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Privately funded passenger rail pitched for southern NH

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

September 24. 2017 9:46PM
Boston Surface Railroad Company of Rhode Island is hoping to bring privately funded passenger rail service from Bedford to Worcester, Mass. (Kimberly Houghton/Correspondent)

NASHUA — Boston Surface Railroad Company of Rhode Island is in the early stages of planning to bring privately funded passenger rail service from Bedford to Worcester, Mass., with potential stops in Nashua and Lowell, Mass.

City officials will be presented with a proposal on Tuesday to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the railroad company and the other communities to promote and facilitate the plan.

“If Nashua provided a station, we would be happy to stop there,” said Vincent Bono, president of Boston Surface Railroad Company, adding the project would be privately funded, and likely utilize a loan from the Railroad Reinvestment and Improvement Fund.

His company is in the process of bringing commuter rail from Worcester, Mass., to Providence, R.I., and has already secured station rights in Worcester and entered into a long-term lease to own the historic train station in Woonsocket, R.I.

Although BSRC did not plan on pursuing a New Hampshire rail plan for about a decade, Bono said the political climate has called for his company to explore the option now.

“I really think that intercity passenger rail should be privately run,” he said. “If the stars all aligned, I would be ecstatic if we could have a train running in four years.”

He admits that the process will be long, and the price tag has not yet been determined. Venture capital, private funds and the government loan program would be utilized, according to Bono, who said the municipalities involved will not have to fork over any money, but will need to commit to a private-public partnership with the railroad company.

“One of the benefits to being privately funded is that there is not a lot of input the state or local government has on what we can and can’t do,” said Bono, adding he can use reconditioned equipment and existing train tracks to help make the proposal feasible.

The initial proposal includes a train stop adjacent to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on property located in Bedford, with a stop in Lowell, Mass., and ending in Worcester, he said.

The first phase of the project does not include a stop in Nashua; however, Bono stressed that if the Gate City builds a train stop, it would be happy to stop there.

Mayor Jim Donchess said the proposal is an ideal way to help build a stronger economy for Nashua, adding the city-owned Crown Street parcel could easily be converted into a train stop; it is the only area in the city that has 800 feet of straight track in the downtown area.

“We would like to get this thing going as soon as possible,” said Donchess, who is presenting the memorandum of understanding to aldermen on Tuesday. It will then be assigned to an aldermanic committee for further review before a recommendation is made to the full Board of Aldermen.

Donchess said the BSRC needs municipal involvement to secure a loan to progress with the project. BSRC approached Donchess several months ago, and they have been in preliminary discussions ever since.

While the government wants to stimulate growth, Bono said his model is primarily commuter-focused, and only captures revenue at the farebox.

He said there is formula grant money that could be available to Nashua if the project moves forward and BSRC reports its miles through the city. That money can be used to build roads or future train stations in Nashua, he said.

Bono said he hopes to be profitable less than five years after operations begin. BSRC, housed in Woonsocket, was founded in 2012 with a mission to provide passenger rail service between underserved cities with moderate to dense cross commuter traffic, according to its website.

It is now in the hands of aldermen to decide whether to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the railroad company. Although the agreement is not intended to be legally binding, it does promote and facilitate entering into a future binding agreement for passenger rail service between Bedford and Worcester.

Under the proposed agreement, BSRC will develop and deliver a plan to establish passenger rail services to the communities, obtain federal regulatory approval for the plan, issue Nashua and the other communities 1 percent of the overall Series A Common stock of BSRC and give Nashua a seat at the Financial Oversight Committee.

If supported, Nashua would own 1 percent of BSRC, according to Donchess, who said the city would work to support promotion and development of the plan.

khoughton@newstote.com


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