Keeping the train rolling forward: State eyes $108M for corridor improvements as east-west rail plans move forward

  • A CTrail train from New Haven, Conn., breaks a ceremonial tape at Hartford’s Union Station in 2018 to mark the opening of the new commuter line linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Mass. AP

  • Congressman Richie Neal speaks in 2020. Gazette file photo

  • Congressman Richard Neal, at podium, speaks at Union Station in Springfield during a 2017 media tour of the renovated train station. gazette file photo

For the Gazette
Published: 12/18/2022 8:28:44 PM
Modified: 12/18/2022 8:28:08 PM

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in partnership with Amtrak and with support from CSX, is seeking a $108 million federal grant to improve the rail corridor between Worcester and Springfield, a step toward a future passenger rail line that connects Boston to western Massachusetts.

“Springfield is home to a $100 million newly renovated intermodal transportation center at Union Station,” U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, said in written testimony to the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission ahead of its first public hearing at Berkshire Innovation Center earlier this month. “CT Rail now has 17 trains a day between New Haven and Hartford, 12 of those trains continuing to Springfield. Yet Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, the lone east-west train, has only one stop in each direction per day.”

Neal said the success of these lines must be boosted to promote the viability of robust east-west travel in the very near future.

The Massachusetts Legislature established the Passenger Rail Commission to investigate and receive public testimony concerning potential public entities with the ability to design, permit, construct, operate and maintain passenger rail service proposals from the East-West Passenger Rail Study Final Report.

Neal, who grew up in Springfield, said that it’s crucial to ensure a steady stream of funding to western and central Massachusetts for the project. As a result of his work as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, federal dollars have been made available through the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, including $9.4 billion to Massachusetts, with $2.5 billion specifically going to public transit.

“As we look ahead, we should all be very much mindful of what the Big Dig did in the 1990s and 2000s. The behemoth project ended up costing $22 billion, $16 billion in principle and $6 billion in interest,” Neal said. “For those of us in the central and western part of the state, we saw many of our initiatives take the backburner during those years or be compromised altogether. I don’t want that to happen this time around. It is time for regional equity in this state ...”

The Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission panel heard testimony from a dozen people in person and virtually about how the rail service is crucial to economic development and statewide accessibility for residents.

“This will transform western Massachusetts, and you will see immediate economic opportunities,” said Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “We will see the jobs we have had here that are needed to be filled with engineers, doctors, nurses, and lawyers across the spectrum of our economy, from hospitality to hospitals. We all come together for a greater good.”

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program seek more than $108 million, which will go toward the total project cost of approximately $135 million. MassDOT also plans to contribute more than $18 million, and Amtrak $9 million toward the total cost.

According to the MassDOT press release, the project aims to:

■Facilitate two Amtrak Inland Route daily round trips and improve travel time as the first phase of corridor improvements that will enhance connections within Massachusetts between Boston, Worcester, and Springfield and to communities beyond the commonwealth in Connecticut and New York City.

■ Increase operational efficiency and flexibility by reducing passenger and freight train conflicts and reducing travel times along the remaining single-track segments on the CSX-owned part between Worcester and Springfield.

■ Improve infrastructure directly impacting increased train speeds and additional corridor capacity along the 53-mile section of the CSX Boston & Albany Line between Worcester and Springfield.

Neal said in his testimony that such an opportunity would not come again, and it is time to move on to an east-west rail project that will be transformative for all of Massachusetts.

“To put it simply, we have the money, the support, and I have secured the commitment from both the outgoing Baker-Polito administration and the incoming Healey-Driscoll administration to keep this train literally and metaphorically moving forward,” said Neal.

“Let us continue to work together as elected leaders, an engaged business community, and an involved public. Together, we can create the transportation system that our entire state needs for its economy and people to thrive.”

Nino Mtchedlishvili writes for the Gazette as a member of the Boston University Statehouse Program
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