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Mass. Governor Rides Into Pittsfield In Support Of Passenger Rail Expansion

Lucas Willard

On Monday, Governor Patrick, Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, and others boarded a train on the Housatonic Railroad and rode from the Connecticut border to Pittsfield.

The symbolic trip came after the governor had sought more than $1 billion in new revenues for transportation in his initial fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, a plan that contained dedicated funding for several priority projects, including $113 million for the rail expansion in Berkshire County.

That plan was ultimately rejected by state legislative leaders, who sought a smaller revenue package. The governor vetoed the transportation bill submitted by lawmakers that would include $500 million in new taxes earlier this month, but the veto was overridden by the House and Senate.  

Patrick said that while there are hurdles to his transportation vision in the smaller bill, restoring passenger rail from Pittsfield to New York City is still a priority…

"The connections by rail and other means of transportation down to New York and to points in between is actually quite important. So, there are some hurdles, yes, but I think they're worth trying to surmount," said Patrick.

The governor has announced that he will not seek reelection in 2016. Secretary Davey said the administration will work to find ways to support the project within the limits of the final transportation bill before the end of the governor's term. 

"This remains a priority project of the governor and as such we'll be trying to move it along in the final 18 months of our term," said Davey. 

John Hanlon, President of the Housatonic Railroad, the company that owns the tracks that currently only carry freight cars, was delighted to see the governor and other officials continuing with their support.

"What a wonderful day," said Hanlon.

The Housatonic Railroad Company commissioned a study in 2011 conducted by Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard. The study estimated that restoring passenger rail would amount to a $343 million increase in sold goods and services in Berkshire County over a 10-year period.

Hanlon, who said his company is seeking the support of the federal government and the state governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut to expand service, believes that rail is the best way to bring in new investment from out of state to the Berkshire region.

"There's never going to be a new road, there's never going to be scheduled airline service so for public transportation to occur up here, rail is pretty much it," said Hanlon.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is also working within the county to find suitable station locations for passenger rail.

State lawmakers in attendance including Democrats Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier and State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield said that they will return to Boston seeking more legislative support for the project.

"I think we're going to do everything in our power and I think we're going to make it a reality," said Downing.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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