State budget skimps on East-West rail projects, but funding still secured

The rail platform at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Adam Frenier/NEPM)
The rail platform at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Adam Frenier/NEPM)

The Massachusetts state budget passed this week did not include about $12 million for projects associated with expanded passenger rail between the western part of the state and Boston. But the money is still coming.

The funding for study and design work for a new Palmer rail station and track improvements in Pittsfield was part of Gov. Maura Healey's budget proposal. But, when it became clear the Legislature would not include it in the final version, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation added it to its own capital plan.

Ben Heckscher is with the advocacy group, Trains in the Valley. He said the projects are important stepping stones for the larger overall effort.

"They don't have to happen in sequence, but they can happen in parallel,” he said. “So to do the design work for Palmer is an important step as they wait for the funding to come through for the track work between Worcester and Springfield,".

The office of Springfield U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said decisions on federal grants to assist with the project are expected in the coming weeks.

MassDOT said it currently has pending four grant applications for East-West rail, including $108 million for the track improvements between Worcester and Springfield.

Neal said he’s pleased the smaller projects in Palmer and Pittsfield are funded.

"I think it continues the momentum that we have developed in support of East-West rail and Gov. Healey, as you know, she's been very clear in her support of East-West rail and her initiatives — whether they were in Palmer or Pittsfield — it's welcome news," Neal said in an interview.

In the MassDOT capital improvement plan, there’s also about $2 million included for planning to expand tracks around Springfield’s Union Station.

MassDOT pointed out the state budget passed Monday did include $650,000 for five full-time employees to work on East-West rail, including a director for the project.

An advisory committee studying expanded passenger rail is overdue to release a report, which could help to shape the future of the initiative.

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.



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