A much-anticipated feasibility study on east-west passenger rail service in Massachusetts has been delayed.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation had been expected to present a report this winter on the costs and benefits of plans to link Greater Boston and western Massachusetts by rail. But, now the target for the final report has slipped to the spring.
"We need the (Baker) administration, we need MassDOT acting with urgency on this project," said State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). He said the delay is disappointing to him and other advocates of east-west passenger rail expansion.
"We do understand and appreciate that it is a complicated project and we want the results to be good and useful," said Lesser.
Lesser, a Democrat from Longmeadow, has long championed an expanded passenger rail network as a benefit to the entire state.
Pointing to worsening traffic gridlock and rising housing costs in eastern Massachusetts and population declines in western Massachusetts, Lesser said east-west rail would "lift both ends of our state."
MassDOT commenced the feasibility study of east-west passenger rail in 2018. Last July, the department presented a preliminary report with six options. One called for constructing a new high speed rail line with a Springfield-Boston travel time of 80 minutes.
The final report is expected to have two or three recommendations including cost estimates.
" We have our eyes wide open about what is involved and how challenging it will be and how long it might take, but it has to start. The feasibility study lets it get started," said Lesser.
Another east-west rail feasibility study is set to begin this year. This one is to look at reviving a long dormant passenger rail line that once connected North Adams and Boston.
A pilot project to launch rail service between the Berkshires and New York City is in the works.
MassDOT is also collecting ridership data on a pilot program that began last summer to offer north-south passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield. Lesser said the early feedback from that new line dubbed the Valley Flyer has been positive.
"Integrating that with the CT Rail service going south and hopefully one day the new east-west rail going to Boston is really going to be the game changer," said Lesser.
After postponing debate last fall, the Massachusetts House is expected to consider proposals this year for raising additional revenue for transportation.