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MassDOT Plans Nov. 30 Release Of Final Report On East-West Rail Feasibility

Passenger rail platform at Union Station
Trains In The Valley (https://trainsinthevalley.org/2020/01/25/rail-news-roundup-32/

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced three final options for passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Boston.

Following a year of study, MassDOT is recommending three options that all involve providing passenger rail service by making upgrades along existing tracks, removing from further consideration a proposal to build an electrified, high-speed rail line.

Costs for the remaining three options for the project range between $2.4 billion and $4.6 billion.

Ridership is forecast at between 278,000 passengers to almost a half-million passengers per year.

The option no longer being considered to build a brand new rail line across the length of the entire state had an eye-popping price tag of $25 billion.

None of the options include bus connections substituting for trains.  All three alternatives include proposed stops in Chester and Palmer.  Stops at those two locations had been lobbied for by elected officials and passenger rail advocates.

MassDOT is expected to release a final report on the feasibility of east-west rail on  Nov 30th.

A report on the three options under final consideration was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the East-West Rail Advisory Committee, which is made up of dozens of elected officials, municipal planners, and business development representatives from western and central Massachusetts.

State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli of the 4th Berkshire House District said the state should consider buying the existing tracks from the CSX rail company to avoid conflicts between freight and passenger trains.

"Then we can control this whole thing from the get-go," Pignatelli said.

Another member of the advisory committee, State Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow said he believes MassDOT is still low-balling passenger estimates.

"The numbers are far too low," Lesser said. "They have conveniently left out some of the most relevant baseline comparisons including Providence to Boston and the Worcester-Boston line that has been open now for a decade and many other rail projects around the country and even internationally."

Without higher ridership estimates, the east-west rail project might not qualify for federal funding.

"Just common sense would indicate that if you build it, people will use it," said Lesser. He said the east-west rail project will have the benefits of reducing traffic congestion and help people find relief from the high cost of housing in greater Boston.

MassDOT’s study found there would be a mixed environmental impact from developing east-west passenger rail.  While emissions from cars would go down, there would be negative impacts on wetlands from the construction work.

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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