The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is updating the state’s rail plan to prioritize projects that the agency said should be pursued over the next several years.
A draft report from MassDOT says top priority will be given to providing more passenger rail service from Springfield to points north and south, while a much discussed east-west rail line to connect Springfield and Boston warrants further study.
State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), who has championed a proposed high-speed rail link between Springfield and Boston, said a commitment to do a study as part of MassDOT’s 2018 State Rail Plan is a big deal.
"This is a major, major breakthrough," declared Lesser.
For three years, Lesser tried to get a bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker to authorize a feasibility study into east-west rail. He said with this draft report MassDOT is signaling it will undertake everything his bill called for.
" I am hopeful and confident that we will get a real true feasibility study of east-west rail between Springfield and Boston from the Mass Department of Transporation and that will give us a blueprint going forward," said Lesser.
Joined by State Senator James Welch (D-West Springfield) and State Representatives Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow) and Bud Williams (D-Springfield) at a news conference in front of Springfield’s Union Station, Lesser urged people who care about east-west rail to let MassDOT know.
"I am calling on the sons and daughters of western Massachusetts, the families who care about this rail link, to do what you have already done. Make your voice heard. Step up and participate in this process so the Mass Department of Transportation knows how important this is for our future," Lesser said.
The public comment period on the draft rail plan report closes on February 19th, 2018.
Lesser and other advocates for east-west rail have long believed it will lift the fortunes of western Massachusetts by providing people access to jobs in the booming economy of greater Boston. But the draft transportation report points out there is a lack of consensus about the type of service to pursue and how much it will cost.
The rail plan said the state’s transportation agency is ready to move forward on extending passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield.
MassDOT and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission started working almost two years to bring a pilot project to the Knowledge Corridor Line. Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan said the plan is to have two trains each morning and two trains each evening run between Springfield and Greenfield with stops in Northampton and Holyoke.
" I am personally optimistic this can happen late in 2018," Brennan said in an interview Monday.
Starting in May, CTRail is scheduled to begin operating a dozen trains a day between Springfield’s Union Station and New Haven on the new Hartford Line.