Massachusetts passenger rail projects gain support

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The westbound Boston section of the 'Lake Shore Limited,' train No. 449, arrives in Springfield, Mass., in December 2008.
Scott A. Hartley
BOSTON – Two passenger rail projects in Massachusetts are moving forward. State officials recently awarded a $1.5 million contract to Cambridge-based Arup USA Inc. to study a commuter rail link between North and South stations in Boston, the Boston Business Journal reports.

The study, which will be completed by spring of 2018, is being administered by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s office of transportation planning. The objective of the study is to evaluate the costs and benefits of a North-South rail link.

It follows a draft environmental impact report that was put together in 1995 and then suspended in 2003 under then Gov. Mitt Romney.

Advancements in technology, transportation demand, and costs have drastically changed since the first report. The state will reevaluate the project to consider updated right-of-way costs and needs, amend engineering assumptions, and other changes that take into consideration new technology.

The project calls for a 2.7-mile underground tunnel that would link Boston’s North Station with its South Station. Supporters argue that a railroad tunnel would help address congestion from existing commuter rail trains and would allow for more frequent and efficient service throughout the city.

Simultaneously, a proposal for the same agency to conduct a feasibility study of a Springfield-Boston high-speed passenger rail service is gaining support, Northeast Public Radio reports. Following the $95 million restoration of Springfield Union Station last month, local officials urged that funding be included in the state to conduct a study on a high speed rail connection between the two cities separated by just 98 miles.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno believes a high speed rail service between Springfield and Boston would open new opportunities for economic development, but he said the cost is still unknown.

Starting in 2018, train service to Springfield on the rebuilt line from Hartford, Conn., is scheduled to increase by as many as a dozen trains a day. That project is a joint venture between the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates trains the 44 miles between Boston and Worcester, but there are no plans to extend that service farther west.

“We want to be looked at out here in Springfield,” Sarno says. “The connection has to be made.”

Massachusetts Sen. Eric Lesser has sponsored an amendment to the state budget to require the east-west rail feasibility study. The amendment would look at all costs, the benefits of the service, projected ridership, and the effects on residential and commercial properties.

A six-member committee will decide if the Senator’s amendment makes it into the fiscal 2018 state budget.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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