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Another View: Passenger rail in NH would be a massive boondoggle

February 05. 2013 5:51PM

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who touts passenger rail in another column, ran on a campaign that included strong support for passenger rail. The tone of his column leaves little doubt as to how strongly committed he is to it or where he stands on the $3.65 million study. In the best interests of the state, though, he and other executive councilors should proceed with caution.

I am a retired highway engineer and transportation planner with more than 36 years of professional experience in eight states and Washington, DC. My opinions are based on experience, 42 years of transportation policy observations and objective study of publicly available information.

My opinions may or may not represent those of any group I am affiliated with. Except as a taxpayer, I have no financial interest or other stake in the Capitol Corridor project or in the subject study.

To be blunt, passenger rail in New Hampshire is a fool's errand. It has a near zero chance of solving any transportation problems and a near 100 percent chance of burdening the state with significant and continuing debt with insignificant or no offsetting benefits.

When federal operating subsidies run out, the state would have to either take over that burden or reimburse the government for its share of the salvage value of the infrastructure. This is the single reason why the governors of Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio declined to accept more than $3.6 billion in federal rail funds in the last two years.

The average New Hampshire resident would take a round trip on the train once every six years. Fewer than one in 2,000 residents would benefit from the project on a daily basis, and fewer than one in 300 on a weekly basis. That's the nature of rail in a transportation marketplace like New Hampshire's, and there is nothing any consultant can do that would change that for the better.

Train passengers would largely consists of well-heeled commuters to out-of-state jobs. Costs would be shared by families and workers across all income levels who would be unable to use the train for commuting to and from their lower paying in-state jobs.

According to a study by the Federal Transit Administration, "Urban rail transit investments rarely 'create' new growth, but more typically redistribute growth that would have taken place without the investment." Due to extremely low train ridership, it is unlikely train stations or the cities that contain them would be magnets for any kind of development, including so-called "transit-oriented development."

The state has all the information it needs right now to decide whether to proceed with the Capitol Corridor Rail Project. All indicators point to "don't do it!" None point to "spend another $3.65 million on another study."

Dick Lemieux, is a retired highway engineer in Concord.

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