If you have ever had to ride the CT Transit 913 Storrs to Hartford Express bus, you may know how much of a hassle it is to leave the campus to find a way to a public transportation terminal like Hartford Union Station. Problems range from simply not having enough seats on rush hour buses – such as those leaving campus on a Friday afternoon – to literally having cows on the highway that almost cause you to miss your connecting train such as what happened to me a few weeks ago.
The 913 is basically our only connection to Hartford, unless you have a car or ride the Peter Pan bus on certain days. For many, including myself, who take trains to get home on the weekend, this journey to Union Station adds over an hour of time to a journey that could take closer to 25-35 minutes by a train line linking Storrs to Hartford.
This idea has been floated a number of times over the past few years, with some proposing a $376 million train line reclamation project to a new $136 billion train line linking Storrs to Hartford and Boston.
While connecting Storrs to Boston by train seems to be a little off the charts, a Storrs to Hartford rail connection is a necessary step to better connect the University of Connecticut Storrs campus to a major city. The $376 million train proposal would connect UConn from South to North rather than East to West while the $136 billion proposal seems a little too ambitious for the current climate.
The Storrs to Hartford connection is the best idea at the moment. Just think about the benefits it would provide to our campus, the most important of which would come directly to the students. This would include those who want to have an easier commute to Hartford due to being commuter students or students at the Hartford campus who take classes here at Storrs. Students would also benefit from this proposal as those, like me, who enjoy a trip home on the weekends, would have better and more direct access to Hartford Union Station to board connecting trains to either Massachusetts or the Northeast Corridor.
Now many of you might be wondering, how would this line be economically sustainable even with increased ridership due to the use of U-Passes on these trains? The answer mostly stems from one word: athletics. The wonderful athletics of UConn have drawn in sold out crowds all over campus for such events as the men’s or women’s basketball playoff games. People who would traditionally drive to UConn, would be able to purchase a $6-$10 ticket each way to Storrs and back to Hartford. When you think about the 3,000 to 5,000 people who might make the trek to watch the games here, revenue numbers could range a little below or within the six-digit range. This line serves as an important connection point from our campus to the outside. The people would be bussed from this proposed train station to Gampel Pavilion and vice versa on a frequent basis during game times.
People would also be able to use this service to visit current students. Further, prospective students would better be able to check campus out in person. Moreover, people could come enjoy the Dairy Bar or admire the amazing fall foliage. Running frequent trains, about every 30 minutes to an hour, would be most beneficial to allow a wide range of schedules to be accommodated, especially during the school year. During the summer break and other seasonal breaks, train service could be drastically reduced to save money and for train maintenance.
It must be said that there have not been any studies done that find a direct cost for a Hartford to Storrs connection, but if one takes into consideration the $1-2 million per mile track cost with all the labor, environmental studies, bureaucracy, delays and such, it would likely cost around $500 million to $800 million. A state-funded rail system such as CT Rail would be a good operator of this new line.
Further, this exact track once existed between Mansfield and Hartford. It seems as though this train track was abandoned sometime in the late 20th century and was turned into a hiking trail called the “Hop River State Park Trail”. The trees around the trail still retain the trimmed shape that the railroad gave them back when coal fired engines posed a fire threat to low hanging branches. The fact that this connection has existed before proves that this is once again doable.
This could be nothing but a multi-year to decade or more long project, and it will no doubt be expensive, but it is a necessity that neither UConn nor the state can pass on to keep moving the school into the future. The next stop on the track of success for UConn is the creation of an on-campus train station!