Livable: Dean Kamen proposes downtown rail loop

The Union Leader reported Sunday that Dean Kamen has revived a 20-year-old–but previously unknown to us–proposal for a rail loop through downtown and the Millyard. This is easily one of the most exciting ideas for Manchester in recent decades. And it’s especially exciting for LivableMHT as an ambitious envisioned streetcar system got this website started.

According to the Union Leader, Kamen first “proposed a small steam railroad that would bring visitors to and from Millyard parking lots and possibly up to Elm Street” two decades ago. Once again, he’s pitching the idea of a possible rail loop through the Millyard and Elm Street area.

Streetcars in Manchester might not be limited to the Lego exhibit at SEE forever

Yesterday, Kamen hosted a meeting with Millyard building owners, business tenants and city officials to discuss reviving the downtown rail idea. Among those attending last night and at an early meeting last month were some of the biggest names in Manchester business and development–Jay Minkarah of MEDO, Arthur Sullivan of Brady-Sullivan, Ignite and Hooked restaurant owner Neville Pereira, Richard Anagnost, Ben Gamache, Steven Singer, Stephen Talarico and Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Several of those attending were enthusiastic about the very preliminary idea and its potential for economic development, increased livability and as an attraction for visitors to the Queen City.

Given New Hampshire’s political culture and history, and the involvement of so many prominent Manchester business leaders, it’s exciting and not too hard to imagine some sort of public-private partnership leading to the restoration of some sort of streetcar service in Manchester in the coming years.

This is an idea LivableMHT will be following and pursuing.

Train idea for downtown Manchester is coming down the track again

MANCHESTER — Entrepreneur Dean Kamen has resurrected his idea for a small rail system to serve the Millyard and downtown Manchester.

Two decades ago, Kamen proposed a small steam railroad that would bring visitors to and from Millyard parking lots and possibly up to Elm Street.

A meeting, the second in the past month convened by Kamen, is set for Monday night to discuss the idea.

“The starting point was the plan that was discussed 20 years ago, and clearly, if this is something we are going to move forward, we are going to want to explore changes in technology that have occurred since then,” Jay Minkarah, Manchester’s director of economic development, said in a telephone interview.

Mayor Ted Gatsas attended the initial gathering of Millyard building owners and business tenants, he said.

Kamen is best known as the technology guru behind DEKA Research and Development and his role in creating and promoting the FIRST robotics competition, but he and his partners also own buildings in the Millyard.

Kamen-inspired technologies include the first wearable insulin pump, the iBot self-balancing wheelchair, the Segway Human Transporter and the Luke robotic arm.

Most recently, Kamen and partners spent $10 million renovating the former Pandora building. The Pandora is the seventh building Kamen has brought to life in the Manchester Millyard.

Arthur Sullivan, a principal in Brady Sullivan Properties, said, “It’d be a nice novelty for the city. I could see people coming in to the city wanting to ride the train. It also serves the purpose of moving people around in the Millyard.’’

Brady Sullivan is developing another Millyard building, 300 Bedford Street, for residential use. “I think residential is going to be the next wave downtown. It would be a nice amenity,” Sullivan said of the train. “You could jump on the little train; it would bring you up to Elm Street and have dinner and cocktails. I see it as being a good success.”

Other Millyard property owners and tenants include Anagnost Properties (33 S. Commercial St.), the University of New Hampshire-Manchester and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team at Northeast Delta Dental stadium.

Neville Pereira, co-owner of Ignite Bar and Grille and Hooked seafood restaurant off Hanover Street, said he is working with Kamen on the idea. “It will be a real track with a real train, very similar to what you see at DisneyWorld,” Pereira said.

A potential loop could include the Millyard from Dow Street to the baseball stadium, running along Commercial and either Chestnut or Elm streets, with crossovers at Granite Street on the south end and possibly Dow Street on the north end.

The project could involve up to three miles of track that could run down the middle of the street on any paved surface.

“This is really very preliminary,” Minkarah said. “It’s in the discussion phase. There are no cost estimates, there is no proposed route, really nothing hard and fast at this point.

“Right now, this is a conversation among some property owners,” he said.

As originally envisioned, small trains would have a 19th-century vintage look.

Besides the mayor, the Dec. 19 meeting was attended by Sullivan, Anagnost, Ben Gamache, Steven Singer and Stephen Talarico.

“The response was exceptionally positive,’’ Pereira said.

“We are now having the second meeting to see logistically if this can actually happen.

“It was a good idea 20 years ago, but it’s an even better idea now, given the problems of traffic flow and parking in the downtown area,” Pereira said.

This post is one in an ongoing LivableMHT series, Livable/Unlovable, that will comment on proposals, projects and other topics that are either good (Livable) or bad (Unlovable)  from a livability/urban development viewpoint.


6 thoughts on “Livable: Dean Kamen proposes downtown rail loop

  1. Great Proposal! A train running through downtown Manchester streets would be incredibly good for the city, it’s citizens, and visitors or tourists. And don’t say it can’t be done because that’s the way Manchester used to be. Let’s get it going soon!

  2. Wonderful concept. Manchester Mills Studios, home of a diverse collection of artists & craftspeople, located across from the new Market Basket, would make an interesting addition to the loop. If we can’t have a train to Boston this decade, a train to art & culture would be the next best thing.

    1. We need a train to Boston and a train (really a streetcar, or even just a much improved bus service) to arts, culture, downtown businesses and city residents this decade. We just need more residents, businesses and groups–like those Dean Kamen is coordinating with–to show their support for better transit, which will make the city a better place to live and spur economic development.

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