Measured against the hundreds of millions invested in the 11-mile New Britain-Hartford bus way, a $4 million appropriation to start “preliminary work” on high-speed rail on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Amtrak line doesn’t seem like much.

The FY 2010 federal appropriation that surfaced last week is, according to Sen. Chris Dodd, a “down payment” toward improving an under-utilized and rickety Amtrak trunk line that charges fares considerably above Metro North’s New Haven to Grand Central run.

Testimony abounds on the need for Amtrak upgrades — even ones that don’t have “high speed” attached to them but would make a world of difference. Last summer I had to get back to Hartford from New Haven without an auto. The early afternoon shuttle in New Haven took me north without incident. But the conditions in the train car were a reminder of the investments needed to make a New Haven to Hartford train run a first choice for commuters going to and from two of Connecticut’s big cities. It was a hot July day with plenty of thunderstorms. Air conditioning would have been one of the amenities you’d expect for 11 bucks. No luck. I did get cooled off somewhat when the train jolted and a big splash of water came down on the seat next to me from a leak in the roof. Good thing my attache case is waterproof.

My experience says a lot about Amtrak’s perpetual financial and service delivery problems — another area where stimulus bucks would be well spent to rebuild infrastructure. I’d have to look it up but I suspect other industrialized nations are light (rail) years ahead of the U.S. on mass transit. They recognize public subsidies — not D.C. bean counters looking for a profit – are necessary to keep rail going for enough people to help an economy and save money on fuel. On the rebuilding infrastructure side, Michael Moore’s idea to turn idle car factories into bus and rail production is a common sense idea that policy makers should jump on.

My minor complaints aside, the existing rail service on up to Springfield is an unsupported adjunct for every day commuters or travelers wanting to get up to Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada and find easier connections moving down the Northeast corridor to New York and Washington.

So it’s a good move to get that New Haven-Hartford-Springfield spike up to scale for fast and more convenient rail.

Let’s start a countdown and push for getting it done and hope that the project doesn’t get bogged down as much as the local bus way that we’re still waiting for 10 years after it was proposed.

The Courant’s Rick Green reports The Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail are ahead of us on rail advocacy. They’re circulating a petition to make a CT to Western MA rail corridor a reality. You can sign at

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