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Region’s rail service set for boost

  • U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal announces a Greenfield-to-Springfield pilot rail program as state and local officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker, look on at Springfield’s Union Station on Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/LUIS FIELDMAN



Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, Gov. Charlie Baker and state officials are hoping to spur greater economic development across the commonwealth with the launch of a pilot passenger rail service between Greenfield and Springfield in combination with a feasibility study for an east-west passenger rail.

Tuesday at Union Station, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno joined the governor and congressman in announcing two initiatives aimed at strengthening the state’s rail systems.

The pilot service, operated by Amtrak, will provide two round trips each day along the Knowledge Corridor. It will supplement Amtrak’s existing daily service through the Pioneer Valley.

An agreement has been finalized with the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a passenger rail service to begin next spring on a pilot basis between Springfield and Greenfield. The service would continue through Connecticut to New Haven.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation would fund the cost and management of the service, which would conclude in fall 2021 under the current agreement. Two round trips would be provided each day, making stops at stations in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield.

“Through strong partnerships with federal, state and local officials, we are investing in our existing rail infrastructure, increasing capacity where it is needed, and strengthening the commonwealth’s transportation system,” Baker said.

There would be service southbound in the morning hours and northbound service in the evenings.

“Schedules are still being finalized but they are being designed to take an early morning train from Greenfield, down to Springfield, and back in the same day,” Pollack said.

State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who has spearheaded recent efforts to improve rail connections to western Massachusetts, said the changes discussed Tuesday will provide an economic boost to the region.

“The idea is to integrate with the Connecticut rail and the south service,” he said. “I think the goal eventually is to have Springfield restored as the crossroads of New England. The vision is to eventually have interconnected service from New York City, through Springfield, through Northampton, and all the way up to Vermont.”

Officials also announced a request for proposals for a consultant team to study the feasibility of a east-west passenger rail service. It would take place over 18 months to analyze the potential of a service from Springfield to Boston, as well as the possibility of reaching as far as Pittsfield.

The study, which was funded under the 2018 state rail plan after years of failed efforts, would engage with stakeholders, evaluate the potential costs, speed, infrastructure needs, and potential ridership.

“I have always believed that improved and enhanced rail service between Springfield and Boston has the potential to be a game changer for our region,” Neal said. “I’m excited by the progress announced today, and confident that today’s decision to study east-west passenger rail — paired with expanded service in the Pioneer Valley — will help boost economic vitality and growth not just in western Massachusetts, but throughout the commonwealth.”

Sarno described Union Station as “the house that Neal built,” and noted that a rail connecting the two parts of the state could add “vibrancy” to the city of Springfield.

Lesser hailed the feasibility study as a vital first step.

“I hope it includes a study on high-speed service because I think that’s what is going to be truly transformational for people,” he said. “There are literally thousands of people who wrote, signed petitions, who appeared at testimonies and drove out to Boston at the crack of dawn, and this is really the first acknowledgement we’ve had in a real way that we cannot continue to have an economy that vacuums out jobs and opportunities from our rural communities in western Mass.”

The announcement precedes a new 62-mile Hartford Line, beginning Saturday, that will run from New Haven to Springfield. Over the weekend, free rides will be offered to the public on trains that will run up to 110 mph. State officials hope that this estimated 80-minute ride, with stops in Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford and New Haven, will better connect Massachusetts residents with the greater New York City metropolitan area.

“One of the strengths of Springfield and this whole metropolitan area is that it is connected to two metro areas: Boston in the east and Connecticut into the New York City area to the south,” Pollack said. “Some people argue that you need to make a choice between better connections between our south and better connections to our east. The actions we are taking today acknowledge that both are important.”

Neal noted that the Hartford Line could add up to 2,000 daily passengers to Union Station, which “will help grow our economy and greatly improve the quality of life in the region.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.