High-speed, high-frequency commuter trains are running today between Springfield, Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut. There are high hopes the new service will take cars off congested highways and spur economic growth.
The new Hartford Line was a big hit over the weekend when travel was offered for free and 10,000 people came onboard. The Connecticut Department of Transportation, which operates the new service called CTrail, had to turn people away Sunday afternoon when the train cars reached capacity.
It was a great beginning for all the rail boosters who insisted the $760 million in taxpayers’ money spent to build the new line would be worth it and convince more people to ditch their cars when traveling for business, or recreation.
Waiting to take a bus out of Springfield’s Union Station Friday, Cathy Kruzel of Southampton, called the new rail service “exciting.”
" Just for the convenience ,and I must say, the romance of traveling by train appeals to me," said Kruzel.
Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber, said the new rail service will improve commerce between Massachusetts and Connecticut and expand tourism on both sides of the border.
" I personally am really excited about taking the train to Hartford to go out to dinner and see a baseball game without having to worry about driving and parking, " said Creed.
A survey of employers in both states conducted for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission said increasing the labor pool would be the chief benefit of the new commuter line.
"We are all struggling with finding qualified and highly-skilled workers and this will open up that pool of resources," Creed said.
The arrival of CTrail service is a major expansion for Union Station in Springfield, which has operated primarily as a bus terminal since it reopened a year ago following a $95 million restoration.
The trains are projected to bring 1,800-2,000 new people a day through the historic station.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city is rolling out the red carpet for people to commute by train by offering a $5 daily fee and a $65 monthly pass to park in the Union Station garage.
" It also sends a message of a can-do atitude as we continue to pursue east-west rail and connecting Boston to Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield and New York," said Sarno.
The redevelopment of Union Station into a transportation hub after it had been closed for decades was seen as a further catalyst for growth in Springfield’s downtown, where the $950 million MGM casino is scheduled to open just a few blocks away later this summer.
Chris Moskal, executive director of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority -- which owns Union Station -- points to the construction of new apartments and the expansion of a medical office building nearby as evidence the spinoff is already occurring.
"Clearly we are seeing as Worcester has and New Haven and Hartford have the spin off all around the terminal building," said Moskal.
Connecticut Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Anna Berry said Friday the state has seen $400 million in commercial and residential development near the stations along the Hartford Line.