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February 12, 2013

Economic boon or waste of precious dollars?

Rail study vote draws mixed response

Some day, passenger trains could be chugging through the Granite State’s southern tier, bringing commuters, tourists and economic development to the state.

Although there’s a limited chance they will be steaming through this area any time soon, some political and business leaders hope the advent of passenger rail will have a trickle-down effect upon Southern New Hampshire.

But that could be years away — if it happens at all.

But some local officials say it’s not worth studying the issue. Commuter rail would be impossible to fund in a state strapped for cash and provided limited economic or transportation benefits, they said.

The Governor’s Executive Council voted, 4-1, Wednesday to invest $3.6 million in a feasibility transit study to see if passenger rail service should be established along the Merrimack River, from the Massachusetts border to Concord.

“It will determine if it makes sense to pursue other options, including rail,” said William Boynton, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“If they determine it is feasible, then you have to determine how to pay for it,” he said.

The study is expected to conclude by December 2014, Boynton said.

URS Corp., one of two Salem companies to bid on the contract, will now begin analyzing whether trains are a viable, cost-effective form of transportation in New Hampshire.

No one from URS could be reached for comment.

Nearly 90 percent of the money for the study comes from federal grants.

Political leaders, including Gov. Maggie Hassan, praised the council’s decision.

“Expanded rail service to Nashua and beyond has the potential to boost New Hampshire’s economy and create jobs,” Hassan said in a statement. “Using federal funds to study the rail project is a commonsense step forward that will allow the people of New Hampshire and their elected leaders to make informed decisions.”

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