Daily News

Northern Tier Passenger-rail Study Launches

GREENFIELD — On Thursday, Dec. 16, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will convene stakeholders and launch a study to examine the benefits, costs, and investments necessary to restart passenger rail service from North Adams to Greenfield and Boston, with the speed, frequency, and reliability necessary to be a competitive option for travel along this corridor.

This study was required by legislation, passed in 2019, filed by state Sen. Jo Comerford and supported by state Sen. Adam Hinds and state Reps. Natalie Blais and Mindy Domb. More than 700 Western Mass. residents submitted testimony on behalf of the enabling legislation when it was heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation. The study launch meeting Dec. 16, which begins at 1:30 p.m., is open to the public. Register at www.mass.gov/northern-tier-passenger-rail-study.

Beginning in 1875, passenger rail service connected Franklin County with Boston along the Route 2 rail corridor. Passenger service from Boston to North Adams ended in 1958, followed by the end of service to Greenfield in 1960. Currently, the MBTA runs commuter rail service on the Fitchburg Line, along Route 2, but only as far west as Wachusett. The rail track through to Greenfield and North Adams remains, but is only used for freight service at the moment.

“Northern Tier or Route 2 rail is not just a transportation solution,” Comerford said. “It’s a matter of regional equity. It’s a climate change necessity. It’s an economic-development win for Western Massachusetts. And it can help solve Boston’s traffic-congestion problem and housing shortage — all at the same time.”

Blais noted that “this feasibility study is critically important as we strive to meet our ambitious climate goals while also addressing ways to reverse population losses and fuel economic development here in Western Massachusetts. Exploring the expansion of rail along the Route 2 corridor offers us the opportunity to examine transportation options that could benefit significant population centers across the Commonwealth.”

Linda Dunlavy of the FRCOG added that “we are so grateful to have an opportunity to recognize the potential of this transportation corridor and the value of passenger rail not only to Western Massachusetts but to the entire Commonwealth. The benefits of reducing traffic congestion, enhancing east-west transportation options, and contributing towards the state’s climate-resiliency goals are significant. We are excited to get started on this work in partnership with MassDOT and other stakeholders.”

Ben Heckscher, co-founder of the rail advocacy group Trains in the Valley, noted that “the restoration of passenger-rail service between North Adams, Greenfield, and Boston would provide people with an important alternative to driving Route 2. Anyone and everyone who would like to see passenger-rail service along this corridor should contribute their ideas to the work of the study team.”