Yale in support of New Haven rail project

The Ivy League school, along with local and business leaders, sees benefits in modernising a line to accommodate a growing population in the New York metro region.

Yale University, the Fairfield County Business Council and Connecticut hospitals are the key stakeholders expressing support for the modernisation of the New Haven Line, a rail line operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority that spans around 80 miles of track linking New Haven in Connecticut with midtown Manhattan.

NHL, or the 30-30-30 project as it is also known, would involve expanding high frequency, high capacity fast service to and from New York City as well as expanding station access through parking, bus, shuttle, bike, and pedestrian investments.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has made the project a priority as part of his 'Let’s GO CT!' transportation initiative, a plan he unveiled in February 2015 which aims to invest $100 billion in the state’s transportation infrastructure in the next 30 years.

“The growth of the New York City metropolitan area really has to find residential real estate within workable commuter distance from New York City,” Michael Likosky, principal and infrastructure head at 32 Advisors, told Infrastructure Investor in a phone interview.

“As the metropolitan region has a growth spurt – with the Lower Hudson Valley already becoming saturated – there are only three places where it can go – Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey. Long Island is too small and New Jersey’s access really depends on the Gateway project, which realistically is not a near-term play given its ambitious scope,” Likosky said, referring to the $20 billion project that is in the planning stages and will entail constructing two new tunnels under the Hudson River, linking New York and New Jersey. “So Connecticut is really the only viable option for absorbing that growth.”

Yale University, which is based in New Haven, Connecticut, convened a meeting on Monday bringing stakeholders together to explore the options for the project and what shape its financials, policy and construction might take, said Likosky, who’s been informally advising the Ivy League school.

“Yale sees many of the benefits of the 30-30-30 project including increasing faculty retention by making it possible for its employees to live in New York City but work in Connecticut,” he explained.

Other important drivers of the project are the Fairfield County Business Council, followed by the hospitals and business communities in the area.

“The Fairfield County Business Council has seen tremendous benefit in having Stamford more closely connected to New York City,” Likosky, who’s also been advising the council for the past seven years, added.

By increasing capacity and frequency, the new line would allow for a 30-minute ride from Hartford to New Haven; a 30-minute ride from New Haven to Stamford; and a 30-minute ride from New Haven to New York. The total travel time between these four cities now takes about two hours.

NHL is the most expensive and the busiest rail corridor in the country with over 40 million trips per year, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

“It’s also one of the slowest lines and part of that is because it has a type of bridge in places that remain a challenge to increasing speed, which is currently limited to around 45 miles per hour, as well as the issue of good repair,” Likosky said.

According to CTDOT, NHL has 203 bridges, many of which are more than 100 years old. Of the total, five are movable and all but one are over 100 years old. “Since the date of construction for most of these bridges, the maximum weight of a freight car has increased by over 100,000 pounds,” according to a CTDOT fact sheet. “As a result, the current percentage of bridges that are rated less than good condition is at 78 percent.”

Malloy’s transportation plan calls for $2.8 billion to address the long-term rehabilitation and/or replacement of all four movable bridges and $2.2 billion to complete repairs and replacements of the remaining fixed bridges on the NHL. The capital costs for the New York to New Haven corridor improvements are estimated at around $30 billion in 2013 dollars. CTDOT has been allocated $3 million to launch a feasibility study of the project.

The first leg of the project, Hartford to New Haven, is already under way with capital outlay beginning this year. This portion of the project is being publicly funded.

Asked whether the state may consider procuring the rest of the project as a P3, Likosky responded: “It’s the type of project where the only real option – given its nature – is a P3.”