Murphy looks to bolster sagging rail infrastructure

By:  Dan Freedman
CT News

Call it “The Bridges of Fairfield County.’’ It’s a tale not of romantic covered bridges but workhorse structures that have carried commuter trains and freight over rivers for more than a century.

And they’re crumbling, each in varying degrees an accident waiting to happen. Although there’s money in the pipeline to fix or replace them, Sen. Chris Murphy doesn’t think it’s enough. He’s proposing that the $555.8 million in the president’s budget for Northeast Corridor rail improvements to be directed at rail-safety projects only.

“The terrible tragedy in Philadelphia is only the most recent reminder of the tremendous backlog of basic repairs and safety upgrades we have accumulated as the result of years of underinvestment in this critical asset,’’ Murphy said Tuesday in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee (of which he is a member) that deals with transportation funding.

The Bridges of Fairfield County – at least the railroad ones – would seem to be ideal candidates. The Saugatuck River Bridge, for instance, dates back to 1904. CTDOT is propping it up at a cost of $20 million but a total replacement is estimated at $350 million. So far, the money is not in the pipeline.

Murphy calls the $555.8 million a “drop in the bucket,’’ noting that the Northeast Corridor repair backlog currently stands at $21.1 billion. And to get the funding through Congress, Murphy and his allies will have to overcome the spending caps that lawmakers put in place in 2011.

But Murphy remains optimistic. “It won’t fix everything, but it will put Congress on record as being part of the solution, not the problem,’’ he said.