Raimondo won’t support high-speed train plan through South County

A rendering form the Federal Railroad Administration shows a potential route for a new segment of track through Charlestown.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of Charlestown residents and others made the trek Wednesday afternoon up to the Rhode Island State House to rally against a plan to build a new high-speed rail service going through South County neighborhoods.

Virginia Lee, Charlestown Council President said the rail service’s impact would be harmful: “How much it’s going to cost in money, in farms, and people’s houses and conservation lands and trails that people come in from all over the state and water supplies, it’s going to go right through Westerly’s municipal water supplies,” she said.

Gov. Gina Raimondo heard the concerns from rally speakers, and announced that she would not be supporting the Rhode Island portion of the proposal from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In a statement, she said, “I share the Charlestown community’s concerns about quality-of-life implications, environmental threats and historic preservation, and until these important issues are resolved I will not support the Rhode Island portion of the ‘Old Saybrook  Kenyon Bypass’ section of the FRA’s proposal.”

While she said she stands by Charlestown, she was still “very pleased that Providence is included as a major hub of the line, which promises to have a significant positive impact on the state’s quality of life and our economy.”

The proposed bypass would run from Old Saybrook, Conn., to the village of Kenyon, R.I., in Richmond.

In December, residents were shocked to hear of the plan, one of several considered since 2014, according to the FRA, to overhaul the Northeast Corridor (NEC). One plan would have gone around Rhode Island altogether and taken trains through Worcester, Springfield and Hartford. Democrat U.S. Sen. Jack Reed was among local leaders who spoke out against omitting Rhode Island. He also pushed to have the period for public input extended.

Lee did agree with Raimondo and Reed; “we want new, fast transit to Providence,” she said, but not if it hurts treasured spaces.

Maps of the new route showing where the new rail line might go are “illustrative,” and the “real” locations would be determined in fresh studies, according to the FRA’s notes. Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation agreed in a statement December 23, calling for “additional study before anything moves forward.”