Businesses form coalition to support commuter rail study

Business call for lawmakers to approve commuter rail study

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Businesses in Manchester and Nashua are banding together to keep a controversial commuter rail study in the state transportation plan.

The coalition is trying to build on Gov. Chris Sununu’s brief support for rail. The governor said that commuter rail was on the table if Amazon decided to locate its second North American headquarters in Londonderry. New Hampshire didn’t make the short list, but that’s not stopping businesses that are already here from making a renewed push for rail.

The Manchester Millyard is home to several growing high-tech and innovative businesses, and rails run through the middle of what could once again be a massive economic engine for the state.

“A rail connection from Manchester to Boston would be like gasoline on the fire of what’s happening here with tech companies, with biotech innovation happening, with (the University of New Hampshire) Manchester — this could really just be transformative,” said Gray Chynoweth of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute.

Sununu signed off on a 10-year transportation plan that includes $4 million in federal funds to study extending a passenger rail line into New Hampshire. He abandoned his previous opposition to rail in an attempt to lure Amazon’s HQ2 project to Londonderry.

But with Amazon looking elsewhere, legislators said the governor has told them he doesn’t mind if they cut the study funding.

“There would be no problem,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. “He won’t lose sleep over it because he’s got other priorities.”

Rail remains a top priority for more than 50 businesses forming a new coalition to make the case for rail.

“We’re hopeful that the legislature will do its part and, for zero taxpayer dollars, help fund this analysis,” said E.J. Powers of New Hampshire Businesses for Rail Expansion.

State House Republicans remain skeptical.

“I wouldn’t support the $4 million for another fishing trip,” said Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown. “If somebody has a specific proposal and a price tag, let’s throw that on the table and hash it out.”

The transportation plan with the rail study funding included will go before a House committee at 1 p.m. Wednesday. A spokesman for the governor reiterated his hands-off approach, saying that the issue is now in the Legislature’s hands.