Briefcase Departments

Briefcase

State to Purchase Knowledge Corridor Line
GREENFIELD — Gov. Deval Patrick announced an agreement in principle allowing the Commonwealth to purchase the Knowledge Corridor rail line between East Northfield and Springfield from Pan Am Southern, a joint venture of Pan Am and Norfolk Southern. The 49-mile segment of rail is currently undergoing a major restoration that will allow for more efficient passenger service, in response to increased demand, and will allow the Commonwealth to maintain and enhance freight service, which will take trucks off the roads, reducing congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions. “For close to 100 years, the Commonwealth’s rail infrastructure was the lifeblood of economic vitality for communities in Franklin and Berkshire counties, and across Western Mass.,” said Patrick. “Through this agreement, we are realizing the renewed value this infrastructure can have in creating economic opportunities throughout the region.” The agreement in principle to purchase the Knowledge Corridor rail line is an important milestone in the Knowledge Corridor/Restore Vermonter Project. The project will restore the original route of Amtrak’s Vermonter travelling between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. from its current routing via Palmer and Amherst. The work on the project includes upgrades to the 50-mile Pan Am Southern Connecticut River Line running between Springfield and East Northfield, known as the Knowledge Corridor. The ongoing restoration project will lead to the relocation of the Vermonter, Amtrak’s north-south passenger rail service to the Knowledge Corridor, by the end of 2014, potentially reducing trip times by 25 minutes. Starting in East Northfield, the restoration runs south to Springfield and includes the construction of three new station platforms in Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke. Passenger service on this line ceased in the 1980s and was rerouted southeast to Palmer, where trains reverse direction and head west to Springfield. “It is clear that the residents of Western Massachusetts are hungry for rail service,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. “Today’s announcement, coupled with state and federal investments to rehabilitate the Knowledge Corridor line, will make such service a reality.” Added U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, “as an outspoken supporter of increased rail travel throughout New England, I am pleased the Commonwealth has agreed to purchase the rail line that runs along the Knowledge Corridor. The completion of this segment of track will lead to increased passenger and freight service from the Pioneer Valley to the Vermont border. Not only will this project will help improve our transportation infrastructure, it will also grow the local economy. It’s exciting news for Western Massachusetts.” Initiated in August 2012, the restoration work consists of the replacement of approximately 95,000 rail ties, new continuously welded rail, new active warning signals and crossing gates at 23 public-grade crossings, upgrades to six bridges, and the first phase of a new signal installation. The restoration is funded through a $75 million grant awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration and approximately $40 million in state funds. The work is expected to be complete in 2016, after the start of passenger service. These improvements will improve safety, increase operating speeds for existing freight-train traffic and the Vermonter, and enhance capacity on the rail line to accommodate future increased levels of train traffic. “The Knowledge Corridor is a rail asset that will play a key role in the region’s transportation system, both by delivering improved customer service in the form of faster travel times, as well as by being built to a standard that can accommodate more freight,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard Davey. “Purchasing the line will also allow us to preserve the line’s viability for the long term, and will position the Commonwealth to use this line for increased passenger service that could provide commuters in the region a competitive alternative to driving on I-91.” The Knowledge Corridor/Restore Vermonter project is part of the vision for a New England high-speed, intercity rail network that will provide a foundation for economic competitiveness and promote livable communities from major and smaller cities to rural areas. Beyond the Knowledge Corridor, the Commonwealth’s work to increase rail opportunities for commuters and tourists alike continues. MassDOT has been working closely with Pan Am Southern, the city of North Adams, and the town of Adams to have Berkshire Scenic Railway operate the Adams Branch railroad line between the two towns. The operation of a scenic railway between North Adams and Adams would be another draw for the thousands of tourists who flock to the Berkshires each year.

