PITTSFIELD, Mass. — U.S. Sen. Edward Markey Jr. is proposing a $25 billion investment in intercity rail over the next five years that will support plans for high-speed rail from Pittsfield to Boston and possibly restore passenger rail between North Adams and Greenfield.
"Passenger rail is an essential ingredient for a healthy economy, a healthy environment, and a healthy workforce," Markey said at remotely held news conference on Friday. "Studies consistently show expanding passenger rail improves mobility, enhances safety, promotes economic development, generates new jobs and protects the environment."
The senator said the Bay State is also the "brain" state for its leading edge in innovation and that green-friendly passenger rail will help build on that foundation.
"We need a brain train that connects all of Massachusetts to the businesses, the workers, and the opportunities that make up a world renowned regional innovation economy," the senator said.
In particular, Markey said this infusion of funds will support passenger rail proposals already in progress, including plans for high-speed rail between Pittsfield and Boston.
"The idea that we would have rail access, the ability to get on a train and quickly get to Springfield or Worcester or Boston is something that many people in our city have dreamed about for a very long time," said Mayor Linda Tyer.
The legislation would mirror efforts in the House being led by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who referred to the success of the Pioneer Valley Flyer. That passenger rail route between Springfield and Greenfiled is seeking to expand along the so-called "Knowledge Corridor."
"I had a chance to witness the success of rail from Boston, Framingham, and onto Western Mass," the congressman said. "Now is the time to take the pressure off the highway system."
The chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee pointed to the bipartisan support of former Gov. Deval Patrick and current Gov. Charlie Baker.
"Mayor Tyer and I have had extensive conversations about this," he said. "She's been a very assertive advocate for improving rail as is the Berkshire legislative delegation."
"We intend to use the infrastructure initiative to expand broadband everywhere across the country. I think there's bipartisan support for what we want to do. So I'm delighted with the proposal I'm glad to offer the companion legislation."
The funds are designed to connect mid-size cities by enhancing capacity, reliability, travel times and efficiency.
Ben Heckscher, of the Western Massachusetts Rail Coalition and co-founder of Trains in the Valley, said political support, local advocacy and federal funding are critical to expanding and enhancing rail potential.
"Intercity passenger rail in the United States has really been sort of stuck in limbo for the past 50 years with Amtrak," he said, though there are initiatives in places like California and North Carolina. "There's real potential for passenger rail in our region. In particular, because the tracks are already there. We're in the Springfield region, we have tracks that run north and south, east and west they've been there for a long time."
Yet Western Mass is better connected by rail to Connecticut and points south than it is to Boston. "We'd like to see that change," he said.
That could include restoring service between North Adams and Greenfield and onto Boston through the Hoosac Tunnel.
Heckscher noted that the state Department of Transportation will be doing a study of the North Adams-Greenfield line once the Pittsfield-Boston study is done.
"The outline of what would be required to provide service will be created," he said. "Then it ,from within the bill, would be potentially funded through the mechanisms that Senator Markey is creating with this bill."
Markey said Congress will be debating new infrastructure spending and believes that funding passenger rail will be one of the smartest choices and could help the state in recovering from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Transportation would implement a competitive grant and award program of up to $5 billion annually based on:
Ridership, increased on-time performance, reduced trip time, or additional frequency
Service in regions that are historically and persistently unconnected or underconnected
Anticipated favorable impact on air or traffic congestion and safety
Greater preference will be given to:
Encourage direct connections between multiple modes of transportation
Improve conventional intercity passenger, freight, or commuter rail operations
Provide environmental benefits, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality
Provide positive economic and employment impacts
Provide enhanced transportation options for persons with disabilities
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Lt. Timothy Conroy, right, with Engine 5 crew members Matthew Mazzeo and Stephen Papa.
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