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Line judges: lawmakers weigh purchase of lines for commuter rail.

Lawmakers and rail advocates want to study whether it makes financial sense for the state to own the train lines in expanding commuter rail service.

But the lawyer for the largest private rail line owner--Pan Am Railways--said the study could have a "chilling effect". on private negotiations with the state over extending commuter rail service from Lowell, Mass., through Nashua.

State Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, told the House Transportation Committee March 3 that "there's been talk for years about whether it makes sense for the state to own these corridors. It seems like a good time to really study the issue."

But Rob Culliford, Pan Am Railways' general counsel, said the firm is getting closer to an agreement with state officials about extending commuter rail, but "a study committee could have a chilling effect on those negotiations."

Culliford went on to note the government can't simply acquire rail lines like private property through eminent domain but first has to have a willing seller.

"In 95 percent of circumstances, consent of the railroad owner is required," Culliford said.

Gov. John Lynch last year signed the law that set a $75 million cap on commuter rail accident damages.

Supporterss say the cap cuts by two-thirds what the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority would have to pay for accident insurance coverage if there was no limit. But Pan Am Railway officials continue to assert they should be exempt from accident damage costs except where that owner is guilty of gross negligence.

Leishman said Pan Am's demands on liability ware "a bit extreme" and rail line ownership would resolve that issue and others.

"The disadvantage is from a cost standpoint that, as the owner, the state would have to maintain the lines and carry all operating costs," said Leishman who has managed his own rail freight line from Milford to Bennington. "That's no small disadvantage because, it would mean more public money," he said. "The big advantage would be if the lines were publicly owned that gives the state more flexibility in how it could use money and also could help the state get additional funding."--THE TELEGRAPH

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Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 13, 2009
Words:354
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