Rail Back on Track in New Hampshire?

A Look at the Costs Involved

Josh Elliott-Traficante

Yesterday’s approval by the Capital Budget Overview Committee to use Turnpike Credits to help fund a transportation study of the Capitol Corridor has revived hopes of commuter rail in New Hampshire. The Corridor project, if completed in its entirety, would see passenger rail service run from Concord through Manchester and Nashua, continuing south into North Station in Boston.

The project in terms of costs can divided roughly into four segments, totaling roughly $270 million from various sources:

1)      The Study: $4.4 Million

The study itself, the one moved forward Wednesday, will cost $4.4 million and take roughly a year to complete. Of the money being spent, $1.6 million the funds being used would come from from the state, while the balance would come from federal grants. Usually federal CMAQ grants require a state match but a clause in federal highway legislation allows money raised by tolls to be counted as that state’s match, allowing the state to receive the grants. The toll money, however, is not spent on the project itself and remains in the Turnpike Fund.

2)      Capital Costs, Construction: $250 Million

$250 million is a rough estimate of construction costs for the route by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, as part of the latest 10 Year Highway Plan. This would include building roughly half a dozen stations along the route, building a second line in most areas, upgrading the existing one, rehabbing and upgrading countless rail crossings as well as reconstructing and expanding several bridges, including two across the Merrimack River. No funding source has been identified.

3)      Capital Costs, Rolling Stock: $15 Million

What good is a railway without locomotives and passenger coaches? This money would presumably come from the Federal CMAQ program. However, since CMAQ funding is a fixed amount based on the total appropriations the state receives every year, every dollar used for this project, would mean other local public transit projects might go unfunded. Under the current federal highway legislation, $15 million would represent roughly 1½ times the state’s annual CMAQ allocation.

4)      Operating Subsidies for 3 years: $5.25 Million

In addition to the capital costs of constructing the railroad and purchasing rolling stock, passenger rail will need subsidies. Every single regularly scheduled passenger route in the US relies on operating subsidies to run and New Hampshire would be no exception. Under NHDOT estimates, $5.25 Million would be needed over the course of the first three years of operation. Funding for this could also be done with federal CMAQ money.

It should be noted that these estimates do not include future capital expenses as well. While these are projections, they do give a sense of the cost of such a project. In comparison, the amount of money spent on just constructing the route ($250 million), spent elsewhere could fund the rest of the I-93 project from Exit 3 all the way up to Manchester, or it would fund all of the state’s pavement preservation and Red List Bridge needs for the next 10 years.

With more pressing transportation needs facing the state, such the maintenance and replacement of our aging infrastructure, one must ask, is passenger rail the best use of our limited resources?

8 replies
  1. Raymond Pinard says:

    If it requires government subsidies, we can’t afford it, and should not move forward. There are other priorities within our highway system. If it is so attractive why has no one in the private sector come forward to take on this project? Because there is no money in it. This is merely a feel good program.

  2. Steven J. Connolly says:

    What I’m not understanding is how the political support continues for this spending and this capital rail project.

    Namely, the Executive Council which must approve this contact for New Hampshire.

    How much public (voter) support is there for this rail project really.

  3. Conrad says:

    Please, will someone explain the economic merits of creating a passenger rail system in a sparsely populated area such as New Hampshire. I’ve seen a lot of articles that project a growing passenger rail usage, but, those articles (at least the one’s I’ve looked at) contain one-sided views by individuals who will gain fortunes on passenger rail. Governor Rick Scott of Florida, got it right when he turned down the $2.3B in Federal monies to build a high speed passenger rail service between Orlando (the most heavily visited city in the US) and Tampa. How then can a service between Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston sustain itself. The answer is … “It can’t”! Who, then, is left paying the bill … the answer is “The Taxpayer”!

  4. Henry Porter says:

    No, it’s not the best use of resources. It’s not even a good use of resources. In fact it’s a waste of resources. Even in good times, it would be a terrible waste of resources.

    But, you have your numbers wrong. The study was $1.9 million. Last year they wanted $4 million but they were turned down. Construction is $300 million. And the subsidy is over $5 million per year.

    They say the train will carry 440,000 passengers a year. Sounds like a lot until you figure the turnpike carries about 500,000 a week and has NO subsidy.

    Can’t anybody kill this stupid project? Somebody should drive a stake through its heart!

    • Josh Elliott-Traficante says:

      Hi Henry, thanks for your comments. No disagreement here, it would be a terrible waste of money we don’t have. In regards to the numbers, they were early estimates put together by NHDOT.

      We are working on a more indepth analysis of cost estimates done in previous rail studies as well as the experience of the Downeaster in Maine and the numbers would all be much higher than DOT thinks. Your figure for construction is right on the mark, although subsidies would be closer to $10 million.

      The figure reported by the press of $1.9 was incorrect. I had originally put $1.9 for the study cost and was corrected by a member of the committee. He relates “Actually the total cost for the study of the rail corrider is approximately $4.4 million. The $1.6 M approved by the committee, (which would study alternatives to rail) and $2.8 M to study the cost of reestablishing commuter rail and/or improvements for freight rail. The $2.8 would be a combination of federal and state monies – all in cash.”

  5. Conrad says:

    I am certainly not 100% clear on the details of the project but I am willing to assert that someone (or some organization) is making a lot of extra spending money as they attempt to get the rail idea passed. Unfortunately that money even the $4.4M of extra spending money will be coming out of NH taxpayer’s pocketbooks. That is to say nothing about the real costs of creating rail service.

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