Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a milestone agreement today in the effort to bring high- speed passenger rail service to western Massachusetts.
Governor Patrick arrived in Greenfield onboard a train from North Adams to announce a tentative agreement to have the state purchase the rail line between East Northfield on the Vermont border and Springfield. The 49-mile stretch is nearing the completion of a major restoration that will return passenger rail service to communities along the Connecticut River.
" I'm told service will begin by the end of this calendar year, which is pretty great," Patrick said to cheers from people present for the announcement.
The service will be the twice-daily Amtrak Vermonter between St. Albans, Vt. and Washington D.C. The new service in Massachusetts will run on a restored rail line dubbed the Knowledge Corridor with stops in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield.
" It is investments like these that catalyze private investment and job growth and that is a proven strategy here in the Commonwealth and elsewhere," said Patrick.
Trains will be able to travel up to 70 mph on the restored tracks shaving 30 minutes off the trip through Massachusetts.
Work on the federally funded $73 million project to restore the riverside line with new track, railroad ties, signals and passenger stations in Holyoke and Northampton began two years ago. The state purchase of the track from Pan Am Southern, a freight rail company, was part of the federal appropriation for the rail project. Terms of the agreement in principle between the state and Pan Am were not disclosed.
State ownership of the rail line makes it possible to add commuter train service to the Knowledge Corridor, according to Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
" Our plan is to add service so we can run trains between Greenfield and Springfield and perhaps go across the border and pick up Brattleboro in the process."
Linda Dunleavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said commuter trains, or a shuttle-service running between Greenfield and Springfield, would be a boon for the economy in mostly rural Franklin County.
" We have been anxiously awaiting this announcement."
$33 million was included in a transportation bond bill approved by the legislature this year to purchase and refurbish surplus MBTA rail cars for use on the Knowledge Corridor line. State Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington said expanded rail service in the region is a priority.
" It has significant positive impacts on transportation and the environment by getting cars off the road. The more public transportation options we can give people in Hampshire and Franklin counties the better."
Massachusetts Transportation Sec. Richard Davey said while there is money to purchase the so-called “rolling stock” for a commuter rail service on the Knowledge Corridor, there is no money to operate the service.
"When you are talking about a service over a period of time you have to come up with revenue and at this point we don't have it."
The improvements in rail service come at the same time the state is launching a three-year $270 million project to repair the elevated portion of I-91 through downtown Springfield.