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Executive Council approves $3.6 million rail study


CONCORD - The Executive Council, as expected, today approved a $3.6 million feasibility study for restoring passenger rail service along the Merrimack River, from Nashua to Concord, in what has been dubbed "The Capitol Corridor" project.

The 4-1 vote came after Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, spoke in opposition, telling fellow councilors, "I'm fearful we're going down a path for this project without looking at the fundamental economics of it."

He said even if the federal government fully funds the start-up costs, the state will be left subsidizing at least a portion of the operating costs in the future. "I don't see where we have the money," he said.

Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, gave a passionate defense of the measure, saying she ran for her Executive Council seat in November in large part to champion the rail study. "The past council's blockage of this project is the reason I ran for office," she said.

Newly elected Democratic councilors Colin Van Ostern of Concord and Chris Pappas of Manchester joined Pignatelli and Councilor Raymond Burton, R-Bath, in supporting the study, which last year was defeated by a Republican-dominated council, 3-2.

Nearly 90 percent of the money for the study comes from a federal transportation grant, leaving the state with approximately $400,000 in cost, most of which will come from toll credits issued to the state by the Federal Highway Administration.

The cost of actually restoring passenger rail in Nashua to Concord corridor has been estimated at $250 million to $300 million. The study will determine the actual costs and provide estimates as to likely ridership and ongoing operating expenses.

Gov. Maggie Hassan applauded the move. "Expanded rail service to Nashua and beyond has the potential to boost New Hampshire's economy and create jobs," she said. "The only way we can understand the full impact of the project and ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected is to gather all of the facts."

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