East-west rail measure passes Senate, goes to committee

June 16, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – While state Sen. Eric Lesser’s measure to fund a study on the feasibility of additional rail connections between Springfield and Worcester passed the Senate, it will now go onto a conference committee for consideration in the final state budget, Lesser explained to Reminder Publications.   

Lesser said to his colleagues in the Senate, “We cannot have a functioning Commonwealth if all the growth, if all of the job opportunities are focused in the eastern part of the state.”

He continued, “In an era of increased connectivity, east-west rail will help spur new economic growth in Springfield, the entire Western Massachusetts region, and indeed in the Commonwealth as a whole. Projects such as this one are vital to our economy and have the potential to more easily connect people to jobs, educational institutions and areas to live and to raise a family.”

Lesser said he did not assign a dollar amount to the study. He explained there is already a “massive” study about the status and future of rail travel in the Northeast underway and that officials at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation have told him they are confident that they can use the resources set aside for that study to focus on the Springfield to Worcester line.

He said using the existing appropriation for the overall study for this purpose is “good news for taxpayers.”

Currently there is only one train – Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited going from Boston to Chicago, IL – that makes the east-west trip through Springfield. Worcester has commuter rail service to Boston through the lines maintained by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Lesser said in order for the Commonwealth to move forward on considering rail expansion there needs to be a “very detailed comprehensive look at that 55 miles of track [between Springfield and Worcester].”

He added, “We’ve already done a lot of this in the larger study.”

His legislation, if included in the final FY17 budget and approved by Gov. Charlie Baker, would stipulate the study be completed within six months of being enacted, which would put its completion sometime in early 2017, Lesser explained.

With the ongoing renovation of Union Station into a regional transportation hub, the repairs of the north/south Amtrak tracks and the planned expansion of a commuter rail line linking Springfield to Hartford, CT and points south, rail travel is an important issue.

He also believes it is necessary for the state to “stay competitive.”

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