Could a high-speed train transform transport in the North East?

An ambitious proposal to bring ‘world-class’ high-speed rail to the Northeast, including a 16-mile rail tunnel that would link Long Island and Connecticut, could give the East End a critical boost with an upgraded electrified rail linking Riverhead to Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma Hub.

A panel of county officials from Suffolk, Connecticut and Boston discussed the North Atlantic Rail Initiative in a webinar on Tuesday morning, where they pitched the $105 billion, three-phase project as ” transformative” for the future of the region. The high-speed rail system would see trains travel at speeds of up to 225 mph, dramatically shortening travel times not only for travelers on Long Island, but also for cities in the Northeast, which could generate new economic opportunities, officials said. The new high-speed rail line would run from New York to Ronkonkoma with a few stops along the way, then back up Stony Brook and under Long Island Sound to New Haven, Connecticut. She would then connect to Hartford, Providence and Boston. Completion of the entire project could take about 20 years, officials predict.

“This is a project of national importance,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a webinar panelist. “There is no doubt about it. When you think about spending taxpayer dollars, I can’t think of a more efficient, high-quality investment we could make as a nation than high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor.

While the proposal isn’t entirely new, it has gained traction with supporters — including former Greenport Village Mayor Dave Kapell — in recent months as President Biden prepares a $3 trillion infrastructure plan. dollars this spring. Bob Yaro, former president of the Regional Plan Association, said the president’s plan will likely include funding for high-speed rail projects in California, the Pacific Northwest, Texas and the northeast corridor between New York and Washington, DC.

“Some of them are going to be in the hundreds of billions [dollar] range,” he said. “We thought it was important to seize this opportunity, which could be a unique opportunity for us to make a major investment in infrastructure.”

Mr. Yaro said they hoped the federal government would pick up all or most of the cost of the project. He said the estimated cost is about 3% of the total $3 trillion federal infrastructure plan and the cost is comparable to what similar projects around the world have cost. He added that the Northeast region, made up of seven states, sends about $79 billion to Washington, DC, each year, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany.

“We think we deserve this kind of investment,” he said.

Bellone spoke of the benefits the project would bring to the East End, including Enterprise Park in Calverton, downtown Riverhead and redevelopment efforts in Riverside. The project would add an electrified main line connecting the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma and Riverhead lines, which are currently served by diesel trains.

“It’s a real connection to the East End,” Mr Bellone said.

He said that even without a high-speed rail component, electrified rail would be a “huge project for the region, for Long Island, for the East End”.

The Riverhead extension would feature a further stop at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, Mr Yaro said. He said one of the aims of the program is to connect major research institutes in the North East.

An overview of proposed upgrades for the project on Long Island.

The renewed push for the project comes as Riverhead Town officials seek a lead developer for the parking lot adjacent to the LIRR station on Railroad Avenue.

Officials who spoke at the webinar said they believe the high-speed rail proposal differs from past initiatives to build a tunnel or bridge, as it is all rail and n would not include automobiles. Automated tunnel boring machines would be used to dig the tunnel under Long Island Sound, Yaro said.

“More than 100 tunnels longer than this have been built around the world in the past 20 years,” he said. “It’s totally doable.”

He quoted a Stony Brook University oceanographer as saying the project would have no impact on environmental resources in the Sound. The tunnel portals would be about half a mile from shore.

Bellone said mass opposition to earlier proposals centered on people who did not want tens of thousands of cars driving through specific neighborhoods en route to a bridge or tunnel.

Officials said they have explored the possibility of the high-speed line being used for freight during off-peak hours, which could ease congestion on Long Island roads. Mr. Yaro said the rail line could eventually be used to transport packages from FedEx, for example.

A trip from New York to Boston on the high-speed rail line would take about an hour and 40 minutes, Kapell said.

Yaro said proponents of the project have proposed that Congress establish a new federal/state partnership, North Atlantic Rail Inc., to build the project. Some of the improved tracks could eventually be transferred to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example.

“We believe this can be operated on a cost-effective basis and we will be able to have first class and business class services on each train which will subsidize coach services which will be 70 or 80% of passengers on each train. form.”

The only high-speed rail service currently operating in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which can travel at speeds of up to 150 mph. High-speed rail crosses international borders in Europe and is common throughout Asia.

“My message today to all of you is that we can do great things,” said Doug McGarrah, co-chairman of Foley Hoag’s Real Estate and Development Practice. “We must have the will, the imagination and the vision to do it.”

Mr. Kapell spoke about the historical context of the connection between Long Island and New England and how, in the 19th century, the first railroad connection between New York and Boston was through Greenport and by steamboat across the Sound.

“We need to go back to the kind of big thinking that produced America’s foundational infrastructure like the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system and our own Long Island Rail Road,” Kapell said. “It’s a back to the future for Long Island.”

Jose P. Rogers