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Congresswoman Annie Kuster hosts a roundtable discussion about passenger rail on Friday at Nashua Community College. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

Creative ways to finance rail in NH pushed

NASHUA — Congresswoman Annie Kuster said Friday that New Hampshire’s rail corridor project could possibly benefit from a public-private partnership, which might offset the expense to taxpayers.

While meeting with state and local officials to discuss passenger rail, Kuster highlighted a proposed bill by Congressman John Delaney of Maryland titled the Partnership to Build America Act.

If approved, the legislation would finance $750 billion in infrastructure investment through the creation of a loan fund encouraging public-private partnerships.

With estimates hovering around $200 million to implement rail transit from Nashua to Concord, Kuster said Delaney’s proposal, which she is sponsoring, could leverage private investments to finance public works projects such as rail.
“The New Hampshire rail corridor would be a really great project for that,” said Kuster. “It is a really great concept.”

When discussing economic opportunities with businesses in southern New Hampshire, the topic always comes back to transportation, specifically rail, said Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau agreed, saying freight and commuter rail is important to the high tech future of not only Nashua, but the entire state.

“I think we are laying the groundwork for some of that important stuff,” said Lozeau, mentioning an initiative to create a new, exit 36 south at the border with Tyngsborough, Mass., which could serve as a multimodal transportation hub.
In addition, the city recently purchased land on Crown Street for a park-and-ride facility and possibly, in the future, a train station.

“People in New Hampshire have to see it work in a piece of the state,” said Lozeau, adding once other communities notice the benefits of rail in Nashua, they may be more inclined to support the infrastructure. “If we could be a model for what could happen, that could be pretty remarkable.”Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, said there are many opportunities in the state to upgrade existing rail lines. The state is in a remarkable position to make itself more competitive with rail, passenger freight, airport and bus service, he said. Others, including state Sen. Peggy Gilmour, said there is still some resistance from state leadership with a “definite anti-rail bias.”
A strategic planning process and educational element must be in place to get business leaders and the entire state to understand the economic benefits of rail, Gilmour said.

“You have got to be a little more inventive,” said Tom Mahon, chairman of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, who said the political will must be in place for rail to succeed.
While a proposed infrastructure fund created with private investments may seem good on paper, Mahon said it would not work to finance rail in the Granite State.

“I hate to rain on the parade,” said Mahon, explaining an infrastructure bank works best when a government entity owns the property. In this case, Pan Am owns the railbed, he said.
“You have got to own the property in order to leverage it,” added Mahon.

“I am not suggesting it is simple,” said Kuster.

She said New Hampshire is often successful at private-public partnerships and she believes the financing issue could be overcome to make rail feasible in the state.

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