Knowledge Corridor to Gain Boost as More Frequent Rail Runs Through It

For years, the tag line has been “innovation runs through it.”  In the coming year, there will also be more frequent rail service running through it, and that may make all the difference in the world. When proponents of economic development in what’s known as “New England’s Knowledge Corridor” get together for a conference this fall, it will be with the backdrop of the three anchor cities that span two states – New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield – being more connected than ever, with the start of the new regular rail service between the cities just months away.

The half-day conference, “Leveraging the Knowledge Corridor’s Transportation Assets and Investments to Drive Economic Progress,” will be held at Union Station in Springfield on October 18.  It will serve as the coalition’s 2017 “State of the Region” conference.

The keynote speaker will be Robert Puentes, President/CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation.  Panelists will include five members of Congress from the region:  Richard Neal and James McGovern from Massachusetts and John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, and Elizabeth Esty from Connecticut.

Plans also include talks by Connecticut Commissioner of Transportation James Redeker and his counterpart in the Bay State, Stephanie Pollack, Secretary/CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.  Officials also anticipate releasing the results of the 2017 New England Knowledge Corridor Business Survey.

"In the Knowledge Corridor, we’re convinced that the transportation assets we have; new ones that will be coming online in the  next year or two, plus; those we are planning to see realized over a longer range time line constitute the bedrock of a competitive 21st century economy that enables ready and affordable access to skilled workers, attractive markets and motivated consumers on a global scale," Tim Brennan, Chairman of New England Knowledge Corridor Partnership and Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, told CT by the Numbers.

On Monday, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that a joint venture of TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts has been selected as the service provider that will operate and manage service on the Hartford Line – which is expected to launch in May 2018.

Work is continuing throughout the summer, including grade crossing upgrades in Wallingford this month, as part of the overall upgrade of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line – now branded as the CTrail Hartford Line, with expanded service scheduled to being in 2018, according to transportation officials.  Last month, construction in Meriden and Windsor included track construction upgrades.

New England’s Knowledge Corridor is an interstate partnership of regional economic development, planning, business, tourism and educational institutions that work together to advance the region’s economic progress. The region “transcends political boundaries,” officials point out, and it comprises the Hartford, Springfield and New Haven metro areas and is centered on seven counties in the two states, underscoring the area’s “rich tradition of inventions, research and higher education.”

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program is a partnership between the State of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.  The goal is to provide those living, working or traveling between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield with high speed rail service equal to the nation’s best rail passenger service, officials emphasize.

The Hartford Line will act as a regional link with connections to existing rail services, including Metro-North, Shoreline East, and Amtrak Acela high-speed rail services on both the New Haven Line to New York and on the Northeast Corridor to New London and Boston. There will also be direct bus connections to the Bradley Airport Flyer and to CTfastrak.  With a heightened level of direct and connecting service linking the region, the hope is that towns along the future Hartford Line will become magnets for growth – ideal places to live and to relocate businesses that depend on regional markets and travel.

All of which dovetails perfectly with the “selling points” routinely used to promote the Corridor:

  • Academic Powerhouse – One of the country’s highest academic concentrations and largest capacities for research, with 41 colleges and universities and 215,000 students
  • Exceptional Achievement – Consistently among the nation’s top 10 in percentage of the population with advanced degrees, science-engineering doctorates and new patents registered
  • Big, Concentrated Market – The nation’s 20th largest metro region, with over 2.77 million people, is comparable to Denver and St. Louis, but with twice their population density, which means ready access to labor and consumers
  • Large Workforce – A labor force of 1.34 million, 50% larger than the Charlotte metro area
  • Business Hub – 64,000 businesses – 60 percent more than the Austin metro

"Providing frequent, reliable, commuter rail service connecting New Haven-Hartford-Springfield, the three major cities that anchor the Knowledge Corridor and its over 2.7 million people, will be nothing short of a game changer enabling the cross border region’s to reach its potential as an economic powerhouse within New England while simultaneously linking it to the white hot economies found in the Boston and New York City mega regions," Brennan added.

The CTrail Hartford Line rail service will operate at speeds up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to as little as 81 minutes. Travelers at New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Springfield will be able to board trains approximately every 30 minutes during the peak morning and evening rush hour and hourly during the rest of day, with direct or connecting service to New York City and multiple frequencies to Boston or Vermont (via Springfield).  New train stations also are in various stages of development in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford and Enfield.

Also, very much a part of the strengthening transportation options with the potential to spur economic development is Bradley International Airport, which recently has added international flights on Aer Lingus (last year) and Norwegian Air (last month) and a direct-to-San Francisco route via United Airlines.

Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin A. Dillon said the aim is to “build on Bradley’s strengths and continue our focus to deliver more convenience and connectivity for our region.  Flying to Europe from Bradley has never been easier and more affordable.”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) conducted a bidding process and cost-benefit analysis for the Hartford Line program and selected TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts, which are forming a joint venture solely for the purpose of serving the Hartford Line. This marks the first time that CTDOT has been able to select and contract with an experienced service provider for a major transportation program, a more cost-efficient alternative to the agency creating a separate internal unit and hiring employees to manage the Hartford Line, according to state officials.

Connecticut “Ideas Worth Spreading” Resonate in Massachusetts in TED Talks

TED came to Springfield, Massachusetts this month with a decidedly Connecticut flavor, as a quarter of the featured speakers offering “ideas worth spreading,” hailed from the “still revolutionary” state.

Of the 16 “TED talks” on the agenda during a day-long program sponsored by and held at the headquarters of Mass Mutual, four of the speakers were from Connecticut, and left the specially selected audience intrigued, impressed and inspired.

keishaWell known worldwide, TED is a nonprofit which began decades ago with a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become considerably broader, and “TED Talks” – widely available on the web – have become a global phenomenon, watched by tens of millions.

