New Business Coalition To Push For Commuter Rail In New Hampshire

Jan 30, 2018

Credit NHPR File Photo

The president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce says he's encouraged by Gov. Chris Sununu's support for studying commuter rail expansion.

Michael Skelton now hopes state lawmakers follow suit. He will not be alone.

A new business coalition, “New Hampshire Business for Rail Expansion,” was unveiled Tuesday to advocate for restoring passenger train service from Boston to Manchester. Skelton first mentioned it while speaking on The Exchange on Tuesday.

More than 50 businesses have joined it. The group’s first push is to promote the inclusion of a $4 million study of rail expansion along the state’s Capitol Corridor as part of the state’s ten-year transportation improvement plan.

On The Exchange, Skelton says Sununu, who previously called passenger rail a “boondoggle,” embraced a closer look at the viability of passenger trains after the state submitted its long-shot bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

New Hampshire has its advantages, but mass transit is not one of them, Skelton says.

He says companies looking to grow or relocate to New Hampshire cite workforce availability as a key concern.

"Our belief is that creating a stronger connection with the greater Boston area and building that talent pipeline is going to really continue to unlock significant economic opportunities for us,” he says.

Rail has proven a thorny subject in New Hampshire politics. Drew Cline, interim president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, said on The Exchange that free-market politicians are opposed to government subsidizing train service.

“Rail is the transportation version of a vanity project. It’s transportation bling, right,” Cline said. “It’s really a status symbol. It is not a cost-effective transportation option. It’s not a cost-effective means of moving people. Hedge fund managers, right, they buy Italian sports cars. Hip hop artists buy bullet-proof, big, black luxury SUVs, and governments buy rail projects. It’s a status symbol.”

A House committee will be taking up the state's proposed 10-year plan, starting Wednesday.