Let's all get on board rail effort
Hear that sound, New Hampshire? Opportunity is knocking in the form of restoring passenger rail service along New Hampshire's Capitol Corridor. Along with providing a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally friendly transportation option for New Hampshire citizens, this rail project presents a historic economic development opportunity for the state.This ground-breaking initiative will provide passenger rail service from Boston's North Station to Nashua, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, downtown Manchester and Concord. Current plans call for 10 to 12 round-trips per day, with an initial daily ridership of 3,000. To be sure, tremendous progress has been achieved to date in making this project a reality, but even more work remains.The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, a state-sanctioned authority of unpaid volunteers, deserves credit for its tireless work on this initiative.As with any major project that requires a significant investment of financial resources, skeptics and naysayers question the viability and necessity of passenger rail service from New Hampshire to Boston's North Station and beyond. Fortunately, there are examples available to answer these types of questions.One such example can be found a short commute from Manchester: Amtrak's Downeaster railroad. In March 2008, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based research firm, was commissioned to conduct an economic impact study of the Downeaster. The results? The Downeaster is projected to generate $3.3 billion in construction investments and create more than 8,000 jobs over the next two decades for the state of Maine.In the meantime, ridership on the Downeaster has increased over the past three years, and multiple transit-oriented developments have broken ground in several areas along the rail corridor in Maine.Similar information tailored specifically to the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor is on its way. The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority recently commissioned an economic impact study of the proposed rail service and is expecting the results later this winter.The expansion of freight rail opportunities in New Hampshire is another important positive impact of this project. By upgrading the tracks from a grade 1 level, which are only capable of carrying trains at minimal speeds, to grade 5 tracks capable of carrying trains at more than 60 mph, products will be moved across southern New Hampshire more efficiently while relieving our congested highways, reducing pollution and saving energy. Manchester Boston Regional Airport already moves 200 million pounds of freight annually. Think a rail link would further enhance that?Which brings us to perhaps the most significant benefit of the proposed rail project: the creation of a new transportation link between Manchester Boston Regional Airport and the greater Boston region.The airport is the undisputed economic engine of New Hampshire, generating $1.24 billion in economic impact annually. Yet because the airport is only accessible by car, this critical economic engine isn't firing on all cylinders. A rail link will bring new customers and economic activity to the airport, further enhancing its already significant positive economic impact on the region.Opportunities with as much promise to enhance our state's economy, quality of life and transportation infrastructure don't come around often. It's time we all get on board and support this important economic development project.The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce has counted rail as one of its top strategic goals for the past three years and looks forward to seeing this project come to fruition. Join us and other stakeholders in supporting the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor and helping make it a reality. Robin Comstock is president and chief executive of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.