Passenger rail would cost less than it took to widen I-93

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

The long-anticipated Capitol Corridor passenger rail study has finally arrived – and it contains some fascinating details. I read through the entire report and wanted to share my main takeaways.

1) This is not actually about commuter rail. Instead, it’s about an around-the-clock regional rail service with sixteen trips in each direction on weekdays and eight on Saturdays and Sundays. This would provide Manchester residents with better access to a whole range of activities such as leisure and medical treatment in addition to employment. It would also allow people to travel north from Massachusetts to fill much-needed job openings here, enjoy our entertainment venues, and even fly out of MHT.

2) Bringing passenger rail service to Manchester would cost less than the recently completed I-93 widening project. Widening I-93 between Manchester and Salem cost a total of $751 million in 2020 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $870 million today. Passenger rail would cost $597 million to build which is significantly less. You may remember the Union Leader article that claimed rail would cost $782 million, but that’s because the newspaper failed to mention that the figure was in Year-of-Expenditure (YOE) dollars, which basically takes decades of future inflation into account.

3) The NH state government would only have to pay for 19% of the total cost. A majority of the necessary funding – 55% – would come from various federal grants. Massachusetts would pay for 16%. The remaining 10% would be paid for by the cities of Manchester and Nashua when they pick up the tab for their respective downtown stations.

4) Manchester’s contribution would not come from increased property taxes. Instead, the study explains that the Queen City can pay for a downtown station from its established Meals & Rooms tax revenue plus the creation of a TIF district. TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing, which is a creative way to make districts that pay for their own new infrastructure through improved tax revenue over time. Manchester already explored making a TIF district as part of its Transit Oriented Development Plan.

5) This project would simply upgrade existing tracks, so nobody should be displaced. Eminent domain is an issue that plagues many large transportation projects. For example, countless thriving neighborhoods were paved over in order to build our current interstate highway system. This time we are in the fortunate position of being able to use an existing rail corridor.

6) The station design for Manchester could be much more beautiful and inspiring. Bringing passenger rail back to the Queen City has been a collective dream for so many people. Adding a bit more local flair to the station would help bolster civic pride and also just look nice. We have lots of local artists and other community members who could be asked for input.

Well, those were my main takeaways from reading the rail study!

What do you think? If you want to see the results for yourself, check out the NHDOT project website for the full financial analysis and corresponding info sheet. And if you’d like to see Manchester hold a public forum about passenger rail, like the city did in December for the RAISE grant, please let your Aldermen know.

Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Have your own soapbox to stand on? Your thoughtful prose on topics of general interest are welcome. Send submissions to for consideration.

About this Author

Bryce Kaw-uh

Bryce Kaw-uh (pronounced cow-woo) is a former Air Force brat with a passion for urban planning and community development. He currently works as a software engineer for his day job while serving as Chair of the Manchester Planning Board in his spare time. Bryce lives in Ward 1 alongside his Manchester-born-and-raised partner of nine years and their enthusiastic golden retriever.