Assistance Center Opens in North Adams for Former Hospital Workers
NORTH ADAMS — State Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rachel Kaprielian and state Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz recently joined legislators and local workforce-development officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open a worker-assistance center inside North Adams City Hall. The center is the latest effort to marshal state resources in helping 530 area residents who lost their jobs when North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH) and its affiliates closed in March. “The Patrick Administration is committed to making sure no worker or region is left behind as the state’s economy continues to improve and enjoys record job growth,” said Kaprielian. “This center and the skills-training opportunities the state is allocating will help get these residents back to work.” The Mass. Department of Public Health has been instrumental in helping the hospital reopen as a healthcare facility and restore regional healthcare services. Three months ago, Berkshire Health Systems opened an emergency room in the facility and hired approximately 150 former NARH employees. “Massachusetts is committed to ensuring that quality healthcare is accessible in every region across the Commonwealth,” said Polanowicz. “This worker assistance center in North Adams reinforces the administration’s commitment to the region’s healthcare community, and to supporting workers, patients, and families.” Added North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, “a huge ‘thank you’ to our state partners at the Executive Office of Labor & Workforce Development, and our local partners at Berkshire County Regional Employment Board and BerkshireWorks, for providing this wonderful opportunity to the residents of our Greater Northern Berkshire region. This center will provide significant resources to the unemployed and underemployed that will help them seek out opportunities and provide training for the skills necessary to attain employment. What is also very exciting is that this center will be located right next to our Veteran’s Services Office, providing an on-the-spot resource for our local veterans seeking employment.”

State, MassChallenge Launch Government Innovation Competition
BOSTON — MassIT, the Commonwealth’s lead state agency for technology across the executive branch, announced a first-of-its-kind MassIT Government Innovation Competition, with a $50,000 prize for the winning project. MassIT will partner with MassChallenge, a start-up accelerator that supports high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs, on this initiative. The goal of the MassIT Government Innovation Competition is to provide high-quality startups with incentives to develop innovative solutions that can help the state government meet constituent needs more efficiently and at lower cost to taxpayers. For the first time, the Commonwealth will have access to entrepreneurs focused on improving the constituent-government relationship. The Commonwealth plans to implement a pilot of the winning project, with the goal of cost-effectively improving delivery of services to constituents, achieving greater internal efficiencies, or both. “Massachusetts is renowned as a hub for technology and innovation; MassChallenge’s support of high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs has helped enhance that reputation. By working together, MassIT and MassChallenge can accelerate the Commonwealth’s use of technology solutions and harness the wealth of expertise available to us,” said Bill Oates, the state’s chief information officer. MassChallenge awards more than $1 million in cash prizes each year to winning startups, with zero equity taken. Additional benefits for startups include world-class mentorship and training, free office space, access to funding, legal advice, media exposure, and more than $10 million of in-kind support. MassChallenge is open to early-stage entrepreneurs from any industry, from anywhere in the world. Now in its fifth year, the competition has supported 489 startups, which have created more than 4,000 new jobs and raised more than $550 million in outside funding. This year alone, MassChallenge received approximately 1,650 applications from 50 countries and 40 states. After initial rounds of judging of all applicants, 128 finalists — in honor of Massachusetts’s Route 128 technology corridor — are invited to participate in MassChallenge’s four-month startup accelerator program and related sidecar competitions. The MassIT Government Innovation Competition is open to any qualifying startup that applies by the Aug. 27 deadline. Entrepreneurs whose work can help MassIT leverage innovation to support, enable, and transform the operation of state government and delivery of services to constituents are invited to compete.

State Reaches Solar Milestone
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick announced another major clean-energy milestone, surpassing 15,000 solar installations in the Commonwealth. There are now 15,762 systems installed across Massachusetts, a 20-fold increase from 2008. “This achievement is due in large part to the strength of the Massachusetts solar industry,” Patrick said. “Clean-energy investments are smart for the environment and the economy, as proven by our 24% industry job growth in the last two years.” There were 778 systems installed in Massachusetts on Jan. 1, 2008. As a result of this exponential growth, Massachusetts ranked fourth in the nation for new solar capacity installed in 2013 by the Solar Energy Industries Assoc. It also ranked fourth nationally in total solar jobs in 2013 by the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. There are more than 8,000 people working in the solar industry in the Commonwealth, and nearly 80,000 clean-energy workers at 5,500 companies. “These achievements show that the Patrick administration’s policies and strategic investments are paying off,” said state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett. “When we are competitive with other states much sunnier than ours, it’s a testament to the commitment of state and local officials, as well as home and business owners across the Commonwealth, to renewable energy.”

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