Cook On Concord: Is there a train in your future?
The recent startling increase in the price of gasoline has focused every driver on the need to conserve fuel, carpool, find alternate ways to get places and consider whether every trip is necessary.
In New Hampshire, the options for alternate transportation are few. There are regional bus lines that take increasing numbers of people to Boston and stay relatively close to the interstate highway corridors. Some cities have taxi companies of varying quality, and there are cars for hire. A few intrepid souls ride bicycles regularly, some walk and a few people ride motorcycles and scooters.
However, this rural state relies on the automobile.
Last year, Governor Lynch signed the law that created the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority to create a state-of-the-art rail system. This body has little funding, and its efforts to restore rail service to Boston from Nashua, Merrimack, Bedford, Manchester and Concord (the New Hampshire Capital Corridor) are likely to stall unless adequate funding is found to move the project forward.
The recent interim transportation commissioner, Charles O’Leary, was a forceful opponent of rail transportation, thinking that it was too expensive for passengers and that fixed-track systems limit the flexibility most people used to driving themselves seek. Contrast that to the fact that nine out of 10 responders in a recent University of New Hampshire survey indicate they would support passenger rail service if it were available. And there is indication that support for such service is growing as more businesses and citizens call for investment in our basic transportation infrastructure.
Luckily for rail proponents, two individuals have found a passionate calling in supporting the rail movement in New Hampshire and have become involved in the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association.
Mark Richardson and Nicholas Coates have embraced the rail effort with enthusiasm and tenacity, are knocking on doors, calling prospects and seeking to drum up the kind of spirit and financial support that will make the rail effort succeed.
Richardson, a native of the United Kingdom with a charming accent, is an experienced business executive who has overseen the creation and development of businesses in North America, Europe and Asia. In those experiences, as well as in his childhood, he witnessed firsthand the value of a thoroughly developed public transit system in a place where the individually owned automobile was not as common.
Richardson has been involved with the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association for most of the 10 years that he has been a resident of New Hampshire and is part of a core team that has built the NHRRA into the state’s leading advocacy group for a multimodal transportation network that includes passenger rail.
One of the criticisms of rail has been its inaccessibility, with even the Capital Corridor leaving out residents of the Seacoast, Upper Valley, North Country and Cheshire County. However, Richardson points out that a successful starting network when combined with the already-operating train from Portland, Maine, to Boston would be an incentive to reopening some of the other lines, and providing freight and passenger access north and west of Concord.
Nicholas Coates, a planner with the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, believes strongly that transportation and targeted economic revitalization projects are connected and that the state has to focus on both in the next 10 years to remain competitive in a global economy.
Coates, young and vigorous at age 31, is a member of the Manchester Young Professionals Network and is passionate about keeping young people in New Hampshire and the need to provide them with opportunities and a vibrant community. He believes transportation is part of that effort. Especially at a time when many young professionals are moving into the downtowns of Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth, the advantages of public transportation as well as the easy access by foot provided by living downtown makes a focus on non-automobile transportation important.
Coates, an alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University who received his master’s degree at Northeastern University, was a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and interned at Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission. While at that commission, he worked on the New Hampshire Capital Corridor Project. At Northeastern, he worked extensively with former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a leading advocate of rail transportation development.
Two men with a vision can change the world. These two would be happy just to change New Hampshire’s transportation system! If you have the opportunity, you should listen to their story. It is infectious.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.