Editorial: The slow progress of East-West rail

  • The inaugural trip last summer of the new Valley Flyer, Amtrak’€™s rail service. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 1/30/2020 3:03:01 PM

With recent success in the expansion of North-South rail, in some ways it feels like there is momentum finally building for an East-West line.

However, Gov. Charlie Baker seemed to throw some cold water on that last week during the opening of a handicapped-accessible platform at Springfield Union Station, saying that any East-West rail option would be contingent on favorable findings in an ongoing feasibility study.

An insight into what East-West is up against came in the form of a recent column from Boston Globe writer Joan Vennochi, who seemed to believe she had ventured out from the comfort of the metropolis into the wilds of western Mass. Her piece, ostensibly about a possible solution to Boston’s housing and congestion crisis, identified this part of the state as a possible new “hot neighborhood” of Boston.

It’s clear from the tone of her piece, which reads as if western Mass were a Somerville-sized community containing Tanglewood, UMass Amherst, and all of Hampden County well within walking distance of one another, that Vennochi doesn’t know much about the area.

Vennochi, who implied that most in Boston would view a trip to our part of the state as a “mercy mission,” came out to Exit 5 on the Pike on the invitation of state Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, a key East-West rail proponent. As Lesser seems to have figured out, she is exactly the type of person our part of the state needs to convince if we’re going to have a good shot at East-West rail. Vennochi quoted Lesser as saying that western Mass needed “evangelists.”

One thing is certain — the eastern and western parts of this state need to be better connected than they are now. They have a lot to offer one another: quality of life on the western Mass side and economic opportunities in the East.

East-West rail would not solve every problem, but it would create more of a meaningful link, economically and physically among the different parts of the state. Rail offers the promise of a better, more consistent connection, provided that the ticket price is affordable.

East-West rail is something to keep an eye on, and residents will get a chance next month, when a public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., at UMass Center at Springfield, 1500 Main St., Springfield.

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