N.H. House Hears Testimony On Commuter Rail Study Funding

May 22, 2019

Amtrak's Downeaster arriving at the Exeter train stop.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Backers of a plan to bring commuter rail to Nashua and Manchester say it’s finally time for the state to accept federal funds to complete a study of a potential train line.

Lawmakers are considering a bill, SB 241, that would use the funds to study the environmental, engineering and financial costs of a train line connecting the "capital corridor" with Massachusetts.

“A good businessman realizes that he needs to spend a little bit of money in order to reap the benefits of return. This is one of those projects,” said Rep. Michael O’Brien, a Democrat from Nashua, during a hearing in the House Public Works Committee on Wednesday.

Supporters of rail argue that it would help draw in younger residents and be a boost to businesses that are struggling to find enough local employees.

Opponents of commuter rail--including many Republicans--consider rail an inefficient public transportation system, and argue the state would be better off investing in roads and buses.

“I like trains myself, but it is an outmoded mode of transportation that is just not reasonable, not cost effective. That's why there’s always subsidies and so forth,” said Bridgewater resident Aubry Freedman, an apparent automobile lover who testified against the bill while wearing a black leather jacket emblazoned with a Pontiac Trans Am logo on the back.

The bill cleared the Senate earlier this session on a 14-10 party line vote. Similar bills to accept federal funds to study commuter rail have been shot down in recent years.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, has evolved on the topic of commuter rail. While he called the proposed train line a $350 million “boondoggle” during his first campaign, Sununu included a commuter rail line in the state’s pitch to Amazon to build its new headquarters in Londonderry.

Though Amazon didn’t select New Hampshire, state Senator Melanie Levesque, a Democrat and prime sponsor of SB 241, said the state should be willing to invest in rail to lure other businesses.

“There will be more companies like Amazon looking at our state, and we need to be ready,” she told lawmakers.