Why Is New Hampshire So Passenger Rail Adverse?


Five of New England’s six states have taken a very proactive approach to public transportation. In particular, they have all embraced the idea of upgrading their existing passenger rail lines with an eye towards expanding them. The lone state to shun such thought is New Hampshire.
When the Northern New England Rail Authority was planning a passenger rail route from Boston to Portland, New Hampshire pointedly stated it want no part of it even though the line would run through their state. But as the planning and funding stage turned into preparing the line for passenger service, New Hampshire, somewhat begrudgingly, opted in for stops in Exeter and Dover. It has since added one more station in Durham. Now, many years into the Portland service, all three of those stations have seen considerable use.
In the early 1980s Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, convinced New Hampshire leaders to have a trial run of passenger service to Nashua, Manchester and Concord. Even though the trial was successful and showed promise of growth, New Hampshire declined to fund it any further and the state has resisted all efforts, both within the state itself and by Massachusetts, to re-instated commuter rail to Manchester with stops in Nashua and Merrimack.
The MBTA also more recently made overtures to New Hampshire to extend the Boston to Haverhill line to Plaistow New Hampshire only to be shunned once again. It is impossible to find any rational reasoning behind such rebuffs. Anyone who commutes into Massachusetts using Route 3, 93, or 125, is keenly aware of the traffic nightmare that exists on all three routes. Worse, in the case of route 125 there is no reasonable way to widen the route. Both route 93 and 3 could be widened but at great cost, more than New Hampshire is willing to commit to at present.
Southern New Hampshire’s population is booming as people who work in and around the great Boston area move further out in search of affordable housing. The four counties in southern New Hampshire closest to Boston are Stafford with 125,600 residents, Rockingham with 300,600 residents, Merrimack with 147,200 residents, and Hillsborough with 405,200, a combined total of 978,600 or 74% of all New Hampshire residents. The state itself expects, conservatively, that each of these counties will grow by at least 10% over the next 20 years.
Years ago, the Boston to Montreal route, which passes through Manchester NH was declared a future rail corridor. Research showed that there is likely sufficient number of boardings on this route to create a Boston to Montreal Amtrak route. And while New Hampshire would have to make a significant investment into the project, it would ultimately pay for itself by removing automobiles from its highways while adding revenue to the state via people who live outside New Hampshire visiting the cities along the route. The Maine model has been so successful that not only it added stops to the original route, it has extended the route to Brunswick and is now planning on a second extension to Rockland with further plans for service to Augusta.
With the rail line through Nashua, Manchester and Concord being raised to passenger service levels the state could then enjoy commuter rail service in the same way Rhode Island has with the extension of the Boston to Attleboro route to Providence and T.F. Green Airport. If the state would simply show the willingness, it could immediately extend the Haverhill route to Plaistow and bring immediate relief to the route 125 travelers.
Another example of two states cooperating in such efforts is Connecticut and Massachusetts who are now actively pursuing and extension of commuter rail traffic from Hartford to Springfield and Greenfield Massachusetts. And Vermont of actively working to reinstate service to Montreal from Burlington using the existing New York to Burlington Amtrak route.
Five states see the benefit of pro-actively working on extending and expanding passenger rail service within their states. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand New Hampshire’s continuing abhorrence of passenger rail service. I suspect, and hope, that with the continued pressure for rail service expansion in the Northeast, the near future will see the state finally join what has proven extremely desirable and successful for its neighboring states.

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