Senate adds $250K to budget for Knowledge Corridor

  • A northbound Amtrak Train arrives in Greenfield. The state plans to add two extra trips both ways each day beginning this summer as part of its Knowledge Corridor pilot program. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2019 11:10:15 PM

The state Senate has included $250,000 in its budget to market what is known as the Knowledge Corridor Rail pilot program set to begin this summer.

“I am delighted that my colleague Sen. Lesser and I were able to secure $250,000 in the Senate budget for the North-South passenger rail marketing,” Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said. “These funds will be used to raise critical public awareness and excitement at the onset of this pilot program.”

Comerford said the expanded train service is the result of years of work by many lawmakers at every level of government, and the marketing funds essentially lock in tens of millions of public dollars already invested in the project.

The state has an agreement to provide two extended daily CTrail trains beginning this summer — two in the morning and two in the evening — both stopping in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. There will be one extra trip on weekends and holidays.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Economic Development Program Manager Jessica Atwood said the extra trips will allow passengers to leave the John W. Olver Transit Center for New York City early in the morning and return later that night.

“Currently, people have to make plans to stay overnight if they want to go into the city,” FRCOG Transportation Planning and GIS Program Manager Maureen Mullaney said.

The state Department of Transportation has indicated that the pilot program will become permanent if it can achieve a ridership of 24,000 new riders each year.

Mullaney and Atwood said Greenfield and the other Pioneer Valley stations have seen steady increases in ridership since passenger rail service returned in 2015. Greenfield saw a ridership of 5,315 for the year in 2015 and today, ridership each year is up to 6,497 — an increase of 1,182. The other stations in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield have also seen steady increases.

“More and more people are taking the train,” Mullaney said. “We believe we can market this so that it continues to happen.”

Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said the rail pilot program has the opportunity to transform the region, connecting job-seekers to employers throughout cities and towns up and down the corridor and linking colleges.

If the amendment is signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, the $250,000 will go to Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to market the Knowledge Corridor, which runs along the Connecticut River.

“Funds that will allow promoting this new, expanded Knowledge Corridor passenger rail service to the regional will undeniably be crucial to its success and transitioning it from a pilot to permanent mobility asset,” PVPC Executive Director Tim Brennan said.

It will cost the state about $1 million a year to operate, and it plans to evaluate the program at the end of two or three years to see if it is financially feasible to make it permanent.

“From an economic development standpoint, this really benefits residents who want more travel options,” Atwood said. “It will also encourage people to move to Greenfield and the surrounding area, and to visit, vacation or do business here.”

The Senate budget now heads to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House budget, and then the final budget will be sent to Baker to be signed.


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