Western Mass. senators get $225M for region’s rail into transit bill

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, center, and others are ushered onto Amtrak’s new Valley Flyer at 5:45 a.m. for the inaugural trip on Dec. 19. Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2020 1:16:04 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Western Massachusetts senators have helped to secure borrowing authorization for $225 million in funding for rail projects as part of the transportation bill the state Senate passed last week.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, described the successful effort as an example of the delegation “linking arms to make ourselves stronger.”

She said that the delegation collaborated to increase the line item from $175 million to $225 million and earmark it for the four rail projects being explored to serve western Massachusetts: east-west rail from Pittsfield to Boston, the Valley Flyer, the Berkshire Flyer, and east-west rail connecting North Adams, Greenfield and Fitchburg.

“It’s such a sizable chunk of money,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

Hinds said that “chances are good” that the borrowing authorization survives reconciliation with the House of Representatives’ transportation bill. However, he also said that the authorization is “still just a first step.”

The authorization sets a $50 million minimum for east-west rail from Pittsfield to Boston and a $25 million minimum for the Berkshire Flyer. It also contains an authorization for funding to make Valley Flyer service permanent.

The Valley Flyer, currently in its pilot stage, provides increased service from Greenfield to New Haven with stops in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield, and allows for more regular trips to New York City from western Massachusetts via rail. The Berkshire Flyer, whose launch has been delayed, promises to connect Pittsfield to Albany and the rail system there.

Comerford said that rail provides four immediate wins in that it’s good for the environment, regional economic development and individual economic development, and it has a municipal benefit.

“I feel like rail is a virtuous cycle for so many things that we care about,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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