Lesser backs bill proposing high speed commuter rail line connecting Springfield and Boston

BOSTON — State Sen. Eric P. Lesser believes the time for a high-speed commuter rail line connecting Springfield to Boston is long overdue.

“The time really is now for this issue,” Lesser, D-Longmeadow, told the Joint Committee on Transportation Wednesday. His First Hampden and Hampshire District includes Belchertown and Granby.

With the MGM Springfield casino scheduled to open in 2018, joining the Springfield Innovation Center and the Springfield Central Cultural District, the High Speed Rail Bill is being discussed at a time when “a new start-up economy is taking root” in the western Massachusetts city, Lesser said.

He predicted that a fast train between the major Massachusetts cities would further boost the Pioneer Valley economy.

The bill, introduced in 2015, would require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study of the potential costs and benefits of a high-speed rail, something that Lesser called a “very realistic, very achievable project.”

Lesser told the Statehouse hearing that this study would examine the proposed rail line’s impact on economic development, property values and job prospects, as well as generally how it would “stitch our regions together.”

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited now is the only regular rail link connecting the Boston to Springfield. The train leaves Boston at noon every day and takes 2¼ hours to get to Springfield, he said.

But the train is delayed about 25 percent of the time, Lesser said. “It’s basically unusable and it’s not a practical option,” he added.

Lesser said that only minor infrastructure improvements would be necessary, the highest cost being the upgrade of tracks to handle the higher speeds.

A MassDOT spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Those interested in the impact of this project should “look no further than Worcester,” which has seen improved rail service to Boston, Lesser said.

Joshua Ostroff, partnerships director of Transportation For Massachusetts, a transportation coalition, agreed that improved rail service could be as successful for Springfield as that in Worcester.

“Sen. Lesser was on target when he talked about Worcester’s experience and how that region has been revitalized by more regular service and better facilities with Worcester’s Union Station,” he said after the hearing.

Union Station in Springfield is being renovated.

“To leverage the investment that is being made by state and federal government in Springfield’s Union Station really requires much more than one train a day to and from Boston,” Ostroff said.

This bill was co-sponsored by western Massachusetts legislators, including Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Reps. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, Ellen Story, D-Amherst, and Peter V. Kocot, D-Northampton.

This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on February 24, 2016.

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