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As food for thought, a proposal that includes our favorite passage from anything we’ve read about public transportation in the United States: “we believe that the two billion dollar infrastructure figure for Alternative 2 in the report is too high by approximately two billion dollars.”

Extract from Comments on MassDOT study


 April 2020

This document takes a critical look at the MassDOT East-West Rail study which can be found here. This study has several potential flaws which are examined here in detail, using available data and information. The general conclusion is that the study overestimated the cost to run rail service in the 2:00 to 2:20 range between Boston and Springfield, and underestimated potential passenger traffic. The study also spent considerable resources examining a high-speed rail service between Boston and Worcester along the Turnpike right-of-way, despite exorbitant costs and grades which would preclude railroad operation. This document assumes that this Alternative 6 is infeasible and merits no further mention.

Most of this study will be based on Alternative 2 in the document. This alternative proposes a 2:14 trip between Boston and Springfield, with stops at Worcester and Palmer, and six round trips per day, with connecting bus service to Pittsfield. According to the document, achieving this travel time will require nearly two billion dollars in capital expenditure, and annual operating costs of $42 million, with other alternatives require higher capital outlay.

…dispatching and operational practices than to change equipment, and it is harder still to build new infrastructure. We believe that several round trips can be made on the Boston-to-Springfield railroad in little more than two hours without procuring any additional rolling stock, using the existing railroad infrastructure. Therefore, we believe that the two billion dollar infrastructure figure for Alternative 2 in the report is too high by approximately two billion dollars.

From the conclusion

Phase 1: weekday rush-hour trips

In the first phase, two trains in the morning and two in the evening would be extended from Worcester to Springfield. This would provide a skeleton service which, when combined with the existing Amtrak service, would provide three round trips between Boston and Springfield. Connections could be provided for most service with existing routes, with the potential to add additional bus service to Amherst and Springfield, with the following schedule. This would require additional trackage rights from CSX, but a minimal capital outlay and a  net of nearly zero in operating costs, although it would require establishing a crew base in Springfield, or putting up crews overnight.

Phase 1A: Service to Pittsfield

 Another early action item would be to extend  train 552 and 557 to and from Pittsfield, providing a second trip to and from Pittsfield. This would require additional track and dispatching rights on the CSX route west of Springfield, as well as layover space at the Pittsfield station, although it is possible that this could take place on the track adjacent to the platform there. This would probably also allow at least one weekend round trip, on a schedule similar to the weekday trip (although with a later morning departure and potentially later evening departure) to operate, since the train would otherwise spend the entire weekend in Pittsfield. This would depend greatly on the access to the CSX line between Springfield and Pittsfield.

Phase 2: Full schedule to Springfield with five new round trips per day

A second phase would incorporate a full schedule as described earlier in this document, with five new round trips between Boston and Springfield, and additional bus and/or rail connections between Amherst and Pittsfield, and would add more full weekend service. While additional train sets would not be necessary, some investment in rolling stock may be required. This would be considered a full-build option and would require significant dispatching rights from CSX and likely require a capital outlay for the state to purchase the railroad.

Phase 3: Additional service to Pittsfield or elsewhere beyond Springfield

Additional phases could include through-routing more trains to Greenfield or Pittsfield, or having through-routed trains to New Haven via the Inland Route to Hartford, essentially combining East-West rail service with the CT Rail service. Rail service could be provided to Amherst and north to Millers Falls or Brattleboro depending on demand.   Adding additional service west of Worcester would require the installation of Positive Train Control. In addition, added service would likely require the construction of a second track in the gaps where no such track exists today, although this, $too, could be done in phases, since there are three distinct single-track segments and doubling any of them would lead to improved operating conditions.

And for something from the past that will alert you to the possibilities ahead, here is an account written by the Black civil rights campaigner Frederick Dougglass, about traveling from Boston by train (from My Bondage and My Freedom, published in 1855):

Riding from Boston to Albany, a few years ago, I found myself in a large car, well filled with passengers. The seat next to me was about the only vacant one. At every stopping place we took in new passengers, all of whom, on reaching the seat next to me, cast a disdainful glance upon it, and passed to another car, leaving me in the full enjoyment of a whole form. For a time, I did not know but that my riding there was prejudicial to the interest of the railroad company. A circumstance occurred, however, which gave me an elevated position at once. Among the passengers on this train was [Massachusetts] Gov. George N. Briggs. I was not acquainted with him, and had no idea that I was known to him. Known to him, however, I was, for upon observing me, the governor left his place, and making his way toward me, respectfully asked the privilege of a seat by my side; and upon introducing himself, we entered into a conversation very pleasant and instructive to me. The despised seat now became honored. His excellency had removed all the prejudice against sitting by the side of a negro; and upon his leaving it, as he did, on reaching Pittsfield, there were at least one dozen applicants for the place. The governor had, without changing my skin a single shade, made the place respectable which before was despicable.

–Frederick Douglass