East West Rail

Ben Heckscher of Trains in the [Pioneer] Valley does an admirable job of reporting on rail news. Sign up for his Rail News Roundup by clicking here. A couple of highlights:

Governor Charlie Baker announced today that a term sheet has been finalized with the Connecticut Department of Transportation which will enable the start of passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield beginning on a pilot basis in the Spring of 2019. Read more… .

Governor Baker also announced at the Springfield press conference on June 12, accompanied by Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack and Congressman Richard Neal that a Request for Proposals (RFP) was being issued to find a consultant team to study the feasibility of east-west passenger rail service. Read more… .

This is of course relevant to the Berkshires, and we’re glad to report that service to Pittsfield will be included in the study. Here is a section from the State Rail Plan:

East-West Rail – The significant majority of commenters supported the pursuit of East-West rail for various economic and environmental benefits. Some advocated for high speed rail, while others supported any costeffective strategy that can lead to a near term introduction of rail service. Some elected officials are particularly interested in establishing a commuterlike connection between Springfield and Boston. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, among others, noted dissatisfaction that MassDOT is not moving to implement the NNEIRI recommendations. Commenters from the Berkshires also want to be sure that the study and eventual service go to Pittsfield or New York. MassDOT is using these comments to inform the development of the scope of work for the East-West Rail study. The study recommended here will build on NNEIRI, but have a different market focus. It will look at options that could range from a fast train that would offer commuter-like access to one that would be closer to the service that NNEIRI recommended. It will explore various ways to use passenger rail to bring Western MA closer to Boston, as well as the costs and benefits of such a service. The study will look carefully at community impacts and how such a new service could be combined with the rail uses that already own and operate on the corridor – both CSX and the MBTA.

MassDOT also clarified in the text of the State Rail Plan that the East-West study is looking at potential service beyond Springfield, farther into Western Massachusetts. This was the original intention, but there were some references that did not make this clear.

Incidentally, the 2016 NNEIRI study mentioned here called for a $700 million Worcester-Springfield upgrade ($350m capital costs, $350m rolling stock) that would allow 8 trains a day. This is not high-speed (which costs an estimated $100 million PER MILE), but could be started immediately. We were glad to see that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s concerns were specifically mentioned.