When New Hampshire residents discuss the revival of commuter rail, they are usually referring to the controversial “Capitol Corridor,” an estimated $300 million project which seeks to extend tracks northward from the MBTA station in Lowell to Nashua, and then on to Manchester and Concord.
Earlier this year, the Executive Council approved moving forward with a $3.9 million feasibility study that will explore the proposed rail’s financial and environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, a smaller-scale push for locomotives is provoking a quieter debate in another pocket of the state: in Plaistow, a southeastern town bordering Haverhill, Massachusetts, with a population under 8,000.
Sean Fitzgerald, Plaistow’s town manager, has long advocated for a commuter rail station, which would extend the Haverhill MBTA line by four or five miles. He trumpets it as an incubator for transit-oriented residential and commercial development, as well as a means of alleviating congestion from the highway.
In the last 15 years, the number of vehicles clogging the commercial Route 125 corridor has increased dramatically, according to Sheldon Wolff, owner of Wolff Realty Group in Plaistow since 1991. Because of the town’s proximity to Route 495, I-93 and I-95, Plaistow is a magnet for large chain stores and businesses. “There’s a bottleneck coming off 495 [from Haverhill] into 125. The town has been doing numerous things to alleviate traffic.”
Fitzgerald says that depending on the time of day, “it can take 20 to 40 minutes to travel from Route 125 in Plaistow to the Haverhill MBTA station,” with up to 26,000 trips a day.