U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and Vice President Joseph Biden on Amtrak, courtesy U.S. DOT.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The expansion of passenger rail from New Haven, Conn., to Springfield will get a $30 million boost, but it's far short of the $227 million Connecticut had applied for.
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday announced some $2 billion in high-speed rail grants, including $800 million for the Northeast. Nearly 100 projects in 24 states applied for funding.
Gov. Deval Patrick stated his commitment last year to the expansion of rail service to underserved Western Massachusetts. The $30 million granted by the federal goverment in this round will be used to complete double-track segments up to Springfield. The goal is to restore the line up the Pioneer Valley from Connecticut to Vermont.
The Downeaster, the popular line that runs from Maine to Boston, will get $20.8 million to construct a 10.4-mile section of double track between Wilmington and Andover.
Amtrak also is getting $450 million for general improvements along the Boston-New York run. The bulk of the funds is going to the Northeast, not surprising since the densely traveled corridor accounts for more than half of Amtrak's ridership.
Read Transporation Secretary Ray LaHood's blog post on the awards here.
One of the key problems for businesses and residents in the Berkshires is getting from here to there, and Gov. Deval Patrick is keen on reviving commuter rail in the region to help us out. While it could be many years before passenger trains return to the Western Gateway, plans are already under way to exend the rail line from New Haven, Conn., through Vermont.
The Northeast Corridor had 14 million riders last year, making up more than half Amtrak's total ridershiop. More than 3 million took the high-speed Acela along the Boston-New York-Washington route.
Patrick's been instrumental in getting the regional rail plan in motion. Recently, the federal government provided some $160 million in stimulus funding (the president has put aside $8 billion to revive rail) to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. The governor said more funding will have to come in stages.
"All the New England governors and New York submitted a plan to Washington," said the governor, in response to a transportation question from David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., at Monday's tourism roundtable. "You have to apply for the funding in chapters; we won the first grant, which is to refurbish the rail bed coming up from New Haven to Vermont through Springfield and Greenfield."
The state's take was $73 million to be used fix the detiorated tracks to Springfield, Chicopee, Amherst and Greenfield. Construction in the Pioneer Valley is expected to start this season and Patrick said a private rail operator has indicated interest.
He's also pushing for high-speed service along the east/west line. Amtrak service "kind of sort of" comes through Pittsfield now, said Patrick, depending on the schedule.
The train trip to Boston can take more than five hours (it's faster to drive) and its erratic schedule can leave passengers waiting an hour or more at the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield, as we, and Patrick, have found from experience.
"This community used to have pretty good rail service connecting different cities and connecting major cities to Berkshire County from outside of Massachusetts and I want to see that restored," said the governor, adding "that's going to have to be part of a long-term agenda."
His championing of rail (and the expansion of the Pittsfield Airport) drew a round of applause and not a few cheers. Still, we don't expect to be sitting by the depot at Western Gateway Heritage State Park anytime soon. But with 21st century broadband heading our way, maybe our dreams of 19th century transportation will come true.