There is currently no commuter rail system in New Hampshire. However, the state has looked into the possibility of extending rail service from Massachusetts into the Granite State.
Commuter rail studies and options
In November 2014 the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority (NHRTA) released the results of a feasibility study for southern New Hampshire commuter rail. The study examined three rail options: a line connecting Nashua to Massachusetts, a line extending to Manchester, and a line extending all the way to Concord.
- The "Nashua Minimum" option would be primarily funded by federal and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) contributions, leaving $4 million in additional costs each year. The rail line between Massachusetts and Nashua would bring an estimated 1,200 new jobs and 600 new housing units to New Hampshire by 2030, according to the study.
- The "Manchester Regional" option would also be funded in large part by federal and MBTA contributions, leaving $7 million in additional costs each year. The route would have four stops in New Hampshire. The study estimated the rail between Massachusetts and Manchester would bring 5,600 new permanent jobs and 3,600 housing units to the state by 2030.
- Lastly, the "Concord Intercity" option would get federal funds, but no MBTA contributions. It would cost the state an additional $15 million each year. The route would also have just four stops in New Hampshire. The connection between Massachusetts and Concord would bring an estimated 3,700 jobs and 2,200 new housing units to New Hampshire by 2030.
The study held that the additional $4, $7, or $15 million each year could be funded through parking fees, vehicle registration fees, municipal contributions, lottery revenues, the state Energy Efficiency Fund, or some other state government source.
Controversy over further studies
Since 2014, the state has considered whether to make any further studies of the feasibility of extending commuter rail service to New Hampshire. The debate has centered on $4 million in federal funds on offer for further research into commuter rail. That funding made it into the state's 10-year transportation plan in both 2016 and 2018, but both times was ultimately cut from the plan. Opponents of the study argued that even though it would be paid for by federal money, it was a waste of resources.
Repealing the NH Rail Transit Authority
The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority was formed in 2007 to oversee passenger and commuter rail service in New Hampshire. The NHRTA coordinated the original 2014 study into commuter rail in the Granite State.
The Legislature voted to shut down the NHRTA in 2017, arguing that expanding commuter rail to New Hampshire had been eliminated as a viable policy choice and that therefore the NHRTA served no purpose.
Public-private rail initiative in Nashua
While the Legislature continues to debate a public commuter rail plan, a private rail company is moving forward with plans to extend rail service into Nashua. The Boston Surface Railroad Company has made a deal with the city that will see the company pay all the operational and maintainance costs for the line if the city agrees to pay for building a new train station.
"New Hampshire should pursue expanded commuter rail."
- According to the NHRTA study, a southern New Hampshire commuter rail will increase residential development, because an easier commute attracts new residents. Those new residents and riders will in turn attract commercial development and new jobs.
- According to the state's Department of Transportation (DOT), other benefits include increased tourism, reduced traffic congestion on Routes 3 and 93 and therefore less cost to maintain those roads, more transportation choices for residents, and decreased pollution.
- "There is simply no economic development opportunity on the horizon that could transform New Hampshire's economy like the expansion of passenger rail could offer," said Thomas Mahon, chair of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority. "We firmly believe that the options are clear: invest in passenger rail or choose the status quo and face the negative consequences associated with our young people fleeing the state while our existing population ages and in-migration continues to decline."
"New Hampshire should not pursue expanded commuter rail."
- Josh Elliott-Traficante, policy analyst for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, has said rail stations do not prompt new businesses to open, they only change where businesses choose to locate.
- Opponents also point to financial problems faced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
- "It's not an energy-efficient way to move people; not a good use of money; and it would create a state bureaucracy that requires more taxation to sustain," former House Speaker Bill O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon) told the Union Leader.
- Some opponents are concerned about pollution from commuter rail. A 2010 study by the Brookings Institution found that transit investment only changes the metropolitan landscape if there are other incentives to decrease car use.