Comerford proposes bill to study rail service from North Adams to Boston

  • Greenfield Passenger rail station for Amtrak.  STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2019 11:27:45 PM

Newly elected state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, has proposed a bill to study the feasibility of rail service from North Adams to Boston.

“The idea and the urging came really from the grassroots during my campaign,” Comerford, who represents the Franklin, Worcester and Hampshire District, said in a phone interview this week.

There is no passenger rail service connecting North Adams to Boston at the moment, but a freight service currently operates along much of that line, according to the Mass. Department of Transportation’s State Rail Plan released last year.

The feasibility study would assess costs, project ridership levels and examine impacts to nearby towns, according to the bill. 

A North Adams-to-Boston rail service would “be a boon” to Western Massassachusetts’ work force and housing markets, Comerford said.

“It will afford people who now work in Boston that are looking for a quality of life that we can offer them in Western Mass. an opportunity to relocate out here,” Comerford said.

The rail service would also benefit the environment, Comerford said.

“We must get cars off the road, and we must invest in public transport, if we hope to address climate change,” Comerford said.

While rail transit in Western Mass. is limited, two new rail services are under construction serving towns in the area and another study is in the works. A new rail service connecting Greenfield, Springfield and New Haven, Conn., is expected to pilot this summer; a service from New York to Pittsfield is scheduled to pilot in the summer of 2020; and a study on a service from Springfield to Boston is currently underway.

The ridership of upcoming Western Mass. rail services will determine the fate of the North Adams to Boston line, Comerford said. If the new rail services are not well used, she said, it is unlikely the North Adams to Boston will go ahead.

Rail transport in Mass. has risen steadily over the past few years, according to the Mass. Department of Transportation 2018 plan. Amtrak ridership in Mass. rose by nearly 500,000 people per year between 2010 and 2016. In 2010, 2,740,600 people rode Amtrak in Mass. In 2016 that number jumped to 3,219,900.

Comerford said she has had significant support from her Western Mass. state Senate colleagues. State Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Paul Mark and Sen. Donald Humason Jr. expressed support for the feasibility study in respective phone interviews this week.

“It’s an exciting time for rail, because it seems to be experiencing a comeback,” said Hinds, whose districts includes parts of western Franklin County. “Rail can connect our more regional portions of the state with economic centers. It’s also better for the environment.”

State Sen. Dean Tran, R-Fitchburg, also supports the feasibility study, according to Chief of Staff Nathan Boudreau.

“Senator Tran supports transportation advancements throughout the commonwealth, and will be supporting Senator Comerford’s bill,” Boudreau wrote in an emailed statement.

Next, the proposed study will be subject to committee hearings and a vote, Comerford said. Dates are yet to be determined.

You can reach Grace Bird at: gbird@recorder.com,
or 413-772-0261 ext. 280.




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