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Feds recommend rail route through Old Lyme

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HARTFORD — Officials with the Federal Railroad Administration endorsed a controversial proposal to reroute high-speed Amtrak trains Friday.

The proposal would send trains on a rail straight through Old Lyme and several Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline communities and include a bypass tunnel.

Many residents and local and state officials have said they would instead welcome upgrades to the existing line.

“But Amtrak won’t provide the money. Nobody has the money but we’re going to spend billions and billions on a bypass that is going to destroy our communities in Southeastern Connecticut and kill off the tourist industry which is one of the biggest segments of our economy here in CT. This program should not be dead on arrival. We need to go to Washington D.C. and strangle whoever brought it forward at whatever expense,” said Stonington First Selectman, Rob Simmons.

The FRA says the plan would improve the capacity, speed, and resiliency along the northeast rail corridor.

Specifically, the FRA estimates the $120 billion plan would cut travel times between Washington and New York by 35 minutes, to about 2 hours and 10 minutes, on the fastest trains and save 45 minutes to an hour on trips between Boston and New York, which now take close to 4 hours.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said the change “moves the needle on the original plan” but raises questions about cost. He said one estimate put the cost of the proposed tunnel at $20 billion, leaving local activists concerned that cheaper above-ground tracks could still be built.

Elsewhere, work has begun on some projects incorporated into the FRA’s plan. They include a $20 billion project to build new, expanded tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey and a $4 billion project to replace a 143-year-old tunnel in Baltimore.

 Among other provisions in the plan: a new Amtrak stop at Philadelphia’s airport, eliminating the need for some travelers to reach the city and switch to a commuter train; increased service to parts of southern New England; and a new level of service that makes stops at a variety of commuter rail stations and major city hubs. Straighter tracks would enable trains to reach 220 mph between Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware. The fastest trains on the system currently top out at 150 mph, with a project underway to boost that to 160 mph near Trenton, New Jersey.