Hoping to capitalize on the impending availability of billions of federal infrastructure dollars, Massachusetts officials have taken the first step toward establishing a long-awaited cross-state passenger rail link.
An April 26 meeting attended by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and key Congressional and state lawmakers yielded a call for a new authority tasked with connecting Boston with Springfield, Pittsfield and other cities in the state’s western half. The new rail service would extend approximately 100 miles from Worcester, westernmost point of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s transit services.
In addition to boosting intrastate rail travel, the project would tie into to Amtrak’s 15-year, $75-billion expansion plan, which includes a new Boston-Albany corridor.
Gov. Baker and House of Representatives chair Richard Neal (D-MA) gave no specifics regarding a project timeframe, other than suggesting the state legislature could establish the authority during its current session as part of a pending infrastructure bond bill.
If that happens, Rep. Neal told reporters following the meeting, “it certainly expedites things because we can begin to apply for the allocation of federal dollars.” With the federal infrastructure bill allocating $66 billion to Amtrak and $2.5 billion to Massachusetts’ public transit needs, Gov. Baker expressed confidence that the state will meet any matching requirements, though such guidance has not been issued.
A Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation study, issued in January 2021, identified three alternatives for establishing direct, Amtrak-operated Pittsfield-Boston rail service, one of which would utilize existing corridors and tracks owned by CSX and MBTA. The other two alternatives included new sections of dedicated track that would support increased service and reduce passenger/freight interference, but also increase capital costs and land and grade-crossing impacts. Estimated costs for the three alternatives ranged between $2.4 billion and $4.6 billion.
Other MBTA infrastructure improvements would be needed to support expanded passenger service, including the addition of 10 miles of new triple-track sections around Worcester. MBTA launched design on the estimated $400-million project last year, with construction currently scheduled to begin in 2025.