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How about some help for the economy here?

It can surely be universally agreed that Connecticut needs to boost its economy, not just on the shoreline or around Hartford, but throughout the state. Yet there is a perception, arguably based on reality, that money almost never funnels first, second or even third to the Northwest Corner. This is a time when that theory will again be tested. 

The state has finally started up a new commuter rail line from Springfield, Mass., to New Haven, to the tune of $768 million. Given that, it would seem our state and federal legislators could also find a way to fund $10.5 million for the Housatonic Railroad to make its freight line through the western part of the state safe to travel (see the front page article by Shaw Israel Izikson last week). The railroad hauls freight to multiple companies on its Berkshire Line, but the three largest in Connecticut, which also employ many in the region, are Kimberly Clark in New Milford and BD and Specialty Minerals in North Canaan.

The poor condition of the tracks that carry the cars on this line affects the speed and efficiency with which the railroad can deliver goods to each of the companies on it. That was made clear by the railroad’s representative, Parker Rodriguez, at the Northwest Hills Council of Governments  (NWCOG) monthly meeting June 14 reported on by Izikson. He said there are three to four derailments annually due to the disrepair of the track. 

Those who live along the path of the Berkshire Line are rightly alarmed by that record of derailments, especially when there can be no promise of improvement without a concerted effort to replace the old, broken and crooked lines. All the railroad can do is hope for the best, as they repair what they can see are the worst of the tracks, and continue to replace the tracks that are irrevocably damaged when cars derail.

It is to the credit of the NWCOG members, the first selectmen from 21 regional towns, that they voted at their June meeting to support the Housatonic Railroad’s grant application to a federal program doling out money for transportation. The BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) program is administrated through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rodriguez believes it would be more likely that the railroad would receive a grant if there were matching funds, perhaps through Massachusetts, which already has money allotted to fix the rails on the Berkshire Line there. 

Could our U.S senators step in to help? At the celebration of the first run of the CTrail Hartford Line last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal was one of the speakers at Union Station. He said he believes investment in rail makes sense. Does that only mean for commuter rail in the middle of the state? Or can he see any benefit to having a viable freight line in the farther reaches of the state, where even small changes can make a big difference to a struggling economy?

The people who live in the western part of Connecticut, though fewer in number than elsewhere in the state, are also our senators’ and other legislators’ constituents. And they pay taxes to support the state as a whole. It is time for some of that money to return to help the Housatonic Railroad and the companies it serves.