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Study Sees Big Financial Benefits For CT and MA From Improved Passenger Rail Lines

Springfield's Union Station
Paul Tuthill

A report released this week by two regional planning agencies makes a business case for proposed passenger rail improvements in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

An analysis projects that by making upgrades to the Hartford Line and building east-west rail in Massachusetts, the metro Hartford-Springfield area would gain 20,000-40,000 professional jobs over 30 years with a corresponding growth in economic output of $47 billion-$84 billion.

Even at the highest estimated cost for the rail projects -- $9 billion – it would be a 10 -1 return on investment, said Kim Robinson, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

"It is clear the time to re-establish robust passenger rail is now," Robinson said.

The two projects would restore frequent and fast rail service between Boston and New York City along an inland route – something that has not existed for decades.

That loss of most intercity rail service has cost the economies of Springfield and Hartford, the report said.

Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, said since 1990 the region has missed out on 130,000 new jobs.

" The times moved beyond us and 130,000 jobs went somewhere else that had better transit and better train service," Wray said.

A MassDOT feasibility study of east-west rail released last year was criticized for low-balling ridership estimates and ignoring the economic benefits of new passenger rail service.  This latest study did not rely on ridership projections said Jessica Jones, a senior analyst with AECOM, the Chicago-based engineering firm that produced the report.

"We focused on the significant mismatch over 30 years that we have seen between metro Hartford-Springfield and the rest of the region and how we can catch up and get a piece of that pie back," Jones said.

 Democratic members of Congress Richard Neal of Massachusetts and John Larson of Connecticut announced the release of the study at a news conference in front of Springfield’s Union Station.

They pointed to President Biden’s infrastructure plan as a potential source of the funds needed to pay for the rail projects.  

" John and I are going to really push hard on the transportation side for this eventuality," Neal said. "The study lends credibility to where it is we want to go."

Neal said he continues to lobby Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker about east-east rail.

"( Boston) needs a first class transportation system: the MBTA. But that is not the only part of Massachusetts and New England that needs a first class transportation system. We all pay for that MBTA," said Neal.

Pointing out that Neal is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut chairs the Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Worcester is chairman of the Rules Committee, Larson said there is enough political clout in the region to get the projects done.

" If not now, when?" Larson said.

A copy of the report is available online at both planning agencies’ websites.

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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