A Hummel Report Investigation
It is likely decades away - and may not happen at all - but a proposal by the Federal Rail Administration to run train tracks through the northern part of Charlestown has united a town upset by what some residents believe is a lack of transparency, and the possibility of losing private and preserved land. This week Jim Hummel sits down with a lifelong resident who talks about the effect the news has had on her family - and her community.
Coulter: ``This is my whole….grew up here, got married, still live right here.‘’
It is the only place Kim Coulter has ever lived - on hundreds of acres that her grandparents bought in 1955. The farm itself dates back centuries.
Coulter: ``We’re kind of like the little secret in Charlestown. Everybody knows the beaches. Everybody wants to go to the beaches, but this part of Charlestown, if you want to go for hikes, and you want to get back into nature, this is the place you want to be.
Coulter and her husband Bill have made improvements over the years and their son eventually plans to take over the Stoney Hill Cattle Farm.
But the Coulters got unsettling news a week before Christmas when they found out the Federal Rail Administration, as part of what it calls a `next generation comprehensive planning initiative,’ has one scenario of where a high-speed rail line would pass right through their farm - as well as adjacent Narragansett Indian tribal land and nearby property owned by the Nature Conservancy.
Coulter: ``At first it was a little bit difficult to comprehend.’’
Hummel: ``Did you think it was a joke?’’
Coulter: ``I did, you know, I just figured somebody was goofing, because we never got a letter. If they’re doing all of this research and this has been in the works for seven years and looking at our property and neighboring properties, don’t you think somebody should have sent you a letter directly from the FRA? Someone along the line? Not to the town, not to the state, I should have gotten a letter. We should have gotten a letter.”
It turns out the FRA has been working on the issue for the past five years, looking for a way to shorten travel times on the Northeast Corridor by straightening out the tracks in sections of Rhode Island and Connecticut, where there has already been organized opposition.
The plan calls for a rail bypass from Old Saybrook,Connecticut inland from the current coastal route - moving through the northern section of Charlestown - including the Coulters’ farm, before merging with existing track in Kenyon, just south of Kingston. In some areas, like the Coulters’ land, the rail would be laid underground in a tunnel.
Some residents who have done a detailed analysis of the bypass estimate it would only save a minute or two from the current route, and the trains would have to slow down to pass through any tunnels; unlike the Acela, which already can reach speeds of 150 mile per hour.
Lee: ``We’re in favor of fast, modern transportation to Rhode Island and to Providence, rail transportation; but we can have that and stay on the current tracks. We don’t need this bypass to achieve that.