the following is a press release submitted to SOURCE media from MassDOT
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) today, January 5,issued the final report for the East-West Passenger Rail Study, which examines the potential benefits, costs, and investments necessary to connect people in Western Massachusetts communities with Central and Eastern Massachusetts using a passenger rail service that provides fast, frequent, and attractive service in a cost-effective and achievable manner.
Community leaders, stakeholders, and residents expressed a desire for such a passenger rail link to enhance multi-modal transportation options available for communities in the Commonwealth located west of Worcester.
MassDOT subsequently paid for and launched this study which entailed a comprehensive civic engagement process involving members of the East-West Passenger Rail Study Advisory Committee, residents, businesses, state and local elected officials, and other stakeholders in a series of informational meetings, outreach, and public comment processes, and through online interaction.
“MassDOT is pleased to present the final report for the East-West Passenger Rail Study which outlines the three alternatives that could be most favorable for East-West service, the pros and cons of each, what those options would cost, and what ridership is projected for each alternative,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “Most importantly, the study recommends a series of next steps to further advance planning for East-West rail, including further discussions with CSX about its policies for use of its tracks between Springfield and Worcester, a follow-up study detailing the potential economic and community benefits and impacts, development of a new approach to governance for passenger rail service in Western Massachusetts and efforts to identify possible funding sources.”
The study acknowledges that “fast and frequent passenger rail service in the East-West Rail Corridor could enhance mobility and connectivity for Corridor communities, provide residents and stakeholders with additional travel options, and catalyze new economic opportunities, such as development around stations. Improved connectivity among job centers and better mobility for potential workers could increase employment opportunities for workers and expand the talent pool available to employers by better linking the western, central, and eastern regions of the Commonwealth with each other and with a broader travel market.”
The final report for the East-West Passenger Rail Study recommends further consideration of the following three Alternatives, which have been selected from a group of six:
- “Alternative 3” could provide direct passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Boston along a shared track / shared CSX and MBTA corridor.
- “Alternative 4” could provide direct passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Springfield along a shared track / shared CSX corridor, along an independent passenger track between Springfield and Worcester, and along a shared track/shared MBTA corridor between Worcester and Boston.
- “Hybrid Alternative 4/5” could provide direct passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Springfield along a shared track / shared CSX corridor, along an independent passenger track with high-speed shortcuts between Springfield and Worcester, and along a shared track/shared MBTA corridor between Worcester and Boston.
“The East-West Passenger Rail Study is a step forward in realizing the potential for enhanced service within the corridor,” said MassDOT Deputy Rail and Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger. “The study’s next steps could advance opportunities for turning East-West passenger rail from a subject of study to a project that can be designed, permitted, funded, built, and operated.”
Key findings from the final alternatives’ analysis include:
- A substantial reduction in travel times by as much as one hour over current times could be possible with significant new investment in rail corridor infrastructure.
- Passenger rail and CSX operations between Worcester and Pittsfield within an enhanced shared-track environment would require careful coordination of services and clear operational criteria.
- Passenger rail service operated between Worcester and Springfield over an independent alignment adjacent to CSX track(s) eliminates most of the interference between the two operations in this segment.
- Total forecasted ridership for the Final Alternatives indicates commuter, business and recreational travel markets are present to varying degrees along the East-West Corridor, including a pattern of very strong ridership between Springfield and Boston: roughly two-thirds of boardings for each alternative were attributable to Boston-bound trips from Springfield, or the corresponding return trip. Long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on commuting patterns were not examined as part of this study.
The study recommends four next steps to gather additional information that could inform the development of an East-West Passenger Rail Corridor beyond the analysis contained in the study.
- The first recommendation calls for further discussion of the requirements established by CSX, the owner of the tracks between Springfield and Worcester, about accommodating passenger rail on its right-of-way, noting that the CSX requirements add as much as $1.5 billion to the cost of the project because CSX policy favors the complete separation of the passenger operations from CSX tracks whenever possible.
- The second recommendation is a study of the potentially transformative economic and demographic impacts/benefits of East-West passenger rail and how an East-West rail corridor could be one of several focused policies to promote affordable living and economic development in Western Massachusetts which is not captured by a standard transportation analysis.
- The third recommendation includes working with elected stakeholders to develop a white paper to identify options for a governance structure for passenger rail outside the MBTA service district.
- The fourth recommendation involves evaluating funding sources and strategies, an effort that will depend in part on the findings from the governance white paper with respect to what entity could be the recipient of such funding. These analyses may also be useful in determining whether phasing development of the corridor could provide a more viable path forward.
For further information on the final report for the East-West Passenger Rail Study, please visit the following website: https://www.mass.gov/east-west-passenger-rail-study.