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East-west Rail a Worthwhile Goal


“This is an easy fix. Please fix it. Make it easy for us. Make it easy for me to get to work.”

Those were the words of Gina Nortonsmith, who lives in Northampton but works in Boston, as reported by the Berkshire Eagle.

The occasion was a pair of hearings on east-west passenger rail service in Massachusetts, the latest in a series of meetings being held by the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission.

Nortonsmith’s sentiments are no doubt shared by many in Western Mass. who work in the eastern part of the state, or travel there often for other reasons, from medical appointments to ballgames and concerts.

What many state officials and lawmakers no doubt take issue with is the word ‘easy,’ at least when it comes to bringing such rail service into existence. Because it certainly won’t be easy — or inexpensive.

But our feeling has long been that the price tag — an initial outlay of $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion, according to MassDOT, plus ongoing maintenance costs — is worth it.

The reasons are myriad. In an age of remote and hybrid work models — which don’t seem to be going away — rail service could be a boon for those who need to work in or near Boston but want the lower cost of living and what they see as a higher quality of life in the Valley or the Berkshires. Conversely, it would open up job opportunities out east for those already living here.

“Key passenger rail stops along the east-west passenger line would provide a catalyst for economic growth throughout the area,” Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said in written testimony at the Springfield hearing. “The iron is hot, and now is the time to strike. This project would open up myriad positive possibilities, including opportunities for economic development, jobs, and housing.”

Enhanced rail could also bring more tourism dollars to Western Mass. — which is rich in cultural and recreational destinations — by making it easier for Eastern Mass. denizens to spend some time here.

The service would likely connect Pittsfield to Boston via a high-speed train with proposed stops in Chester, Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester. From an environmental perspective, fewer cars on the Mass Pike and other roads means fewer emissions, and that’s a plus for the health of the entire corridor.

While talk of east-west service had been frustratingly fruitless for rail advocates in recent years, their dream got some concrete encouragement last summer when an $11.4 billion infrastructure bond bill backed by former Gov. Charlie Baker authorized $275 million toward expansion of passenger rail and created the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission to gather information about the feasibility of such a project.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and many influential local lawmakers have been stalwart supporters of such a plan. And in her FY 2024 state budget, Gov. Maura Healey proposed directing $12.5 toward the project, including the hiring of a project director, design of a station in Palmer, and track improvements in Pittsfield — all of which points to continued support from the governor’s office to make east-west rail a reality.

The plan still has many hurdles to clear; it’s far from a done deal, and may never happen — because, as we noted, it’s not easy.

But the payoff would go far beyond making commuters’ lives a little easier. From the perspectives of economic growth, tourism dollars, and even climate and health, we hope this theoretical train keeps chugging toward an actual, feasible plan.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate committed $275 million to design, engineering, and construction costs to expand east-west rail to Western Mass. in an amendment to a $10.4 billion infrastruture bond bill passed on Thursday.

“The train is leaving the station,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said on the Senate floor, the Republican reported. “Transportation solutions are an absolute necessity if cities and towns of Western Massachusetts are going to attract new residents and new economic growth.”

East-West rail would deliver passenger service between Pittsfield, Springfield, Palmer, Worcester and Boston, according to the infrastructure bond bill.

State Sen. Eric Lesser filed a successful bill amendment that boosted east-west rail funding from $250 million to $275 million within the infrastructure bond bill, the Republican noted.

“Billions are wasted in time and wear and tear on our roads and in damages to their vehicles as a result of the soul-crushing traffic that we’ve got here in Massachusetts,” Lesser said. “In Western Massachusetts, we have a great qualify of life, we have a lot of open space, we have a much more affordable cost of living. But we don’t have connectivity to that fast-growing, red-hot economy in the Boston area.”




Much has been made of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent endorsement of east-west rail in Massachusetts.

It came at a meeting late last month with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and other key stakeholders in the bid to expand east-west commuter rail. And the immediate question on everyone’s minds is ‘what does this mean?’

Well … it could make all the difference in the world.

