‘We are hungry for rail’: Legislators hold meeting prior to Route 2 passenger service study

  • A map of the Route 2 rail corridor. SCREENSHOT

  • Participants in a meeting about the possibility of passenger rail service on Tuesday morning. SCREENSHOT



Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2021 4:56:34 PM

Imagine you live in Greenfield in 1956. It’s Bill Russell’s rookie year with the Boston Celtics and you’ve got tickets to a game at the Boston Garden.

You go to the local train station and at 2:55 p.m. board a car that is already half full, having connected people in Troy, N.Y., at 12:45 p.m., North Adams at 1:51 and Shelburne Falls at 2:28. You step off the train in Boston’s North Station at 5:15 p.m. and still have time for dinner before the game starts.

“That was our reality here in Western Massachusetts and Franklin County in the 1950s,” state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said Tuesday morning. “There was as many as 12 weekday trains running to and from Boston along Route 2.”

Comerford was speaking at a community meeting of stakeholders interested in the restart of passenger and freight rail service along the Route 2 Corridor, or Northern Tier Corridor. It served as a briefing by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) to describe the state’s upcoming feasibility study of Route 2 rail service, which was initially authorized in the fiscal year 2020 state budget. The study will examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities of establishing rail service between North Adams and Greenfield and between Greenfield and Boston.

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said the nearly 75 people on the Zoom call was a clear indication of the lifeline that rail service would provide to Western and Central Massachusetts.

“We are hungry for rail because we know that these connections can positively impact our communities, with the possibility of jobs, the expansion of tourism and a real revitalization of many of our local economies,” she said.

MassDOT Project Manager Makaela Niles offered an overview of the feasibility study, which the state Legislature directed the transportation department to conduct. She mentioned the study will examine and evaluate the projected capital costs, projected operating costs and revenue estimates, projected ridership levels, the prospect of operating rail service on existing rights-of-way, other operational issues, an estimate of the environmental impact and health, and the resulting economic, employment, social and cultural benefits to Franklin and Berkshire counties and the state as a whole.

There will also be a conceptual planning study to examine the statewide and regional economic and environmental benefits, as well as any associated implementation challenges, and to identify all necessary improvements to support passenger rail service between Boston and Northwestern Massachusetts. The study, Niles said, is expected to last 18 months.

She and the state legislators on the call said there will be a minimum of two public involvement components. One will be working group meetings comprised of resident and community groups as well as industrial, local, regional, state, legislative and federal representation to provide local knowledge, perspective and expertise. There will also be public input meetings at key project milestones to provide feedback and share questions.

At one point during the Zoom call, Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski asked if alternative types of rolling stock (such as self-powered commuter cars) would be explored, and Niles answered in the affirmative.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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