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As Infrastructure Deal Looms in D.C., N.H. Eyes Long-Discussed Commuter Rail Expansion

photo of Mayor Craig and Congressman Pappas near the railroad tracks in Manchester
Todd Bookman/NHPR
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Mayor Craig and Congressman Pappas near the proposed site of a train platform in Manchester.

Officials from Amtrak were in the state Monday looking to build support for a proposed commuter train linking Boston, Manchester and Concord.

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During an event at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Congressman Chris Pappas and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig hailed the project as a worthwhile investment that will help spur development along the proposed route.

Rail advocates envision a spur linking Boston with Nashua, the Manchester-Boston Regional airport and downtown Manchester, with a platform just beyond the right-field wall at the Fisher Cats home stadium. Ultimately, backers of the project would like to see the line reach Concord.

“This is a project that continues to bubble from the bottom up here in New Hampshire,” Pappas said.

The pending infrastructure bill in Congress includes $66 billion worth of funding for Amtrak. If approved, the funding for individual projects including the New Hampshire line would be administered through grant programs.

map showing proposed platform near Delta Dental Stadium
City of Manchester
A map showing the recommended train platform near the right field wall of Delta Dental Stadium as one of two entry points.

Both the project’s timeline and final price tag remain unknown.

“The map of the Amtrak system, does not look a whole lot different than it did when we were founded in 1971,” Ray Lang, a vice president at Amtrak, told officials. “And we think that needs to change.”

Amtrak forecasts travel time between Boston and Manchester at 1 hour and 35 minutes. The 70-mile trip between Concord and Boston is forecast to take 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Craig pointed to a recent analysis in the New York Times that found Manchester has the tenth highest rate of “supercommuters” in the country, with more than 3.7% of workers travelling more than 90 minutes each way for employment.

The overall number of supercommuters grew by 43 percent between 2010-2019, the analysis found.

“It feels like we are closer than ever before,” Craig said about the proposed rail project.

“Our community needs more public transportation options, and that’s why this conversation and the reality of rail is so important right now.”

That urgency was echoed by business representatives, including Michael Skelton with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

“There is tremendous demand here,” he said. “The business community wants this project, and they’ve wanted it for a long time.”

The state is also currently examining a proposed extension of the MBTA line from Lowell to Manchester, including cost and environmental impacts, with a targeted completion date for the study in 2023. 

The federal infrastructure proposal also envisions extending the Amtrak Downeaster’s service to Rockland, Maine. The Downeaster makes three stops along New Hampshire’s Seacoast, offering five round trips daily to Boston’s North Station.