Home Posts tagged East-West Passenger Rail Study
Daily News

PIONEER VALLEY — Yesterday, state Sen. Eric Lesser joined Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin; Kimberly Robinson, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC); and Lyle Wray, executive director emeritus of the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) for a virtual press conference announcing significant ridership findings based on a new sketch-level analysis on east-west passenger rail in Massachusetts.

The analysis was prepared by AECOM for CRCOG and PVPC and comes as a follow-up to the Metro Hartford-Springfield Rail Improvements Economic Impacts Study released in April, which demonstrated an addition of up to 40,000 jobs over 30 years and an economic return-on-investment ratio of 10:1.

The East-West Rail Sketch Level Ridership Forecast Update showed that, with the inclusion of direct service to the Hartford line in the east-west rail forecast, ridership estimates increase by 54%. This significant increase in ridership numbers, coupled with the economic-impact study results, comes at a pivotal moment as the $1 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act moves through negotiations in Congress.

“East-west rail is going to do more than link two regions, it’s going to link all of Western New England with all of Eastern New England,” Lesser said. “MassDOT needs to take this research into account and update their feasibility study to include the economic-impact analysis prepared by PVPC and CRCOG as well as this forecast update from AECOM. Now is the time for east-west rail, and with partners like Mayor Bronin, PVPC, CRCOG, and our federal delegation, I believe that we can get this done to create jobs, address skyrocketing housing costs, and increase economic opportunity for all of our communities.”

Bronin added that “this analysis proves what we already know: east-west rail between Springfield and Boston will make a huge difference for communities in our region. Increasing rail connectivity between cities in the Northeast isn’t just about convenience — it’s about job creation, housing opportunity, and economic growth. I want to thank Senator Lesser for his partnership and his leadership on behalf of Southern Massachusetts, as well as the PVPC and everyone at CRCOG, and of course Congressman [Richard] Neal, who has been a tireless advocate for east-west rail. East-west rail is long, long overdue, and we need to work together to make it a reality now.”

Robinson noted that “today we are again acknowledging the fact that, in order for this once-in-a-generation project to be completed, we will need to work together with our regional partners in Connecticut to present not a singular rail project existing in a vacuum, but rather a critical component of a larger rail system connecting Boston to New York City through a climate-resilient and economically empowering inland route. The real-life ridership figures already enjoyed by the smaller-market, lower-frequency, and longer-travel-time Amtrak Downeaster line tells us a metro Hartford-Springfield line will succeed, and the recent economic-impact study conducted on such an inland-route connection has provided us with a warning of the high-opportunity cost of not completing this project.”

Daily News

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) released the final report for its East-West Passenger Rail Study, which examines the potential benefits, costs, and investments necessary to connect people in Western Mass. communities with Central and Eastern Mass. through passenger rail, providing fast, frequent, attractive service in a cost-effective and achievable manner.

The final report for the study recommends further consideration of the three final alternatives, as well as next steps to gather information that could further inform conversation about new transportation options for the corridor. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/east-west-passenger-rail-study.

“After more than two years of effort, our state has completed a feasibility analysis of east-west rail service between Pittsfield and Springfield to Boston, state Sen. Eric Lesser said. “This report is an important step in moving this project from conception to reality. I want to thank the countless advocates, community organizations, business organizations, elected officials, and everyday citizens from every corner of our Commonwealth who wouldn’t take no for an answer and demanded statewide rail investment. The study comes at the right moment, given President-elect Biden’s long history of infrastructure advocacy, and his passion for train transportation in particular, along with his nominee to be Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.”

However, “as MassDOT acknowledges, the study remains incomplete,” Lesser said. “Most importantly, the ridership estimates are far too low and do not reflect comparable rail links around the country or the economic growth the rail line will spur. The study also does not take into account the significant environmental benefits from the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions as tens of thousands of cars are taken off the road.”

Opinion

Editorial

A few weeks back, we referenced that massive public hearing conducted to provide an update on the ongoing study of rail options for the Commonwealth. At that time, we focused on the high degree of skepticism concerning the state’s projections for cost and especially ridership (Western Mass. planners project almost 500,000 riders annually, while MassDOT has estimated roughly half that number and now promises to take a second look at the projections) and, overall, the many expressed opinions that the state wasn’t being sincere in its approach to this study.

All this is problematic on many levels. But there was one comment that was troubling on another level. It had to do with repeated use of the phrase ‘east-west rail,’ which has been used in most of the discussions and is even the formal name of this ongoing initiative — the ‘East-West Passenger Rail Study.’ The comment was made that it should be called ‘west-east rail’ because this is the region that would be benefit, and — we’re paraphrasing here — it’s essentially a Western Mass. project.

This line of thinking is flawed in a number of respects. Let’s start with the whole Western Mass. inferiority-complex thing — and it is a thing. Many out here have that complex, and it manifests itself in a number of ways, including jokes — if they’re even jokes — about how this region would be better off if it seceded and became part of Vermont. But to suggest that labeling a study ‘East-West’ as opposed to ‘West-East’ is a slight, and an indication of the state’s indifference to all the real estate west of Worcester, is take things too far and miss the far bigger point.

‘East-west’ is a phrase used to describe how roads, highways, and, yes, rail lines run. Few people, if any, say the Turnpike runs ‘west-east.’ It goes in both directions. ‘East-west’ is a figure of speech.

But there’s something else that’s wrong with this line of thinking — something far more important. This isn’t a Western Mass. project, and it can’t simply be a Western Mass. project. Why? Because it will never sell if it is. The state just isn’t going to spend $25 billion or $5 billion or even $2 billion — the various price tags attached to the options outlined at the meeting last month — on a Western Mass. project.

‘East-west’ is a phrase used to describe how roads, highways, and, yes, rail lines run. Few people, if any, say the Turnpike runs ‘west-east.’ It goes in both directions. ‘East-west’ is a figure of speech.

We get it. This project is mostly, if not entirely, being pushed by Western Mass. lawmakers and especially state Sen. Eric Lesser from Longmeadow. And one of their arguments is that this rail line would likely provide a huge boost to many of the cities and towns that are not seeing the same kind of economic prosperity being enjoyed by communities inside Route 128. It would provide a lifeline to communities that are seeing their populations age and decline because young people don’t have enough incentives to live in these places. It would, according to those proposing it, help level the laying field between east and west.

But that’s not the only argument, and it can’t be the only argument if this thing is ever going to move beyond the study phase and stand any chance of being approved by the Legislature.

For this to work, it has to be a project that will benefit not only Chester and Palmer, Pittsfield and Springfield, but also Boston and its suburbs, which are seeing congestion, traffic, and overall cost of living rise to almost untenable levels.

We understand that a name is not a big deal, and it’s mostly about semantics. Why not call it the ‘West-East Rail Study’? We could, if it would make people out here feel better (it wouldn’t make us feel better). But we should instead call it the ‘Commonwealth Rail Study,’ because it’s a project to benefit those living or working on both sides of the state.

If it wasn’t, it would never get off the ground.

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