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Study Shows Nearly 10-to-1 Economic-development Return on Passenger-rail Investments

SPRINGFIELD — A new report commissioned by the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), in consultation with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), has found a nearly 10-to-1 return on investments in passenger rail between New Haven and Worcester via the Hartford-Springfield metro area.

U.S. Reps. Richard Neal (MA-01) and John Larson (CT-01) joined the heads of the two agencies at Union Station ion Springfield on May 6 to announce these findings and renew calls for a strong interstate commuter program along this inland route.

“I have been a staunch advocate for improved rail in Western and Central Massachusetts for decades,” Neal said. “The findings in the report are welcome news and echo what we already know — improved rail along the inland route from Worcester to Springfield [and] south is good for the entire region. Economic growth, jobs, and unparalleled opportunity. It is simply too costly not to act at this moment. I will continue to work with Congressman Larson on the federal level and both the CRCOG and PVPC locally to ensure that rail service, in every direction, is a priority.”

Added Larson “I am proud to have helped secure federal funding for the successful Hartford Line. Now is the time to build on that success. Improving the Hartford Line and expanding it to Worcester would provide reliable service between Boston and New York City. This would have a profound economic impact for the Greater Hartford region, including our neighbors in New Haven and in Springfield and beyond. I look forward to working with Chairman Neal, the Capitol Region Council of Governments, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to help make this important vision a reality.”

Lyle Wray, executive director of the CRCOG noted that “this new rail-service impact report highlights significant opportunities for the Hartford-Springfield region, which is the 40th-largest in the country. We could gain 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in information technology, finance, and professional services back with improved investment in inter-city rail connectivity. Payback of the investment over 30 years is almost 10 to one.”

PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson added that, “in so many ways, the findings of this study confirm what we have seen with our own eyes for decades here in the Valley — regions connected by rail to the major economic hubs of Boston and New York City are thriving, while underserved communities like ours have lagged behind. We now know what the lack of rail has cost us economically, and this trend cannot continue further into the 21st century. As our nation continues to form into interstate mega-regions, we must ensure Metro Hartford-Springfield’s full access to a new American prosperity. Re-establishing an inland connection between New York and Boston via the Connecticut River Valley is an important step in that direction.”

The improvements, which include finishing the Hartford Line and connecting it to Worcester, would have a transformative effect on regional and state economies, according to the report, which projects that a $6 billion to $9 billion investment in rail now has the potential to result in $47 to $84 billion in new regional GDP over the next 30 years, including $27 billion to $48 billion in wages. An additional $15 to $21 billion of indirect and induced GDP is estimated as well.

This investment would reconstitute a 21st-century version of the prior Inland Route — regular train service from Boston to New York via Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven, which the region has now lacked for decades.

The high level of projected benefits would result from the Metro Hartford-Springfield region. Hartford-Springfield lost most of its inter-city rail service in the 1970s, and service all but disappeared around 2004. That was the case until Union Station reopened in Springfield  after undergoing a $100 million renovation in 2017, and the Hartford Line launch in 2018.

While rail use is back on the rise, the prolonged period of low use has left its mark on the line and region. Since 1990, annual job growth in Metro Hartford-Springfield has lagged far behind that of the Northeast Corridor as a whole, representing about 130,000 jobs not created in this region. Slow job growth has been accompanied by an aging housing stock, slow population and wage growth, and widening inequalities of opportunity and income. Metro Hartford-Springfield has fallen structurally behind the rest of the Northeast Corridor.

The report finds that some 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in information technology, finance, and professional services are “missing” from Metro Hartford-Springfield because of the lack of regional and inter-city rail connectivity. These jobs, which have fueled growth elsewhere in the Northeast, are particularly attracted to rail-transit availability. With rail connectivity restored, these jobs can be attracted over time.

Inland Route rail improvements between New Haven and Worcester would serve 16 existing and future rail stations. Recent and planned development in these station areas suggests a strong market for interconnected residential communities, employment centers, and public destinations. Analysis reveals an aggregate station-area potential of about 20 million square feet of commercial development and 30,000 housing units.

The full report can be found by clicking here.

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