Construction Progress Continues on New England Central Rail TIGER Grant Project
This week I had the chance to stop in Stafford to check-in on construction progress along the New England Central Railroad (NECR). In 2014, I helped secure a U.S Department of Transportation TIGER Grant which is being used to upgrade the rail line, doubling its current cargo capacity and significantly increasing the commercial value of the Port of New London, which has been vastly underutilized as a commercial shipping hub. Once this project is finished, it will be a game-changer for eastern Connecticut. The TIGER Grant project has created about 100 construction jobs in north-central Connecticut and the final product will expand industry and create more new jobs across our region as shipping increases in the coming years.
The NECR is a subsidiary of the Darien-based Genesee & Wyoming railroad company, and it is a critical north-south freight rail backbone for New England – providing on-dock transatlantic access for container ships at the Port of New London at the south end, and interchanging with the Canadian National Railway at the Vermont border.
The TIGER Grant upgrades along the Connecticut portion of the NECR will allow the rail line to handle new freight car shipments weighing up to 286,000 pounds. The project is upgrading the existing line with new continuous welded rails, 15,000 new crossties, and 15,000 tons of ballast.
This is a great example of a successful federal-state-private partnership that has resulted in the project coming in under-budget by over $3 million. The surplus funds will be used to make additional infrastructure improvements along the rail line.
Windham High School Invests in Connecticut’s Manufacturing Future
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit Windham High School’s Early College Opportunity (ECO) Program with Superintendent Dr. Patricia Garcia and tour their new manufacturing and computer lab. The ECO Program at Windham High School is a four-year program where students can complete high school while dually enrolled in college courses—which means Windham students get a leg-up on the competition by working towards debt-free Associate Degrees in manufacturing before even finishing high school.
The Windham ECO Program started in 2015 and is one of only four programs using the ECO model in the state. Windham ECO is a partnership among the Windham Board of Education, General Dynamics-Electric Boat, Quinebaug Valley Community College, the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, and the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance. In June, they opened a new manufacturing and computer lab that allows students to use state-of-the-art 3-D printers, CNC routers, and other equipment not traditionally available to students interested in manufacturing until after high school.
With Electric Boat expanding their workforce by 15,000 jobs over the next decade, graduates from the Windham ECO program will be uniquely positioned for employment. This program is a true model for how to get students interested and engaged in STEM and manufacturing futures, and I look forward to watching this program grow.
Enfield Dairy Farm Goes Green with the Help of the U.S. Department of Energy
Today, I stopped by Collins Powder Hill Farm in Enfield—a 5th generation family dairy farm—to view a new green energy project they’ve been working on with the Connecticut Farm Energy Program and the U.S. Department of Energy. With the help of about $60,000 of state and federal investment, the farm was able to install a compost aeration and heat recovery system, which is the first of its kind in Connecticut. The project was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy State Energy Program (SEP). Last year, the President threatened to eliminate SEP, and I was glad to support its continued funding through the Energy and Water appropriations bill last month.
This compost project is demonstrating an alternative to larger, more costly renewable energy installations at other dairy farms in the region. Not only is this system generating energy that the farm is using for heated air and water in their milking parlor, but it is also producing value-added compost at a faster rate than a traditional composting system. With fluctuating energy costs and an increased focus on lowering carbon emissions, this compost aeration and heat recovery system pilot project is helping pave the way for dairy farm modernization and efficiency in Connecticut.