New Hampshire rail study outlines costs, benefits of expanding service to Concord, Manchester

New Hampshire would get more bang for its buck by bringing passenger rail service beyond Nashua to Manchester, according to a preliminary feasibility study, but state officials aren't ready to recommend an option.

The state Department of Transportation has been working on the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor Rail and Transit study for nearly two years and is expected to release a final version next month. Preliminary results released Thursday show that expanding Boston commuter rail from Lowell, Massachusetts, to Nashua would cost $120 million in capital costs and would attract about 174,000 riders a year. That option would lead to an estimated 1,200 jobs and 600 new housing units by 2030.

Extending service to Manchester as well would cost $246 million, but ridership would rise significantly, to about 668,000 per year, about 5,600 jobs would be created and 3,600 housing units built. That option envisions 16 trains daily from Manchester and at least 20 from Nashua. Continuing to Concord, with fewer trains per day, would cost $256 million and attract 246,000 riders per year, plus 3,700 jobs and 2,200 housing units by 2030.

In all scenarios, federal funding would cover about half the capital costs, but the state would be responsible for maintaining the system, the study's authors said. They said more debate and discussion is needed, particularly on developing a credible financial plan.

The study estimates that the state's annual cost to maintain the rail system would be $10 per rider per year under the Manchester option, $22 per rider per year for the Nashua option and $61 per rider per year for the Concord option.

Supporters of expanding rail service argue it will boost economic development. Critics question whether residents who live far from the proposed rail corridor should have to pay for something that won't benefit them.