The governor’s endorsement was one of the key missing piece in this puzzle, and a large piece at that. Baker has said he’s never really been opposed to the concept; rather, he just had questions, primarily about how much this would cost, who would administer the rail system, and how much land would have to be taken to create it.

These questions and others have been answered, or soon will be, leaving fewer of those pieces of the puzzle to fall into place for a project that just a few years ago seemed like a good idea — especially for the western part of the state — but had much too steep a price tag and seemingly too little support statewide to become reality.

Now? On BusnessTalk, BusinessWest’s podcast, Neal said the stars are aligned for east-west rail in a way that probably couldn’t have been imagined even a year ago.

Indeed, funding for the project, seemingly the biggest question mark and hurdle facing this project could be much less of an issue thanks to the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which will, by Neal’s estimate, bring $9 billion to the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, the federal government put another piece in place when it approved freight carrier CSX’s acquisition of Pan Am Railways — on condition that Amtrak would have access to tracks in and out of Springfield.

And then, there’s Baker’s endorsement. Although he’s in office only eight more months and candidates to succeed him have already announced their support of east-west rail, his support of the plan is critical at this juncture. That’s because things need to start happening this year if funds from the infrastructure bill are to be ticketed for this rail project.

Baker has recommended the establishment of a Massachusetts passenger rail authority to apply for federal funds and administer expanded east-west commuter rail, and he further recommends that it be established before this legislative session ends. His support of the concept might help get that done.

East-west rail still has many, hurdles to clear, and in many respects, it remains a long shot. But Neal is right. The stars seem to be aligned, and a project that was the longest of shots just a few years ago may finally be gaining some needed momentum.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 111: May 9, 2022

Editor George O’Brien talks with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal about the prospects for momentum on east-west rail in the Commonwealth

Editor George O’Brien talks with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal about the prospects for momentum on east-west rail in the Commonwealth. The congressman believes the stars are aligned on this matter, and explains why Gov. Charlie Baker’s endorsement of the project is just another of many pieces now falling into place. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.


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Daily News

LOWELL — At a press conference at UMass Lowell yesterday, Gov. Charlie Baker outlined initial plans to invest in roads, bridges, public transportation, and environmental infrastructure projects across the Commonwealth with $9.5 billion in funding from the recently passed federal $1.2 trillion infrastructure law.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver billions in funding to the Commonwealth, helping to build on the investments our administration has made over the past seven years to improve our roads and bridges and make our public transportation system more reliable and resilient,” Baker said. “We are grateful for the efforts of the congressional delegation to secure this funding for Massachusetts and look forward to working with them and our local partners to deliver critical projects across the Commonwealth.”

Distributed over five years, the $9.5 billion in total funding to the Commonwealth includes $5.4 billion in highway funds, $2.2 billion in MBTA funds, $591 million in Regional Transit Authority funds, and $1.4 billion for environmental work.

The federal law also includes $66 billion to address the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, expand intercity rail service, and make improvements to the nation’s freight rail system. Massachusetts intends to work with Amtrak to compete for funds to invest in service improvements between Springfield and Worcester as an initial step to expand service between Boston and Albany, Baker said, noting that his administration plans to advance a transportation bond bill in the coming weeks that will include matching funds for the new federal infrastructure money.

“We are going to figure out some way to take our … state capital dollars and some of the [federal COVID-19 relief] money that’s been appropriated by the Legislature to compound some of the opportunities that are associated with a lot of these resources,” Baker said, according to the Boston Globe. “There’s going to be a lot of money going to work for the people in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler added that “significant investments are going to be made in transportation infrastructure thanks to both reauthorized and increased federal funding within the federal bipartisan infrastructure law, and these investments will be transformational. I want to thank members of the congressional delegation for delivering this new funding and express appreciation to state legislators, municipal leaders, planning organizations, and stakeholders who will partner with us to advance the Baker-Polito administration’s FY 2023 budget, advance the transportation bond bill to be filed soon, and support MassDOT as we identify and scope projects which can be accelerated.”