State, local officials to focus on ways to improve rails

In this Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 photo, an Amtrak Acela train passes through Mystic, Conn. A plan to speed up Amtrak's high-speed rail corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., is welcomed by business commuters but finding its strongest opposition in some shoreline towns in Connecticut. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

There were a lot of happy people along the Amtrak lines in Southern Rhode Island Thursday night.

They pushed back and were successful at getting the feds to change plans that would have turned their lives upside down.

Had the old plans not been scrapped, a new passenger rail line with less twists and turns for faster service would have cut right through Kim Coulters fourth generation Stony Hill Farm in Charlestown.

“They did take it out. They did do the right thing, and I'm very, very pleased,” said Coulter. “They're willing to work with us, and they're allowing us to work with them to come up with a reasonable solution.”

With the old plan, a curvy part of the existing track in Burdickville would have been eliminated, resulting in the new tracks that would have gone through Schumankanuc Hill, Shannock, and Kenyon, parts through tunnels where speeds would have to be reduced even by the new more modern trains to 60 to 80 miles per hour.

Rhode Island State Rep. Blake Filippi’s 36th District covers Block Island, Charlestown, South Kingstown, and Westerly, which is rght in the heart of the train tracks.

“Just in Charlestown, we had 19 pieces of open space that would have been affected, and we counted upwards of almost 100 pieces of private property,” said Filippi. “The rerouting in northern Charlestown was going to save about one minute of time and cost over a billion dollars to do. And it just didn't make sense.”

Most everyone in the area first heard about the plan, part of the $130 billion Northeast Corridor Modernization, not from the feds, but from the Charlestown Town Council last December after the plan was uncovered by a resident. Then they went to state representatives, U.S. congressmen, as well as senators, with the fight.

Sen. Jack Reed heard them loud and clear.

“Rhode Island will still be part of the High Speed Corridor. But also, there's no requirement to accept any type of improvements that the state does not want and the people of Rhode Island don't want,” Reed said, referring to the revised Northeast Corridor Future Record of Decision statement from the Federal Railroad Administration released this week.

The Alternative Plan: build a new faster capacity bridge at the Connecticut line, said former Charlestown Town Council President Tom Gentz.

“With the lower weight of the trains, which means they can accelerate faster, and with the leaning, there's your 12 minutes right there,” Gentz said, referring to the total amount of time that would be saved region-wide with the proposed improvements. This way, he said, “No more land has to be taken, and I think we're in the current boundaries of the railroad.”

Julie Carroccia is the current Charlestown Town Council Vice President. She said she is pleased with the revised outlook.

“It took an awful lot of work and commitment by the people in the town to get us where we are now,” she said.

Construction to rebuild the entire Northeast Corridor will take 30 years. All states affected will have to sign off on the final plan.

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