A proposal to have the Massachusetts Department of Transportation do a feasibility study of Springfield-to-Boston high-speed passenger rail service is picking up steam.
Following the grand opening last month of Union Station in Springfield after a $95 million restoration, Mayor Domenic Sarno wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee urging that funding be included in the state budget to study linking Springfield and Boston by high speed rail.
"I want to see something happen," Sarno said in an interview. "We should have, and we demand, some sort of east-west rail connection between Boston and Springfield."
Sarno said he believes a high-speed rail link between Springfield and Boston would open “tremendous” economic opportunities, but he said the cost for new east-west rail service is unknown.
"I want this to be realistic, so a study is very essential," said Sarno.
After being closed for more than 40 years, Union Station is now an intermodal transportation center, but most of the thousands of people who use the new station daily are bus riders. There are just two long-distance Amtrak trains with scheduled daily stops and shuttle trains between Springfield and Hartford.
Starting in 2018, train service to Springfield on the so-called Hartford line is scheduled to increase by as many as a dozen trains a day, providing connections to New York City. MassDOT has committed to a pilot program for additional north-south commuter rail between Greenfield and Springfield.
The MBTA operates commuter trains between Boston and Worcester, but there are no plans, at present, to extend the service farther west.
"We want to be looked at out here in Springfield," said Sarno. " The connection has to be made."
Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser has sponsored an amendment to the state budget to require the east-west rail feasibility study.
" The bill calls for a formal feasibility study to be done by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation," explained Lesser. " They would look at all the costs, and importantly all the benefits; what would the ridership be, what would this do for property values, business development, and new jobs, and what would the cost be?"
A six-member conference committee will decide if Lesser’s amendment makes it into the fiscal 2018 state budget.
He’s been busy rallying support for it. Last month, Lesser took a day-long five stop tour of communities that could be linked by east-west rail.
" The point is to show the connectivity of these different regions, the synergies that can develop by linking these different cities and their economies together and how ultimately that lifts the entire Commonwealth," said Lesser.
Lesser’s office recently released a letter of support from longtime Hampden County Register of Deeds Don Ashe.
In the letter, Ashe points out that Worcester experienced significant growth after commuter rail service to Boston began over two decades ago, and said, “I am confident Springfield would prosper in a similar fashion.”
A similar proposal for a feasibility study of Springfield-Boston rail service was vetoed last year by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who called instead for a working group to review all transportation options.