Tuesday afternoon at Union Station in Springfield, Gov. Charlie Baker announced increased rail connectivity in the city’s future.
Going north and south, there will be a pilot program beginning in 2019 for passenger rail service that would run twice a day from Greenfield and make stops in Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield and connecting with Connecticut rail services to go to New York City and back in a single day. As for east to west, Baker announced his administration is looking into that, too.
Amtrak’s Vermonter Train already makes a stop in Greenfield, where passengers have the ability to connect to New York and beyond. But the new expanded passenger rail service would give local area residents three opportunities to utilize train travel, both north and south. The pilot train, which would run until 2021 and continue beyond that time if successful, aims at a ridership of 20,000 people.
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said the single seat passenger service would allow riders to stay on the same train from Greenfield to New Haven, and then switch to Metro North to reach New York City, which would take about 4 hours 15 minutes from Greenfield to New York.
“It is designed to ensure that for those who really love train travel, you’ll be able to take an early morning train from Greenfield to New York and return the same day,” she said.
Baker’s administration also announced that a comprehensive study that would include an investigation of east to west passenger rail would likely be put out to bid after which the multi-million dollar study would be completed in 12 to 18 months, Baker said.
“That study will look at the potential for passenger rail, not just to Springfield, but we’ll also be looking at potentially origins in Pittsfield and the Berkshires and we’ll also be looking at Palmer as a potential station stop,” Pollack said.
Regarding the north-south pilot program, the fare to take a train to Greenfield to New Haven has not yet been set, according to MassDOT officials. The program would cost the state about $1 million a year to operate the pilot program. Currently it costs $29 for a coach ticket on Amtrak from Greenfield to New Haven, according to the website.
New platforms will be completed this year at Union Station in Springfield and at Northampton Station in order for the passenger pilot program to begin, Pollack said.
The pilot rail service would link to the new Hartford Line, which begins operation on June 16 and would run 11 trains southbound and 12 northbound on weekdays and slightly less on weekends between Springfield and communities in Connecticut, including Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, and New Haven, according to a press release from Baker’s Office and information on hartfordline.com.
Congressman Richard Neal, who for decades pushed for the $107 million revitalization of Union Station in Springfield completed in 2017, said 1,800 to 2,000 more people a day will pass through Union Station once the Hartford Line begins operation.
“This station is now 71 percent rented and Mayor Sarno says we’re going to get the rest of it done in short order,” Neal said.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he thinks various means of transportation is a key factor to economic development and the city is already seeing economic growth with the opening of MGM Springfield slated for Aug. 24 as well as the creation of the Chinese Railway Construction Corporation factory on Page Boulevard.
“They said, ‘You’ll never get a world renowned company such as MGM in Springfield,” Sarno said. “It has happened.”
In a press release, Congressman Jim McGovern said he’s confident that studying east-west passenger rail and expanding north-south rail services would help boost economic growth in the Pioneer Valley and across the state.
State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) has championed east to west rail as a way to connect the economies of the Greater Boston area with central and western Massachusetts.
“It was certainly a long time in the making and all I could think about was the thousands of people — everyday citizens — who called and wrote and showed up at the hearings in Boston; who wrote to their elected officials,” Lesser said. “This is a very important acknowledgement that we cannot continue to vacuum out the jobs and economic opportunities out of communities in Western Mass and hyper concentrate them in a handful of places. We need to spread that growth out and the most important way to do that is through transportation and infrastructure investments.”
One main issue that will be examined in the study would be creating east to west rail despite the state not owning the railways. CSX owns the railway lines in the central part of the state.
When asked about the issue surrounding CSX owned railways, Lesser replied, “The issue here is not going to be logistics. The issue here is going to be marshalling the political will and the political support to make it happen.”
Chris Goudreau can be reached at email@example.com.