The state is also launching a pilot passenger service between Greenfield and Springfield next year, from the Olver Transit Center.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The state is launching the first step in determining the feasibility of east/west passenger rail between Pittsfield and Boston.
Gov. Charlie Baker, surrounded by state and federal officials at Union Station, announced on Tuesday that the state Department of Transportation is soliciting requests for proposals for a consultant team to study the feasibility of east-west passenger rail service, the launch of a pilot for passenger rail service between Greenfield and Springfield, and one-seat service through Springfield to Hartford and New Haven, Conn.
"Through strong partnerships with federal, state and local officials, we are investing in our existing rail infrastructure, increasing capacity where it is needed, and strengthening the commonwealth's transportation system," said Baker, with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Mayor Dominic Sarno by his side. "We look forward to reviewing the results of this comprehensive study, and continuing to support projects in all regions of the Commonwealth that provide improved travel options to residents and commuters."
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, was in attendance at the announcement. The Berkshire lawmaker has placed rail transportation front and center as a critical component of economic grown in Western Mass, including pushing for the proposed Berkshire Flyer connection to New York City and more rail options through Pittsfield.
On his Facebook page, Hinds posted that the announcement of the rail study and pilot train service was "big news" for the region.
"These announcements are critical for continued economic development in Western Massachusetts and for connecting our commonwealth," said Hinds in a following statement. "There must be urgency to connect our region to nearby economic centers like Albany, New York City, Springfield, Worcester and Boston — by road and rail, and with access to high-speed internet and cable service. Today's announcement, paired with the ongoing efforts to prepare for a pilot season of Berkshire FLYER service shows that we're positioning the Berkshires and Western Mass for positive economic growth. We're moving down the right track."
Officials said the request for proposals will enable MassDOT to carry out an extensive study over approximately 18 months, and analyze many aspects and options for potential east-west passenger rail service. In addition to studying potential passenger service from Springfield to Boston, the study will look at potential origins farther west such as Pittsfield and Palmer. This will include engaging with stakeholders and evaluating the potential costs, speed, infrastructure needs and ridership of potential passenger rail service throughout this corridor.
"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 Governor Baker for coming to Union Station today to announce that he is authorizing a comprehensive study on the feasibility of east-west rail," Neal said. "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."
A term sheet has been finalized with the Connecticut Department of Transportation that will enable the start of passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield beginning on a pilot basis in spring 2019, said officials. Under the agreement, MassDOT will fund the cost and management of the pilot service that will be operated by Amtrak and conclude in fall 2021. The pilot will provide two round trips each day and make stops at stations in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. Southbound service will be provided in the morning hours, and northbound in the evenings. This pilot service will leverage the MassDOT-owned Knowledge Corridor, which is currently used by Amtrak's Vermonter service, and the recently renovated Springfield Union Station.
Meanwhile, the new 62-mile Hartford Line begins operating on Saturday, 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 throughout this corridor. The Hartford Line will offer free service on June 16 and June 17.
"Our administration is proud of the collaborative work we have done to improve the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure in cities and towns throughout Massachusetts," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. "These investments will provide more reliable service across the region, helping travelers better reach the places they need to go."
BIG NEWS: 1) @MassDOT announced today RFP for rail study from PITTSFIELD to Boston. 2) Also announced pilot rail service from Greenfield, Northampton to Springfield & on to NYC starting in 2019. Critical to connect our region to economic centers. #mapoli photo credit: @EricLesserpic.twitter.com/35LbNoHVrr
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