Editorial: Legislature should back North Adams-Boston rail study

  • A northbound Amtrak Train arrives in Greenfield about 4:30 every day. STAFF FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

Published: 2/8/2019 9:04:09 AM

It’s about 100 miles from Greenfield to Boston. We wish it were a lot easier and more sustainable to get to there from here. But now the state Legislature has the opportunity to take the first step down that road — railroad, that is.

Newly elected state Sen. Jo Comerford has proposed a bill to study the feasibility of rail service from North Adams to Boston.

There is no passenger rail service connecting North Adams to Boston at the moment, but a freight service currently operates along much of that line. The feasibility study would assess costs, project ridership and examine impacts to nearby towns, according to the bill.

It seems to us that a North Adams-to-Boston passenger rail service would be a boon to Western Massachusetts, making our region more accessible to the eastern part of the state — for work and pleasure.

The benefit could work both ways, providing practical public transportation for Boston metro residents to the many recreational tourism opportunities west of Worcester. Such a train might also entice more people to move to western Massachusetts while commuting.

That could provide a beneficial infusion of people and money to our region, which could use both. It would make it easier for us to travel to Boston for recreation and cultural opportunities that the state capital provides.

The rail service would also benefit the environment. Boosting ridership on more energy-efficient rail service could be the leading edge of an evolution in our thinking for getting from here to there. Comerford rightly imagines that investing in and encouraging use of passenger rail could take cars off the road and become a meaningful part of addressing climate change.

While rail travel in western Massachusetts is currently limited, two new rail services are planned to serve towns in the area and another study is in the works. A new commuter rail service connecting Greenfield, Springfield and New Haven, Connecticut, is expected to pilot this summer; a service from New York to Pittsfield is scheduled to pilot in the summer of 2020; and a study on a service from Springfield to Boston is currently underway.

Ridership on upcoming Western Mass. rail services could determine the fate of a North Adams-to-Boston line, but we hope allowance is made for travel habits changing slowly, especially among the general public who will have to come around to using public transit in a country long accustomed to the personal convenience of driving.

There is hope. Passenger rail use in Massachusetts has risen steadily over the past few years, according to the Mass. Department of Transportation. Amtrak ridership rose in the state by nearly 500,000 people per year between 2010 and 2016. In 2010, 2,740,600 people rode Amtrak. In 2016, that number jumped to 3,219,900.

There was a time when the notion of having an Amtrak train stop in Greenfield was considered a pipe dream. But the trains now do stop twice a day at the Olver Transit Center and carry passengers south to New York and Washington.

We hope that over time more people will use rail because they see the benefits to the environment. It may take a while to reach the critical mass that makes the service practical and popular, but getting from here to there begins with this first step — a study.

We encourage the Legislature to approve our new senator’s request for such a study.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy