MassDOT launching study on northern tier passenger rail service

  • A map of the Route 2 rail corridor. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2021 6:09:27 AM
Modified: 12/14/2021 6:08:52 AM

The state Department of Transportation will convene stakeholders Thursday and launch a study to examine the benefits and costs of restarting passenger rail service from North Adams to Greenfield and Boston.

The study is required by legislation filed by state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and passed in 2019. The 1:30 p.m. launch of the study is open to the public by visiting bit.ly/3ERS2RX.

The legislation was supported by state Reps. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. More than 700 western Massachusetts residents submitted testimony on behalf of the legislation when it was heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation.

Comerford told the Greenfield Recorder the consultant firm hired for the study will be announced during the 90-minute meeting, which she said will be an opportunity to talk about the study’s scope, timeline and process, with stakeholder input.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said.

Passenger rail service first connected Franklin County with Boston along the Route 2 rail corridor in 1875. Passenger service from Boston to North Adams ended in 1958, followed by the end of service to Greenfield in 1960.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority now runs commuter rail service on the Fitchburg Line, along Route 2, but only as far west as Wachusett. There is still a rail track through to Greenfield and North Adams, though it is used for freight service only.

Comerford said the rail service was an economic lifeline for locals able to work in Boston, eastern Massachusetts residents who wanted to visit this section of the state, and Franklin County business owners who needed to conduct business in the state’s capital.

“It just served all of them,” she said.

Comerford also said re-establishing the service would also help the environment by getting vehicles off the road.

Blais said she is looking forward to Thursday’s launch because the conversation about passenger rail service has generated a lot of buzz in the past few years and this seems like a logical next step.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said, adding that getting people “out of their cars and into trains” is vital to meeting climate goals.

Blais said rail service can be an economic driver and help reverse the trend of people leaving Western Massachusetts to find work.

“We have to be finding ways to help people live and work in Franklin County,” she said.

Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said the resurrection of passenger rail service would help county residents gain access to employment in eastern Massachusetts and further west. It would also, she said, reduce traffic congestion.

“In theory, it makes it easy for people from from Boston and Eastern Mass. to get out to … the beauty and hidden gem that Franklin County is,” she said. “We’re happy this study’s getting underway.”


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