A commuter rail connecting Boston to Manchester probably wouldn’t create jobs on its own, according to a study released yesterday by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
The conservative-leaning center’s report flouted the notion that commuter rail is a tool to spur job creation and instead found that passenger rail can influence growth where already planned investments will happen.
The study strikes a different tone than the Capitol Corridor Rail Study released earlier this year, which was paid for with federal money and found that a commuter line with stops in Nashua and Manchester would bring thousands of new jobs to New Hampshire. Rail advocates are currently calling on the Senate to restore $4 million for commuter rail engineering and planning work that the House stripped from Gov. Maggie Hassan’s capital budget.
The study’s conclusions were based on an analysis of projects in California, Missouri and Pennsylvania, and the Amtrak Downeaster line that runs 10 times a day between Boston and Maine with stops in Exeter, Durham and Dover.
“I like seeing people who are worried and thinking New Hampshire needs more people who are employed, and it would be great if it would create jobs, but the track record kind of speaks for itself,” said Josh Elliott-Traficante, a policy analyst at the Bartlett Center.
Elliott-Traficante used U.S. Census Data from the three New Hampshire towns with stops on the Downeaster to look at job creation. Though the line isn’t technically a commuter rail, the study used it as a functional equivalent, offering multiple departures a day and running over a fairly short distance. Since the Downeaster began running in 2001, Exeter has lost about 300 jobs since the commuter rail started running, while Dover has gained about 1,000 jobs. The number of jobs in Durham remained the same.
The study also looked at the Coaster commuter rail line near San Diego, which is roughly the same length as the Manchester/Boston proposal and connects similarly sized cities. There were minor gains in value for some types of residential property, but commercial property values fell nearly 10 percent, the report said.
“More or less, the studies we looked at came up with the answer that there are benefits to it in certain areas, but by and large it doesn’t really create jobs,” Elliott-Traficante said.
The Capitol Corridor Rail Study, released in February, said a Boston/Manchester line would draw 668,000 riders annually. It would also create 5,600 permanent jobs supporting 3,600 new residential units along the corridor by 2030, the study said. From then on, the expansion of passenger rail would create 1,700 new jobs every year, the study said.
“The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, the Greater Nashua and Manchester Chambers of Commerce, the hundreds of companies they represent and a growing bi-partisan coalition of elected officials believe that rail can play a key role in jumpstarting New Hampshire’s economy,” said Michael Izbicki, chairman of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, in a statement. “The result of an extensive two-year study on the expansion of passenger rail service along the 73 mile NH Capitol Corridor conducted by globally recognized transportation experts support(s) those assertions.”
Rail alone isn’t the sole answer for solving the state’s economic woes, but it is a part of a system that could be a catalyst for growth, he said.
“However a complete multimodal transportation network that includes passenger rail could serve as a catalyst to promote economic development and should not be dismissed outright because it requires public investment,” Izbicki said.