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Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Great Charlestown Choo-choo Hoax: Take Three

CCA and friends try to re-start AMTRAK panic for the third time

By Will Collette 

I have to ask: Why are they doing this?  

Spurred on by former Charlestown consultant Greg Stroud’s blog, the CT Examiner, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) appears to be ginning up its third effort to score points by creating panic – without a shred of evidence – that the northern half of town is going to be ravaged by a new rail line. 

Before we start, Charlestown residents should know that there is absolutely no evidence, or likelihood, that the Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass has been revived. The only recent “event” is another provocative article in the CT Examiner. If you read it carefully (difficult, since there is a paywall) you will see that they have no evidence of any such revival. What they report as “news” are things we already know. 

AMTRAK panic started in late 2016 when Charlestown was alerted by Connecticut neighbors that the Federal Rail Administration had published and mailed out a plan to revamp the Northeast Corridor that included a new “Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass” that would run through farms, forests, protected areas and even through the Mystic Aquarium. 

It was a bad plan – RIDOT Director Peter Alviti called it a “stupid plan” – that had no funding from the then Republican controlled Congress or the incoming Trump Administration. I supported the opposition to the plan but also noted that this plan had virtually no chance of being adopted. 

And of course, the plan died when the Federal Rail Administration signed a legally binding “Record of Decision” that excluded the Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass. Read that Record of Decision HERE. 

Charlestown hired the instigator of the opposition, Greg Stroud of Old Lyme, CT as a consultant. His job was to monitor Amtrak and make quarterly reports to Charlestown. 

Stroud didn’t make quarterly reports, but it wasn’t surprising that he had virtually nothing to report. Read his contract HERE and his report HERE. 

Stroud also started up a news blog called the CT Examiner with money from investor J. David Kelsey. Kelsey runs Hamilton Point Investments that provides private equity for real estate development

Earlier this year, Kelsey put up $500,000 to launch a super PAC called CT Truth PAC. Through that PAC and through other channels, Kelsey spent $2.2 million in an unsuccessful effort to block the re-election of Democratic Governor Ned Lamont. Kelsey also serves on the board of a right-wing think tank, The Yankee Institute 

The CT Examiner has become the CCA’s go-to source for information about AMTRAK. Based on an article they wrote in 2021, CCA Prime Minister Ruth Platner wrote a CCA blog article titled “They’re Back!” Their evidence? An oval drawn on a map by CT Examiner noting that a study was going to look at rail traffic in that circle and what can be done to improve it. 

Charlestown went nuts a second time, convinced by this “evidence” that Armageddon was coming to Charlestown. Lots of hysterical ideas floated by the CCA, including giving Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz unlimited powers and funding to do whatever it takes to fight AMTRAK, were adopted by the Town Council. 

Charlestown’s Town Clerk was directed to write letters to everyone in political power from here to Washington to demand an end to the non-existent plan. 

Council President Deb Carney took the approach of contacting the CEO of Amtrak directly to ask him if the Bypass was back on table. Answer: No. She contacted RIDOT Director Peter Alviti since he represents Rhode Island on all rail matters. He told a bi-partisan meeting of Charlestown residents and representatives that there was no plan, but that he would alert the town if there ever was. 

Deb Carney has stayed in monthly contact with Alviti to ask about any new developments and there have been none. 

I have called out Ruth Platner repeatedly to show her evidence for sounding the alarm. Crickets. CCA Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz did his bit by blocking access to the town’s files on the AMTRAK controversy. 

The “new” reports from the CT Examiner tell us what we already know: the Federal Rail Administration is starting up the study committee it said it would in the Record of Decision and the new infrastructure funding Joe Biden managed to get Congress to pass includes money for rail improvements.  

It’s no secret that Joe Biden loves trains in general and AMTRAK in particular. So do I. Taking the train from Westerly to Manhattan several times a month was one of the great perks of my last job before I retired. 

I think any sensible person who cares about the climate crisis, auto emissions or traffic congestion supports a much-improved rail system.  

But I urge the CCA and its pal Greg Stroud to stop feeding into the Great Charlestown Choo-choo Hoax. What little you gain in political support you lose by blowing your credibility on a pack of lies.