Sen. Eric P. Lesser’s legislation requiring the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the feasibility of passenger rail access between Springfield and Boston has unanimously passed the Massachusetts Senate in a 39-0 vote.
“Today’s vote is a testament to the broad bipartisan support for regular, fast east-west rail service. I’m grateful for this unanimous vote in the Senate and look forward to seeing this project continue to move forward,” said Sen. Lesser, who is also a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation. A full transcript of Sen. Lesser’s remarks is below.
The study will include examination of projected costs, as well as the economic, social and cultural benefits that Springfield-Boston passenger rail will bring to the Greater Springfield region and the Commonwealth as a whole.
In March 2016, this same bill was given a positive recommendation by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
“We cannot have a functioning Commonwealth if all the growth, if all of the job opportunities are focused in the eastern part of the state,” Sen. Lesser said in his speech on the Senate floor.
“In an era of increased connectivity, east-west rail will help spur new economic growth in Springfield, the entire Western Massachusetts region, and indeed in the Commonwealth as a whole. Projects such as this one are vital to our economy and have the potential to more easily connect people to jobs, educational institutions and areas to live and to raise a family.”
Speaking in favor of the bill on the Senate floor, Transportation Committee Chairman Thomas M. McGee said:
“Expanding rail service continues to be one of the number-one priorities that we as a Commonwealth need to work on, in a bipartisan way, to make sure we are making a transportation system that works for everyone.”
Currently, the fastest existing passenger rail link from Springfield to Boston, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, only runs once a day and takes 135 minutes. Improvements to the existing infrastructure could mean trains running at 70 mph or higher, cutting travel times down to 90 minutes, with multiple departures per day.
Recent discussion of east-west rail comes at a crucial point for transportation development in Western Massachusetts.
An $83 million renovation of Union Station is expected to be completed by the end of this year, which will serve as a new transit hub, combining North-South and East-West rail with regional and intercity bus service.
In addition, the reconstruction of the “Knowledge Corridor” and the pending completion of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project will bring a steady flow of rail passengers through Springfield. Downtown Springfield is also expected to attract thousands of new visitors due to upcoming openings of the MGM Springfield casino and the Dr. Seuss Museum, along with the establishment of both the Springfield Cultural and Innovation Districts.
Thank you Mr. President, and through you to the members. To my distinguished friend and gentleman from Gloucester, let me assure you this is a train you will want to be on.
Today I rise in support of Amendment 1142, the Springfield to Boston High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study.
This amendment calls for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the feasibility of passenger rail access between Springfield and Boston. It was previously passed in our budget last year, and I am thankful for the leadership of our distinguished friend from Lynn, the Senate Chair of the Joint Transportation Committee, for giving a favorable report of this bill of out his committee.
This study will examine the projected capital and operating costs, ridership levels and right-of-way issues that would come with a project like this.
Just as importantly, it will also examine the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the Greater Springfield region and to the Commonwealth as a whole.
I’m proud that east-west rail has had the bipartisan support of members of this body as well as members of the House. And that again, as I mentioned, has received that favorable report from the Transportation Committee.
I firmly believe, Mr. President, that in an era of increased connectivity, east-west rail will help spur new economic growth in Springfield, the entire Western Massachusetts region, and indeed in the Commonwealth as a whole.
Projects such as this one are vital to our economy and have the potential to more easily connect people to jobs, educational institutions and areas to live and to raise a family.
Currently, the fasted existing passenger rail link from Springfield to Boston is Amtrak’s Lakeshore Limited. It only runs once a day and it takes 135 minutes.
But what’s important about this is there already are tracks. So this project is much more attainable than some detractors may claim. The right of way already exists; the tracks are there.
What we need to do is marshal the political support in the Legislature and across the Commonwealth to move this plan forward and to make it a reality.
A robust feasibility study is the first step in that direction.
As you know, Mr. President, our discussion of east-west rail also comes at a critical point for transportation development in Western Massachusetts, and frankly in the Commonwealth as a whole.
Right now in Springfield we have an $83 million renovation and opening of a new Union Station, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will serve as a new regional transit hub, combining north-south and east-west rail with regional and intercity bus service.
In addition, the reconstruction of the Knowledge Corridor and the pending completion of New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail service from Connecticut will bring a steady flow of passengers into the Springfield area.
And I would just like to underscore the potential economic impact for our region of reestablishing the Greater Springfield area as the crossroads and the logistics and transportation intersection of New England.
That was our traditional role, that was our traditional center, and those are good, high-paying middle class jobs.
It’s also worth noting, this comes at a time of increased focus and attention on the development of downtown Springfield, which is expected to attract thousands of new visitors in the coming years with the opening of the Dr. Seuss Museum, the new casino facility and of course the improvements to Court Square and the cultural and innovation districts that are slated for completion in the coming years.
I’d also like, Mr. President, to address a broader point about this project and about the potential for east-west rail.
It has been a stated priority of this Chamber since our session convened a year and a half or so ago that we wanted to take on income inequality.
We know that that is an important and essential task for us to be tackling. Indeed, much of what we focused on in this year’s budget is aimed at income inequality and making sure all the people of our Commonwealth have equal access to opportunity.
A growing component of that, Mr. President, is regional inequality.
And we cannot have a functioning Commonwealth if all the growth, if all of the job opportunities are focused in the eastern part of the state, are concentrated in the Boston area.
We have an obligation as a Chamber and as a body to make sure that growth, that innovation, that opportunity is spread to all corners of the Commonwealth, and that everyone can participate.
That, Mr. President, is why I support this amendment and encourage its passage.
And it’s why I believe it’s important that we not only address the immediate needs of maintaining our transportation system, but also think strategically about expanding that system and making those wise investments we need to make to keep all areas of our Commonwealth growing together.
I respectfully ask that when a vote is called we do so by a call of the yeas and nays.
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