TED conferences “bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives.”  That’s precisely what occurred at TEDx in Springfield, where in addition to speakers touting the possibilities for that post-industrial urban center, a wide array of innovative subjects were featured under the theme “Driving innovation through diversity and inclusion.”

The Connecticut quartet at TEDx Springfield:

  • Keisha Ashe is co-founder and CEO of ManyMentors, a nonprofit science, technology, engineering and math STEM) mentoring organization that connects minority and female middle and high school students with encouraging and suppormaureen connolly phototing near-age mentors in the STEM fields.  “If they never know, they’ll never go,” is the guiding phrase of the initiative, reflecting the fact that many women and minority students are not encouraged to pursue the STEM fields, and are often unaware of the career potential or their own aptitude for the STEM careers.  Ashe is a Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Engineering at UConn.
  • Maureen Connolly is an event planning professional with extensive national and international experience across diverse markets, and a visionary and passionate leader skilled at creating high impact programs with measurable results.  She is the foremost advocate for utilizing public celebrations as a means of extending social capital by having the community, rather than the event, at the core of planning.  She has written on the enduring transformational potential of public celebrations, and offers that “now is the time to harness that collective energy and accumulated social capital as a catalyst for social change” that will develop collaborations with the potential to breathe new life into hard-pressed cities.david ryan polgar
  • David Ryan Polgar is a Connecticut-based writer/attorney/educator and highly regarded tech ethicist who speaks on the topics of information overload, digital diets, and creativity.  He is an award-winning columnist for Seasons magazine, and has been featured in national media. Polgar speaks and writes about the ethical, legal, sociological, and emotional issues surrounding our relationship to technology.  He has created a “Mental Food Plate” as an approach to achieving deeper levels of thinking, and explores the imperative for an industry to develop that will serve as a counterbalance to the burgeoning technologies that “we can’t stop consuming.”
  • Jon Thomas is the founder of Tap Cancer Out, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu nonprofit and host of the most philanthropic martial arts events in the world.  Jon Thomas and his wife Becky run the Stratford-based nonprofit “in the slivers of spare time between their jobs in advertising.”  The nonprofit was founded out of a desire to respond to the devastation of cancer through a sport that Thomas was deeply involved with.  The organization raises funds – all donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - through hosting fundraising tournaments, direct donations, merchandise sales and sponsorships.tap cancer out

The TED website points out that “TED is best thought of as a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world.”  TEDx Springfield was organized by Jae Junkunc of Hartford, from Mass Mutual's Enterprise Risk Management Group, with support of a 15-member team that developed the program over six months.

TED includes the award-winning TED Talks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize. The TEDx program gives communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experTEDx logoiences at the local level. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently.

A TEDx session in Hartford in June included talks by David Fink of Partnership for Strong Communities, Steven Mitchell of East Coast Greenway, Donna Berman of Charter Oak Cultural Center, and Rich Hollant of CO:LAB, among sixteen local speakers.

Amtrak ridership breaks all-time records, local corridor sees increase

Amtrak ridership increased in the first six months of fiscal year 2013, with ridership in March setting a record as the single best month ever in Amtrak’s history.  Ridership grew 0.9 percent from October 2012 to March compared to the prior year, despite disruptions from weather, including Superstorm Sandy.  Amtrak said 26 of 45 routes had rider increases during the period and monthly records were set in October, December and January. Ridership on the New Haven – Springfield shuttle grew from 33,196 in March 2012 to 36,962 in March 2013, an increase of 11.3 percent.  Ridership from October 2012 through March 2013 grew by 5.2 percent from the same period a year earlier.  The Acela Express ridership dropped off slightly amid the record-breaking numbers, likely due to service interruptions due to Superstorm Sandy, down 2.5 percent last month compared with a year ago.NHHS

The numbers are encouraging as plans continue to move forward for dramatic improvements and expansions of service on the 62-mile New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) corridor in the coming years.  Amtrak is continuing the installation of underground signal and communication cables, required to upgrade signal and communication systems for the NHHS rail corridor.

Work this month is scheduled in Newington, Hartford and Windsor.  The NHHS rail service project will connect communities, generate sustainable economic growth, help build energy independence, and provide links to travel corridors and markets beyond the region, officials say.

The new NHHS rail service will operate at speeds of up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to just 78 minutes. When the new service is launched in 2016, travelers at New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor, Windsor Locks, and Springfield will board trains hourly during the peak morning and evening rush hours and every 90 minutes during off-peak periods. When all the planned improvements are completed, trains will operate every 30 minutes during peak periods. The full program also includes future, amtrak1new train stations at North Haven, Newington, West Hartford, and Enfield.

Nationally, long-distance routes with ridership growth in the October-to-March period included the New York City to Georgia route, the Palmetto, up 10.5 percent, and the Coast Starlight, which operates between Los Angeles and Seattle, up 10 percent.  Amtrak said ridership was up 9.8 percent on the Illini/Saluki, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans; 8.9 percent on the San Joaquin in California, 8.6 percent on the Piedmont in North Carolina and 8.2 percent on the Wolverine route in Michigan.

Amtrak officials say they expect to end the fiscal year at or above last year’s record of 31.2 million passengers.  The sixth annual National Train Day will be celebrated around the country on May 11.

Amtrak is America’s Railroad®, the nation’s intercity passenger rail service and its high-speed rail operator, with more than 300 daily trains – at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph) – that connect 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces. Amtrak operates intercity trains in partnership with 15 states and contracts with 13 commuter rail agencies to provide a variety of services.