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Boston-Springfield train service would require federal funds, state says

February 6, 2020
In The News

It will take significant federal funding for Massachusetts to establish train service connecting Boston and the western part of the state, transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack said Thursday.

Her comments came as transportation officials released cost and ridership estimates for six versions of new rail service to better connect Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston.

Costs start at about $2 billion for a package that would include bus service from Pittsfield and four round trips a day between Springfield and Worcester, where riders would transfer for continued MBTA service to Boston. And they range as high as $24.9 billion for direct rail service to Pittsfield built on new tracks, mostly alongside the Massachusetts Turnpike, that would allow much faster travel.

At those totals, the state will need help, Pollack said.

“There’s going to have to be a federal partnership to get this done,” she said.

Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield, chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, is a big advocate of the project. He recently told the Globe he hopes some federal funding could eventually be directed toward east-west rail service in Massachusetts as part of an infrastructure bill.

Other elected officials from western Massachusetts have long pushed the state transportation department to study the proposal, noting that only one round-trip Amtrak train a day connects Springfield and Boston as part of a much longer route to Chicago. Improved rail service could open up job opportunities to people from western Massachusetts and cheaper housing options for those who work in the east, proponents say.

According to the state’s projections, ridership would range from as few as 36 people a day on the proposed service between Springfield and Worcester to as many as 820 people a day on the high-speed, cross-state version. Passenger count estimates are based on several factors, including frequency and speed of service, and whether riders need to transfer.

Pollack cautioned, however, that the ridership numbers don’t take into account “induced demand” from people who may move or change jobs to take advantage of the service, or changes in how land is used in response to it. That could increase ridership by up to a third or so beyond projections, she said.

The transportation department committed to studying the project in 2018. Governor Charlie Baker had previously vetoed a legislative demand for such a study.

Pollack said the state will take comments from the public before trimming the options for the project to three, and present a final report for the future of the project later this year.

“Now we have real data that we can have a much more informed discussion on,” she said.