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?