- The state has applied for $12.1 million in federal stimulus money to make improvements to the Providence and Worcester railroad network that operates between Plainfield and Willimantic. Seen here is a railroad crossing at Route 203 in South Windham.
WILLIMANTIC — Gov. M. Jodi Rell has applied for $12.1 million in stimulus funding through the federal American Recover Reinvestment Act of 2009, part of which will improve local freight train use.
Specifically, the grant is through the act’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant.
If the state is awarded the funding, Rell plans to use the money to make improvements to the Providence and Worcester freight rail network.
Locally, improvements would be made to the 21 miles of rail that runs from Plainfield to Willimantic.
Officials said the improvements would not include new safety gates at the railroad crossing on Route 203 in South Windham.
Proposed improvements include rail replacement and tie installation to increase potential operating speeds from 10 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.
“Connecticut has actively and aggressively sought every Recovery Act funding opportunity available to strengthen our economy, move forward strategic initiatives and, most importantly, put people back to work,” Rell said.
State officials speculate 2,000 jobs would be created if Connecticut receives the funding.
Rell said, “these transportation projects hit dead center on all of those goals — furthering long-term, statewide transportation initiatives while bolstering local and regional economies.”
The proposed improvements are meant to fix the “brittle” and “worn-out” rail line, said Providence and Worcester President Scott Conti this morning.
Conti said the existing rail has been in existence for approximately 100 years and needs replacing.
Currently, rail and state officials have been funding the maintenance of the tracks, but those are costly — and temporary — improvements, he said.
Proposed enhancements and improvements should last between 50 and 100 years, said Conti.
Safety measures would not be improved at any rail crossings, said state officials.
Conti said the state usually works with the rail company to fund those expensive systems. He said a railroad crossing complete with gates and lights could cost up to $300,000 each.
According to Conti, the proposed increases in speed would only be for rural, farmland-esque areas the rail travels through.
He said areas surrounding the Willimantic and Plainfield rail yards have a 10 mph speed limit.
Although Conti said larger crossing gates and signs are usually reserved for major intersections, the smaller lights do not always warn motorists enough of an oncoming train.
In June 2007, former state Rep. Walter. Pawelkiewicz, D-Windham, said funds for the gates had been included in the state budget for the state Department of Transportation.
In 2008, Pawelkiewicz said the order for the gates had been placed in October 2007, but that they would take 12 months before they would be installed, which would have been October 2008.
Pawelkiewicz said the gates had to be “special ordered” and custom made and that standard train gates with arms could not be installed.
The P&W railroad, however, has fought the installation.
“They definitely need the gates,” said Town Engineer Joseph Gardner in 2008, adding that the train company has to have flaggers get off the train and physically stop traffic. “At least they’re (the gates) coming,” he said.
“As long as it’s working, nobody’s been calling to complain,” he said, adding that as long as the rail line continues to employ flaggers, “it’s fine with us.”
The DOT has been required to install advance-warning signs to notify residents of an upcoming crossing and state police have been requested to more strictly enforce the 35 mph speed limit near the crossing.
P&W resumed service on the 15.02-mile line from Willimantic to Plainfield that had been dormant for nearly two decades in March 2007.
Gates at any rail crossing act as an extra warning for motorists.
On Sept. 3, Rick Cima, 18, of Plainfield died when his pickup truck was struck by a Providence and Worcester train that had just left the Plainfield train yard.
The Lillibridge Road crossing was only indicated with a system of flashing lights.
According to Judd Everhart, the state DOT’s director of communications, the lights indicating a train was coming were working properly at the time of the accident.
Conti said the funding is not guaranteed, but state and rail officials are hopeful they will be approved for the funding.
“We’re cautiously optimistic we’ll get some (funding),” he said, adding if the funding is approved it would take two “construction seasons” to finish the improvements.