The Legislature is set to take up legislation this week to dissolve the NH Rail Authority chaired by former Senator and House Democratic Leader Peter Burling. This is a good move and it has nothing to do with improving passenger rail service the New Hampshire which the state needs to do. But the NH Rail Authority is a flawed means to create anything except bad policy that will ultimately drain NH taxpayers of valuable dollars.
The first major flaw of the rail authority is its structure, created by the legislature it isn’t a state agency, it isn’t a bureau within a state agency and it isn’t a commission that is run like a regulator and yet it has significant power(s): bonding authority.
Millions of dollars could be on the line and who exactly is the NH Rail Authority responsible to?
I tried to answer this question along with finding out who gets appointed to the rail authority and why. I started with Office of the Governor, the Legislature and sources at the NH Department of Transportation. The answer I received: outsiders are not welcome here. I think their public relations is another example of this: have you noticed that Sen. Burling does all the talking…
Then there is the issue of the rail itself.
- The NH Rail Authority opened negotiations with Pan Am Railways which owns the rail line from Concord to Boston and they refused to negotiate. Pan Am did the smart thing and they withdrew from negotiations.
- There are advocacy groups across New England that are working to implement passenger rail systems across the region groups like: Train Riders Northeast (Boston-Portland) to the Vermont Rail Council which has interests that extend into New York. Part of their efforts include building local grassroots support for passenger rail. To my knowledge neither Senator Burling nor the NH Rail Council has made any effort to work with any of these groups.
- The New Hampshire Rail Authority has never outlined or even suggested what the cost of their project(s) would be or how many people would realistically use their service and they've been in existence how long?
The legislature should pass this legislation there has to be a better way to improve passenger rail in New Hampshire. This isn't it.