LeBrun. "It wouldn't cost less, and quite often the bus gets you closer to your destination than a rail line would. I feel at this point it might be a legacy item for the mayor."

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