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With infrastructure bill done, Neal continues push for more rail

U.S. Representative Richard Neal of Springfield said Wednesday he's pushing Governor Charlie Baker to invest some new federal infrastructure funds in passenger rail expansion for western Massachusetts.

The White House said Massachusetts could receive $12 billion under the legislation, which is awaiting the president's signature. That could help a proposal to expand service between western Mass. and Boston — with a price tag of between $2.4 billion and $4.6 billion.

Neal, a Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the state will have a large say in how to spend the money, and he wants some of it used on rail.

"I've had a series of meetings with the governor, encouraging him on that basis," Neal said. "And now, it is likely that money, in terms of cash flow, will be available."

Asked for comment on Neal's push, the governor's office was noncommittal, but said the state Department of Transportation was following up on recommendations made in an East-West passenger rail study published earlier this year. Among the challenges the administration has identified: right-of-way concerns with freight rail owner CSX.

"The Baker-Polito Administration continues to consider options for the East-West rail," Baker spokesperson Anisha Chakrabarti said by email. "The Administration will continue to review the federal infrastructure bill and its impact on improving transportation options in Massachusetts."

Neal also said he plans to meet in Springfield with the head of Amtrak, which received $66 billion under the infrastructure bill.

In terms of how the money is distributed, Neal said there needs to be regional equity. He cited the costly Big Dig project in Boston, which was years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

"This money has to be allocated across the state in a fair distribution manner largely because the Big Dig absorbed a lot of money that heretofore would have come to central and western Massachusetts," Neal said.

Neal made his comments during an appearance in Lee.