Rail Commission hears from residents about East-West Rail thoughts, concerns

Members of the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission are in Springfield to hear what people in the community want out of the East-West Rail Line.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 4:35 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2023 at 10:18 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The public had a chance to voice their concerns for the future of the East-West Rail at hearings held in Northampton and Springfield Tuesday evening.

The project has been in the works for years and would connect the Commonwealth via a high speed train.

Many at Tuesday’s meetings expressed their excitement for an opportunity to easily travel back and forth to Boston – something they hope will become a reality in the near future.

“We live in the Commonwealth,” said Representative Mindy Domb of Amherst. “We should be more connected.”

From the Berkshires to Hampden County, representatives from the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission heard from the public on Tuesday. The committee held public meetings in Northampton and Springfield, where community members had the chance to voice their excitement and concerns for the project.

Representative Domb and others at the meeting said that there are a number of benefits to the rail.

“In our area, the train not only helps us meet our climate goals, helps us with economic development, as you’ve heard, helps with tourism, but will also connects us to the rest of the state in a way that we haven’t been,” she said.

Worthington’s selectboard chair, Amy Wang, was at the Northampton meeting earlier Tuesday and said that additional stops are needed to make the rail more practical for those in rural communities.

“For us to benefit from the train, we need stops that are going to be convenient,” Wang said. “I would advocate for the stop in Chester and I would also advocate for the stop in Palmer.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also weighed in on the conversation, saying in a written testimony:

“Key passenger rail stops along the East-West passenger line would provide a catalyst for economic growth throughout the area. The iron is hot, and now is the time to strike. This project would open up a myriad of positive possibilities, including opportunities for economic development, jobs, and housing.”

The rail would connect Pittsfield to Boston via a high speed train with stops along the way in Chester, Springfield, Palmer, Worcester, and Boston.

Earlier this month, Governor Maura Healey announced plans to allocate $12.5 million from her budget towards the project’s development, which would cover improvements at the Pittsfield station and also a design for the Palmer station.

Community members also raised concerns about the project, particularly when it comes to cost.

“I am mindful of all of the costs and expertise that are needed to provide a vital service that needs to have sustainability,” said Sheila Cutty, the executive director of the Quaboag Valley Community Development Project.

They also raised concerns about dependability.

“I don’t want to build something new,” said John Garrett of Greenfield. “I don’t want us to build something new and have it fall down in 60 years from now because we focused on the ribbon cutting and not the glory of maintenance.”

Overall, however, many were eager for what this project could mean for the area and the city of Springfield.

“There’s a lot of history and a lot of reasons why we’re going to be known now as the ‘Home of Crossroads,’” Senator Adam Gomez said.

Governor Healey has expressed that she wants to move this project quickly, but at this point, the governor has not appointed a director for the project yet.