State officials tour new Wallingford train station construction site

State officials tour new Wallingford train station construction site


WALLINGFORD — Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman braved the frigid weather Tuesday for an update from transportation officials on the town’s new train station, set to open in May 2017.

The new opening date is another switch in the New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail timeline, which was recently set back from 2016 to January 2018. Most of the setbacks and cost overruns stem from Amtrak’s failure to manage budgeting and staffing, according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The administration has since secured promises from Amtrak in return for additional funding to complete upgrades and double-tracking. The agreement includes a spending cap and deadline for completion.

But delays in the Wallingford project come from small issues arising during the double-tracking of the rail line. For instance, work near the plaza housing Holiday Cinemas Stadium 14 and other businesses was slowed to repair a culvert.

Construction at the corner of Parker and North Cherry streets has been ongoing for several months and two steel towers stand in the center of the lot. The towers will hold the elevator shaft, a staircase and a pedestrian bridge that crosses the elevated platform at the rear of the station. A 221-space paid parking lot is in the works.

Last month, the State Bond Commission unanimously approved borrowing $174 million for projects related to transportation improvements, including $155 million for the commuter rail project and $12 million to upgrade four locomotives. The additional funding brings the project cost to $643 million.

Transportation officials hope to shave six minutes from the average 30-minute train commute from Wallingford to Hartford, by double-tracking and reconfiguring curves along the route. Meriden and Berlin are also getting new train stations at roughly the same price tag.

A new $24 million station was needed in Wallingford because the town’s existing station at Quinnipiac Street and Hall Avenue could not accommodate the elevated platforms and overhead pedestrian bridge. The double tracking would also interfere with the two intersections, state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker told Wyman.

The proposed train station parking lot is a short walk to downtown, he said. The train stations are basically enclosures to protect against weather and wind and will have no toilets or heat.

The roadbeds are prepared for the track and work will start in the southern area of town and work its way north to Meriden, where double-tracking is underway. A staging area for separating construction materials is in the Sonic parking lot on Route 5.

Wyman questioned Redeker and assistant rail administrator John Bernick about the neighboring businesses and homes and the prospect for improved economic development in the area around the station.

“The area is really primed for development,” Bernick said, looking around at the multi-family houses behind him on North Cherry Street. “There is a lot of underutilized property here.”

The town is formulating a transit-oriented district that will focus on residential development in the area surrounding the new train station, similar to one in Meriden.

Wallingford has seven gate crossings. Each will be fitted with quad-gates that have four arms instead of two to prevent track jumping. The trains will be able to reach speeds of up to 80 mph until the Toelles Road crossing, where they will likely slow down to 40 mph to 60 mph through town. From Meriden and Berlin to Hartford the trains will run 80 to 90 mph.

State DOT officials also updated Wyman, state Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, and state Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, on the rail line’s progress. The line will be double-tracked from New Haven to Hartford by 2018, allowing for 18 trains between those two cities. Double-tracking will continue to Springfield once engineers design the Interstate 84 crossover, and train service will double to 12 trains a day.

“2016 was always an ambitious goal,” Bernick said. “There is a lot of little things that need to be done.”

Wyman praised the project for providing commuters with more transportation options.

Fasano backs total investment in the rail project as an economic development driver for the state and the Northeast.

“Improving transportation is key to enhancing economic development and quality of life across the state,” Fasano said last month. “Although we’ve seen serious issues with times and costs related to this project, I am hopeful that Amtrak will follow through with their promises and assurances that the job will get done and tax payer dollars won’t be squandered.”

Shaving minutes off the trip is secondary to more flexible scheduling, he said.

“It’s not a question of saving the six minutes,” Fasano ssid. “It’s the convenience of having more trains.” 203-317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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