| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Starting June 15 the region will be receiving north-south commuter rail service from Springfield to Hartford and New Haven, CT., but that was not the only announcement made by Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Gov. Charlie Baker at a press conference at Union Station on June 12.
Pollack said a Request for Proposals (RFP) has been released soliciting a consultant team to produce a feasibility study of east-west rail.
Pollack also announced that in conjunction with Connecticut transportation officials, a commuter rail line, called The Hartford Line, would begin a two and half-year pilot program to provide additional rail service to Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield. She explained a passenger in Greenfield could get on a single train that would take him or her to New Haven in order to travel to New York City – what she called as “single seat service.”
Once the RFP is fulfilled, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will undertake a study that will last between 12 and 18 months. Pollack said the study would cost $4 million. She cautioned the challenges for the east-west commuter service include the fact the Commonwealth does not own the tracks and will have to work with CSX, the freight rail company that owns the tracks.
“Actually service to Boston will take a while,” she said because of the issue of track ownership.
The east-west study will examine providing service from Pittsfield to points east and restoring some passenger rail service to Palmer, which had been an Amtrak stop, Pollack said.
She said the north-south commuter line links the “Knowledge Corridor,” the name given to the Connecticut River Valley and the home of many colleges and institutions in both states.
The Hartford rail service begins operating on June 16, with trains running approximately every 45 minutes between Springfield and several cities and towns in Connecticut including Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford and New Haven. This expanded service is in addition to the existing Amtrak service. The Hartford Line will offer free service on June 16 and June 17.
CT Rail will be operating 17 trains a day on the new route, according to its website (www.hartfordline.com) with 12 of those trains connecting to Springfield. Ticket machines have been installed in Union Station. Round trip costs between Springfield and Hartford are as low as $12.
Congressman Richard Neal praised the new emphasis on transportation services for the region at the press conference and said he had been speaking with Baker privately about the matter for the past year.
In a written statement, Neal said, “I have always believed that improved and enhanced rail service between Springfield and Boston has the potential to be a game changer for our region. That’s why I thank Gov. Baker for coming to Union Station today to announce that he is authorizing a comprehensive study on the feasibility of east-west rail. It will build on the study of local rail service funded by the Federal Railroad Administration that former Congressman John Olver and I requested in 2006. With the debut of expanded passenger rail service between New Haven and Springfield later this week, these two significant projects will help grow our economy and greatly improve the quality of life in the region. Investing in our transportation infrastructure will benefit people across the entire Commonwealth of Mass-achusetts.”
State Sen. Eric Lesser, who has made an on-going issue of east-west rail service, said in a written statement, “This progress is thanks to the thousands of people in Western Mass. who didn’t give up, who didn’t back down, and who made clear to those on Beacon Hill that a study of East-West Rail is a priority for our region. We have fought for this for four years, and at long last, the Administration has heard us. I’m glad that Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is following through with her promise to the people of Western Mass to begin work on this study, and I’ll look forward to tracking its progress and keeping in contact with Secretary Pollack and Gov. Baker as this study moves forward.”