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Expansion of Shore Line East could extend rail service to Rhode Island

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Courtesy of John9474
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Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak are reviewing the possibility of expanding the Shore Line East rail service.

A law passed last year instructed the state Department of Transportation to undertake a $2.3 million study on extending Shore Line East to Westerly, Rhode Island, as well as establishing new rail routes from New London to Norwich, and new rail stations in Stonington and Groton.

Jim Gildea, chair of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said more people will use the rail service if the train schedule is restored.

“The most necessary first step is getting the schedule back to 100% pre-COVID numbers, and opportunities just like the Waterbury branch, just like the Hartford branch, just like the New Haven line, just like the Danbury branch, just like the New Canaan branch,” Gildea said. “There’s no reason why Shore Line East should not have a 100% pre-COVID schedule.”

In New York, data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North Railroad, shows ridership has returned to pre-pandemic levels — and service on the New Haven line and other Connecticut branches is close to fully restored.

Proponents say the Shore Line East expansion would link together a patchwork of rail and transport services for the region, helping to reduce cars on the roads, make the region more attractive to potential new employees of companies like Electric Boat and Pfizer, and boost tourism to southeastern Connecticut.

“I think every metric that has occurred since COVID — from a ridership perspective — really does indicate that the state of Connecticut is thirsting for intra-state rail. I think we’ve moved past the days of the rail line only being a vehicle to get people to New York City,” Gildea said.

“There’s been a significant paradigm shift,” he continued.

The study was expected to be completed in January of this year, but it was delayed and will be presented in early 2023, according to state transportation officials.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.