Comerford files bill for east-west rail study

  • Sen. Jo Comerford PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2019 11:32:42 PM

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, presented a bill Tuesday to the Joint Committee on Transportation that could eventually lead to passenger rail service linking North Adams, Greenfield and Boston.

Comerford not only presented her own testimony, but more than 700 comments from western Massachusetts residents, asking that the committee study an east-west passenger rail connection to Boston. By the end of summer, there are plans for expanded north-south connections from Greenfield into Connecticut and New York City.

The state Department of Transportation is already studying what it would take to implement rail service from Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield, but Comerford would like to see a track that roughly follows Route 2 along the northern part of the state.

Comerford, who filed bill S2054, would like to see DOT report by June 2020 on the feasibility of restoring passenger rail linking the three cities. She told the committee the option for getting between her district and the capital is currently Route 2 or the Mass Pike. This would be another option.

“Re-establishing a rail line along the Route 2 corridor — passenger service ran along that corridor from 1875 to 1968 — would not only make it easier to get to Boston, but would give commuters a more environmentally friendly option,” Comerford said. “Not only is this a relief for people who need it to get to Boston from western Mass., but it is part of what I hope to be the climate solution that we as a body will broker in the coming session, knowing what we know now about the urgency of the crisis.”

She said a passenger rail link would also benefit economic development efforts in western Massachusetts and could help ease the housing crunch in the Boston area.

“In western Mass., we have a different version of that — we have ample housing stock that needs good renters or good buyers,” she said.

Comerford said that, based on initial conversations with the company that still runs freight trains on the rails between Boston, Greenfield and North Adams, the addition of passenger rail would not necessitate widespread track replacement. But, some sections of track might need to be replaced and some new siding may have to be built to allow trains to pass.

“Again, this is a study so it’s not a fait accompli,” she said.

Rep. Paul Tucker, who said it took him two hours and 10 minutes to make the 16-mile commute between his Salem home and the State House on Tuesday, called the idea “very intriguing.”

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

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 also “be a boon” to western Massachusetts’ work force, Comerford said. She said people could work in Boston and live in western Massachusetts without worrying about long commute times.

“It would 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.

Comerford said she has had significant support from her western Massachusetts colleagues, including Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and representatives Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland.


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