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Rail Advocates Praise Study Of Potential New England Expansion

An Amtrak train arrives at the downtown Holyoke, MA rail platform

    A federally-funded study estimates it would cost $1.2 billion to add more frequent high-speed passenger rail service linking Boston, Springfield, Montreal and New Haven.  Advocates say the benefits to the region justify the large expense.

       The study envisions eight round-trip trains a day between Boston and New Haven, along with a daily train connecting Boston and Montreal and New Haven-Montreal.  All the trains would go through Springfield where an $88.5 million project to restore the city’s Union Station is scheduled to be finished by the end of this year.

      To accommodate high-speed train travel along the north-south and east-west routes, about 400 miles of new track would have to be laid, signal systems improved, crossings upgraded, and improvements made at some of the smaller station stops, according to the study.

      In addition to the $1.2 billion capital cost, the study estimates the new train service would require a $23 million operating subsidy annually.

  Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal ,who along with former Congressman John Olver, requested the study praised it as “complete and comprehensive.”

" There has been a very cooperative effort from the ( Massachusetts) Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to get us to this day," said Neal, adding " So, this shows it is eminently doable."

Neal said it would take a combination of federal and state funds to pay for the rail project, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will have a large say in whether it becomes reality.  Neal said he will make an appeal to Baker for “regional equity” as the governor considers whether to move forward with several rail projects in the greater Boston area.

" This is an opportunity that is not likely to come again," said Neal.

Neal said he plans to put copies of the report into the hands of business leaders in western and central Massachusetts in a bid to drum up backing.

The report found the benefits of frequent high-speed rail service in the study area are multi-fold, according to Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.  These include linking major business hubs by rail, providing alternative transportation for tourists to visit major cultural and recreation venues, and allowing  students to more easily travel to the numerous colleges in the region.

" When you roll all those benefits up that is what makes the investment worthwhile and that is why these studies are important to tease out what are going to be the cumulative benefits," said Brennan.

If all the new train service was to operate, the study projects annual passenger boarding at Massachusetts stations would be more than 322,000 riders. 

Brennan said frequent east-west passenger rail service would be an economic game-changer for the Springfield area.

  Astrid Glynn, rail and transit administrator for MassDOT, said the study’s findings will be made part of a larger study that is currently ongoing into the state’s rail needs.

  "The recommendations of this study will be an important part of how we evaluate and prioritize options," said Glynn.

  Neal said he has arranged for a meeting in September between Gov. Baker and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy to talk about the future of passenger rail service between the two states.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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