U.S. Rep. Richard Neal speaks about the East-West Rail project at a press conference with MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger, Director of Rail and Transit Andy Koziol State Sen. Jake Oliveira and state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez at Springfield Union Station.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

SPRINGFIELD — At a press conference on April 22, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) spoke alongside legislators, and local and state officials, announcing the design of East-West Rail will begin this summer. East-West Rail, part of the “inland route,” is a major component to the state’s Compass Rail project, connecting points around Massachusetts with Springfield at its heart.

“Springfield is the center of New England, geographically,” Neal said, and Union Station will be the central hub for Compass Rail. The fact that East-West Rail moving forward is “a reminder that [President] Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill … is down to implementation,” he added.

Planning and track reconfiguration is underway for Springfield Union Station and a Palmer train station. There is a capacity project for the Pittsfield track and the Connecticut Department of Transportation is working on the program to use double tracks on its CTRail Hartford Line.

When asked about the timeframe for the service, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Rail and Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger cautioned that the entire buildout will take several years but said there will be two new Boston-Hartford-New Haven round trips by 2029. Koziol echoed Slesinger, calling the rail improvements “a multi-year effort.”

Construction of the inland route, including East-West Rail, which will have stops in Boston, Worcester, Palmer, Springfield and Pittsfield, is slated to begin in spring of 2027. Director of Rail and Transit Andy Koziol said that when the construction phase begins, people will see “real, visible progress.” He added that the state had “ambitious plans” for rail. Projects that will enable the Compass Rail initiative include the expansion of South Station in Boston and a third track for the Framingham/Worcester Line of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s Commuter Rail.

Currently, Amtrak’s Valley Flyer trains provide seven-day service north-south through the Pioneer Valley with stops extending from Vermont to Greenfield, Springfield, Hartford and New Haven. There is also seasonal service from Pittsfield to Albany, and on to New York City. Compass Rail would incorporate these lines into its broader goals of connecting to various parts of New England. Neal said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott feel the north-south rail lines will be “a big deal.”

Compass Rail will be a public-private partnership, sharing administration between MassDOT’s Rail and Transit Division, Amtrak, CSX and the states of Vermont, New York and Connecticut. By 2045, every day will see four round trips from Greenfield to Springfield, three round trips from Springfield to Albany, six roundtrips from Boston to Springfield and eight round trips from Springfield to New Haven.

Compass Rail is designed to give people more “transportation options, support economic development, improve the freight network and shift car trips to greener modes,” according to documentation on the project. Slesinger said East-West Rail will “give the eastern part of the state and the western part of the state more access to each other.

While the state officials described East-West Rail as a coming together of the two halves of the state, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno spoke about the history of Western Massachusetts “subsidizing” eastern Massachusetts and specifically cited the Big Dig and the Quabbin Reservoir. Now, in Springfield, there is demand for rail service.

Despite messaging from the state which specifies that East-West Rail is “intercity rail, not commuter rail,” Slesinger commented that East-West Rail will give people the opportunity to “live in places where the housing is less expensive” than in eastern Massachusetts.

Slesinger later said the Healey administration is committed to housing and transportation throughout the state. Koziol said transportation is “foundational” to people’s lives and the state’s transportation efforts “dovetail nicely” with its housing goals.

State Sen. Jake Oliveira (D-Ludlow) spoke on the matter and said transportation and housing must be worked on with a holistic approach and said there is currently a housing bond bill working its way through the legislature. He said East-West Rail will be good for the area economically, which will benefit the region in a variety of ways, including helping people afford housing.

sheinonen@thereminder.com | + posts