Baker pledges to use remaining time in office to pursue federal funds for East-West Rail
Baker, Neal ride Amtrak train to see the work required for the much-discussed project
Springfield, MA, August 24, 2022 | Paul Tuthill, WAMC
Federal and state officials point to the long-discussed East-West Rail project in Massachusetts as part of the effort to expand passenger rail use in America.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is pledging to go “real hard” during his remaining months in office to put the East-West Passenger Rail project in line to receive funds from the federal infrastructure law.
“Our goal is to make sure this momentum, which we’ve all worked hard on, just continues to run straight through the end of the calendar year and into whoever the next administration is and I think we have the information the detail needed to do that,” Baker said.
The bi-partisan infrastructure law includes roughly $60 billion for Amtrak alone, but there is also billions of dollars available through competitive grants states can apply for to pay for rail projects.
A feasibility study by MassDOT completed in 2020 put the cost of building a rail line to provide fast and frequent service from Pittsfield to Boston by way of Springfield and Worcester at $2.4 billion-$4.8 billion.
“The resources are certainly there and what we need to do is the best job we can making the case that the dollars spent by us and the federal government on these initiatives will do more here to expand the opportunities around passenger rail than dollars spent in other places,” Baker said.
Baker spoke in the concourse at Springfield’s Union Station Tuesday after traveling by train from Boston with Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, and MassDOT officials.
They rode in a so-called “theater car” attached to the Lake Shore Limited – the only scheduled daily passenger train traveling between Boston and Springfield.
During the two-hour train ride, Neal said areas along the route were pointed out where double-tracking and other improvements will be needed to accommodate more passenger rail service.
“We think those are achievable,” Neal said. He said the state is “well positioned” to apply for grants from the federal infrastructure law to pay for the work that needs to be done
Neal, who secured more than $100 million to restore Union Station, said Springfield is on the verge of again becoming a transportation hub.
“When I was growing up, Springfield was called ‘The Crossroads of New England’ because of rail and I think that was reiterated today,” he said.
Gardner, the Amtrak CEO, sounded enthusiastic about the East-West Rail project in the context of reenergizing passenger rail service coast-to-coast.
“I think there is real opportunity,” He said adding, “Amtrak is a committed partner with the Commonwealth to look at opportunities in the state and here in Springfield.”
Neal, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and Baker, the Republican governor, announced in April they had agreed on a plan to create a new rail authority to oversee the development of East-West Rail. But the Massachusetts legislature did not go along with that plan, instead creating a study commission. The legislature did commit $250 million to lay the groundwork for the project.
With Baker leaving office in January 2023 after deciding not to run for re-election the East-West Rail Project will be handed off to the next administration.
Neal said he’s confident that Maura Healey, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, will carry the project forward if elected.
“I’ve talked to Maura about this,” he said “I talked to her early on about it. Her views are consistent with what you heard expressed here today and I’m very confident she’ll do just what she said she will do.”
Healey’s campaign issued a transportation plan last week that included the appointment of a director for the East-West Rail project.