Senator: Link state’s largest cities with high-speed rail

  • Sens. Joe Boncore, Linda Dorcena Forry, and Eric Lesser on Monday morning kicked off a “whistle stop tour” at South Station advocating for a high-speed train between Springfield and Boston. State House News Service/Katie Lannan

State House News Service
Published: 6/19/2017 2:46:02 PM

BOSTON — State senators on Monday pitched the idea of high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield as an economic boon for the capital city as well as the state’s western region, touting its potential benefits during a rush-hour South Station press conference.

Sen. Eric Lesser held the event to kick off his daylong “whistle-stop” tour through Framingham, Worcester, Palmer and Springfield, a trip the Longmeadow Democrat is making in his car because only one train per day currently travels the route.

The Senate, as part of its 2018 budget bill, unanimously agreed to Lesser’s proposal to study the feasibility of high-speed rail service that would link Boston, Worcester and Springfield, the state’s three largest cities.

“This is not a western Mass. project, this isn’t a Boston project, this isn’t a project for Springfield. That I think is often a misconception,” Lesser said. “This is actually a project that solves a critical commonwealth-wide crisis that we have which is out-of-control cost of living, out-of-control cost of housing in eastern Mass. and an economy in western Mass. that is being left behind, and eventually that dynamic is unsustainable.”

Lesser and Sens. Joe Boncore of Winthrop and Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester addressed reporters from underneath the arrivals and departure board at the train station, as commuters streamed off MBTA and Amtrak trains behind them.

Boncore, whose district includes South Station, said housing costs in the area are reaching a crisis point and creating a shortage.

“We also understand we have an aging workforce in the city of Boston, and we need help, and our help is to the west,” he said. “And growing the east-west rail link will ensure that the City of Boston has a growing and younger workforce,” he said.

Forry said the proposed train service could connect entrepreneurs in the seaport area with the factories where their products are manufactured.

The Senate has twice before voted in favor of the rail study. Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed it from this year’s budget, suggesting instead a working group to look at various transportation modes to and from the Springfield area.

“While I support studying ways to improve transportation between Springfield and Boston, several aspects outlined in Section 180 are already the subject of ongoing studies,” Baker wrote. “Moreover the proposed study focuses exclusively on high-speed rail, ignoring the potential benefits of improving and coordinating other modes of transportation including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.”

Lesser said support has grown for Springfield-Boston train service in the past year, including grassroots interest and backing from groups including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts Sierra Club and Transportation for Massachusetts.

Clint Richmond of the Sierra Club said during the press conference that expanded rail service could have environmental benefits, reducing air pollution and fossil fuel use by drawing cars off highways that are “over capacity.”

Lesser’s tour to highlight the rail study comes as a conference committee of six lawmakers is negotiating a final version of next year’s budget. The committee will decide whether the study is included in the spending plan that makes it to Baker’s desk.

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