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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Who wants to climb aboard Ruthie's Charlestown Choo-choo?

Not me

By Will Collette

As I was gathering my notes for my bi-annual predictions on Charlestown's upcoming town elections, I was given a wonderful gift by the CCA's de facto leader Ruth Platner.

With a magnificent trifecta of posts on the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) blog, Ruthie helped me distill my forecast for what Charlestown voters can expect from the CCA between now and Election Day, November 5.

I had planned to predict the CCA would mount its usual fear-based and fact-free effort to scare the shit out of voters, offering themselves as to only protection from Armageddon. I had planned to say that voters can expect to see a combination of imaginary and exaggerated threats, plus some of Ruthie's "Greatest Threats of the Past" recycled for reuse in 2024.

With her new Terror Track trilogy, Ruthie sets the tone for the CCA's upcoming campaign.

The New/Old Threat

CCA leader Ruth Platner has resurrected 2017's Issue of the Year, a proposal for a new AMTRAK high-speed rail line spur called the "Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass" through the northern stretch of Charlestown. Ruth wants you to believe the Bypass is going to happen in 2024. 

This will actually be Ruthie's fourth attempt to give residents in the northern end of Charlestown heart attacks. The first was in 2017. She tried to fire up the crowd in 2021 with a ridiculous claim that "They're Back?" She tried it again in 2022 as well (CLICK HERE).

Ruth - have you ever read Aesop's fable about the boy who cried Wolf?

What is it? 

The Bypass was a tiny part of the gigantic and long-overdue plan to modernize AMTRAK service from Washington to Boston. The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) released a plan which had been sent to all municipalities along the way proposing a new route to more efficiently connect New Haven and Providence. 

Charlestown found out about it after southeast Connecticut residents started rallying against it. When reminded the town had the plan in hand for months, CCA's Town Council President Tom Gentz defended the CCA's inaction by saying "Who's got time to read this crap?"

What happened? 

The bypass plan died when the FRA issued a legally-binding record of decision withdrawing the Old Saybrook-Kenyon and calling for more research and planning for alternatives. The cause of death was overwhelming public opposition as well as a total lack of funding and political support.

How serious was the threat in 2017? 

That's a matter of perspective. It was a bad plan and would have caused a lot of damage along its proposed route. However, the plan had no funding and no political support from the newly ensconced Trump administration or the hard-right Republican majorities controlling both the Senate and the House. 

Trump and Congressional hardliners derailed the entire northeast corridor modernization plan for four years.

How serious is the threat in 2024? 

There is no evidence that the Kenyon Bypass is back on the table, only innuendo from Platner and her fellow AMTRAK conspiracist Greg Stroud, owner of a blog in East Lyme, CT.  Just like Ruth's attempts in 2021 and 2022.

As mandated in the 2017 Record of Decision, the planning for alternative ways to create a high-speed rail link between New Haven and Providence has begun. Stroud is raising issues with that process mainly over who gets to sit at the table. 

Not stated, and a significant difference between 2017 and 2024, is President Joe Biden, an unabashed AMTRAK fan. There's also infrastructure funding to at least get the planning and preparation going. 

But there is no evidence that this all adds up to a revival of the destructive Kenyon Bypass plan. There will, however, be serious consideration of ways to improve the connection between New Haven and Providence. 

I'm also encouraged by plans to extend Connecticut's commuter rail system to Rhode Island by connecting in Westerly. We already have the MTA connection in Wickford for commuter rail travel to Boston.

Personally, I'd like to see the new rails run through the I-95 median or immediately next to I-95, the way Chicago's CTA and the Boston T run adjacent to the main commuter arteries. What better way to promote public transportation than to be sitting in traffic logjams while the trains zip by? 

Most environmentalists agree that modern, efficient rail service is a necessary part of our strategy to combat the climate crisis. 

But bear in mind that Ruth Platner and the CCA are NOT environmentalists - they are local conservationists, an environmental subset with interests limited to protecting their own green spaces without much regard for the bigger picture. 

Platner, who is also Charlestown's Planning Commissar, has an established record of distaste for public transportation. Just look at the Comprehensive Plan she wrote for Charlestown (10 years behind schedule) and its stated position that Charlestown neither needs nor wants public transportation. 

Here's what she wrote:

So what should you do? Here's what Ruth wrote:
You can read these passages in context on page 8-18 of Charlestown's Comprehensive Plan. Click HERE.

The entire chapter on Transportation is 26 pages long. Greatest emphasis is placed on bicycles. But if you want the CCA's bottom line, here's what Ruthie wrote on page 8-1:

Charlestown and Block Island (New Shoreham) are the only two RI municipalities without a direct RIPTA connection. As Ruth admits, Charlestown bus riders must drive to South Kingstown, Westerly or Richmond to catch the bus. Or as Ruth would have it, ride your bike. Walk. Or call an Uber.

Mind you, I also like my green spaces, but I also care deeply about bigger, more existential problems. For the record, I also oppose the Old Saybrook-Kenyon route but strongly believe in improved rail transportation.

But if Platner intends to make this bogus recycled threat an actual CCA campaign issue, she can count on strong, fact-based rebuttal that will only serve to make the CCA look foolish. Not that the CCA cares.

Before we go...

One of the three AMTRAK pieces Ruth posted puzzled me. For reasons only she can explain, she wrote a piece about how she tried - and failed - to get an artificial intelligence (AI) software program called BARD to create an image of a high-speed train crashing through a forest. 

The program refused to depict Ruth's trainwreck fantasy. She reprinted some of her  dialogue with BARD and it went like this....

Ruth: The train should knock down the trees.

Bard: While I understand your request for a more action-oriented scene, I’m unable to generate images that depict violence or destruction of nature. My purpose is to be helpful and informative, and that includes protecting the environment.

I did not make this up. 

Ruth probably forgot to read the "Terms and Conditions" you usually get when you download new software. Yeah, nobody reads that, but these are binding conditions. Based on BARD's response to Ruthie, it looks like using the BARD software to create gruesome or even terroristic scenes is forbidden.