High-speed Rail Should Be Studied

Editorial

Count us among those who are disappointed that a proposal to subsidize a study of a proposed high-speed rail system that would link Springfield and Boston was quietly dropped during the state budget process.

Not because we’re ardent supporters of such a system — not yet, anyway — but because we really think the matter should be studied. There is widespread belief that an east-west high-speed rail system would make the state significantly smaller and, somehow, level the playing field when it comes to the huge discrepancy in overall vibrancy between east (specifically inside the Route 128 corridor) and west (meaning pretty much everything west of Worcester).

We’re not so sure, at least when it comes to that part about leveling the playing field (high-speed rail would certainly make the state smaller), so, therefore the matter should be studied — and studied properly.

We say properly because studies mean different things to different people, especially in government circles. Many times, bodies like the state House and Senate move to study something when they don’t know what to do with a given proposal or project or don’t want to do anything with it.

We’ll just say it was curious — and frustrating. Maybe legislators thought the cost of the study is too high. Maybe they thought the cost of building a high-speed rail system is way too high, so they decided not to even bother studying it. Maybe Peter Picknelly got in their ear. Maybe they don’t want to level the field between east and west.”

So they study it. And when the study comes back, it sits on the shelf for awhile. Sometimes, it sits there for so long, they need to study it again before they can do anything, or not do anything, as the case may be.

Hence the phrase ‘studied to death,’ which must have been coined by someone in — or frustrated by — municipal, state, or federal government.

Given all that, a study of high-speed rail sounds like something the Legislature should approve. Only it didn’t, which left state Sen. Eric Lesser, a vocal supporter of such a system, to call the vote to shelve the proposal “sketchy.”

We’ll just say it was curious — and frustrating. Maybe legislators thought the cost of the study is too high. Maybe they thought the cost of building a high-speed rail system is way too high, so they decided not to even bother studying it. Maybe Peter Picknelly got in their ear. Maybe they don’t want to level the field between east and west.

No one seems to know.

We do know that high-speed rail looks good on paper. But as we said, we’re not sure it will bring to this region all that Lesser and other supporters believe it will.

High-speed rail will bring Boston a lot closer to Springfield and vice versa, but what, exactly, will that mean for this region? Does it mean the high-tech companies that now gravitate to the 128 corridor because that’s where the people they want to hire all live will suddenly find Western Mass. more attractive, because people could live out here and work in Boston, this giving this region a stronger workforce? Maybe.

Does it mean that people who need to live in or near Boston to work there might now move out here because they would no longer have to live in or near Boston to work there? Probably. And what would that do for this region?

Would more people who are educated in this region now stay here because they could work in and around Boston and live out here? Probably. But what would that do for this region?

Overall, and to the casual observer, high-speed rail would present more opportunities for people to live in the western part of the state and work in the eastern part of the state. Will this level the playing field? Or will it just make Greater Springfield a suburb of Boston, one where the price of living will certainly skyrocket because it is now that much closer to Boston?

Good questions. No easy answers.

This thing needs to be studied by a group like the UMass Donahue Institute. Only it won’t, until at least year.

Which, as we said, is very frustrating.

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