Passenger rail bill unveiled by congressmen

  • In this March 27, 2019 file photo, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., speaks during a Senate Transportation subcommittee on commercial airline safety, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2020 2:38:20 PM

EASTHAMPTON — U.S. Sen. Ed Markey has announced new legislation that he says would help expand passenger rail service across western Massachusetts.

In an online press conference Friday, Markey said the bill would bring $5 billion in yearly investment — a total of $25 billion over five years — to build intercity rail. In an effort to give the bill a catchy acronym, the legislation features a lengthy name: the “Building Rail Across Intercity Networks To Ride Around Interior of the Nation” — or BRAIN TRAIN — Act.

“Passenger rail is an essential ingredient for a healthy economy, a healthy environment, and a healthy workforce,” Markey said. Rail, he said, improves mobility, enhances safety, leads to economic development and new jobs, and protects the environment.

If passed, the bill would create a Department of Transportation grant program to award up to $5 billion annually to “high-performance” rail projects, meaning rail service that would improve transportation capacity, travel times, reliability and efficiency.

Markey said he had several projects in mind when filing the bill: east-west rail from Boston to western Massachusetts, South Coast rail between Boston and New Bedford, and rail service between the Berkshires and New York City.

Joining Markey on the virtual press conference was U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who is introducing the legislation in the House.

Neal is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, where he unveiled a $760 billion infrastructure plan in late January. He said he recently met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to discuss infrastructure spending, and that he thinks there is broad support for it in Congress.

“Now is the time to take the pressure off of our highway system,” Neal said.

Infrastructure talks between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration have broken down in the past, but Markey said that he still hopes his legislation will go together with a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“We want to work with them in order to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill,” Markey said. “But if not, we will do the same thing next year with President Joe Biden.”

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Ben Heckscher of the Western Massachusetts Rail Coalition were also on the call. Heckscher said the proposed legislation would provide significant and long-needed funding to expand rail service in western Massachusetts.

“It’s ironic that we live here in western Massachusetts, and we are much better connected by passenger rail with Connecticut and New York City to the south than we are to the east with Boston,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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