May 25, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Get on the train and ride
By Dan Szczesny

I’m going to take the risk of being run out of town on a rail for saying this, but lawmakers in our State House need to look to Massachusetts for inspiration. But then again, in order for me to be run out of town on a rail, a rail would need to exist first.

I know what you are thinking. What can “Taxachusetts” possibly teach us? Well, for starters, Massachusetts legislators have proposed taking two cents of that state’s 21-cents-a-gallon gas tax and using the money for passenger rail service, in this case to extend service from Worcester to Springfield.

It’s a good long-term plan, not just to provide transit options in an age of $3-a-gallon gas, but to create the transportation infrastructure for smart-growth initiatives that will power 21st-century development and economic growth.

But not here. No sir. In New Hampshire, a similar attempt a few years back to divert a small part of our 18-cents-a-gallon gas tax to passenger rail was thwarted when truckers took it to court, insisting that by law the money must be used only for roads, roads, and more roads.

Guess who won? Not us. The ruling went the way of the truckers and it’s now going to be that much harder for passenger rail service to return to the Merrimack Valley. Nashua is scrambling to find matching federal money. As for Manchester or way up here in Concord? There’s still no timetable for rail service and no definitive plans to set one.

The Boston & Maine line had a passenger service that ran from Concord to Boston, but it was discontinued in 1967. The Concord train shed sat where the Capital Shopping Center today lures people for different reasons. Then, in 1980, a passenger service was reinstated for a short time, but two trains a day and a two-hour trip to Boston made that experiment a complete flop. That line was run with federal money and when Reagan came to office he quickly put an end to such things as a frivolous passenger service.

Since then, it’s been all about the automobile. And now, Interstate 93 is scheduled to be widened to eight lanes, a worthy project to be sure, but passenger rail needs to be part of that equation.

In the coming decades, Concord, along with all the major cities along the Merrimack corridor, will prosper to the extent that we can foster links to the outside world and specifically to Boston, a world-class center of business, finance, technology, culture and education. Denying the advantage of our proximity to Boston would be short-sighted.

But we’ll see if our lawmakers feel the same. As long as New Hampshire legislators lack the courage and vision to change the state’s gas tax legislation to allow revenue to be used for mass transit, Concord will never feel the true economic advantage that passenger rail would provide.


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