East-West passenger rail study from Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield

I-Team

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – After nearly a year delay, a massive study aimed at gauging the feasibility of East-West rail, connecting Boston to Pittsfield, was released last month.

The study alone cost more than a million dollars. The 22News I-Team investigates why that costly study concluded that more studies are needed to make an East-West rail a reality.

“We have a high quality of life. But so many of our young people feel the need to leave,” said Senator Eric Lesser, (D) Longmeadow.

State Senator Eric Lesser is one of the leading advocates of East-West rail. He believes faster rail service to Boston will help grow the economy here in western Massachusetts.

Do you foresee someone living here in Springfield – Chicopee area, getting on the train and commuting to Boston everyday and then coming back home?

“Yeah, frankly my vision is you actually see people going back and forth in equal numbers. My hope is that we have families that stay here, invest here, who’re paying taxes here,” said Lesser.

A MassDOT study concluded an East-West rail could increase employment opportunities for workers both in Boston and here in western Massachusetts.

Congressman Richard Neal told the 22News I-Team that federal lawmakers plan to move forward with infrastructure legislation that would directly benefit an East-West rail.

“We know that all of the ingredients and architecture are there to get at least an improved service,” said Congressman Richard Neal.

Right now, driving the Mass Pike is the fastest way to get to Boston from Springfield. On a good traffic day, it takes just about 90 minutes. That’s not the case for train service.

The 22News I-Team researched a random Thursday in late January. We found five trains to Boston’s South Station but only one was direct. The other four took passengers to New Haven, Connecticut then to Boston. In some cases, a more than six hour commute.

Even bus routes aren’t direct. Most travel through Hartford before continuing onto Boston. And that trip can last three hours.

It seems that back in the 90s, Boston had an aggressive vision for the Big Dig in reconstructing all of the infrastructure there, with transportation. We’re seeing the fruits of that labor now in Boston. Do you think the same thing can happen with an East-West rail?

“Well I think that’s a constructive example because Boston in the 60s, 70s, 80s was marred in terrible problems. Slow growth. It wasn’t frankly what people thought of as a global city, you know, a global center for innovation and for commerce. The Big Dig, they made investment,” said Lesser.

And this too will certainly be an investment. A new East-West Rail is estimated to cost anywhere from $2 to $5 billion. The faster, more direct route, the higher the price tag.

The study’s final report offers up three options for connecting Pittsfield to Boston and all three include stops in Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester. Depending on the which route is chosen, commute time from Springfield to Boston would be anywhere from two hours to just over one and a half hours.

“It’ll make for a much more intricated approach I think the transportation needs. Anybody trying to get into the city of Boston will know exactly what I speak,” said Neal.

The study concluded that more studies are necessary. For example, the state needs to figure out if the MBTA will manage the East-West Rail or if a new authority would be created to oversee operations. The study also recommends more analysis on the economic impact the rail would have on western Massachusetts.

Many advocates of the East-West rail question all the studies and the lack of a concrete timeline.

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