East-West Rail Use Estimates Were Way Off, MassDOT Says
A passenger rail expansion to western Massachusetts would generate as much as four to five times as much ridership as the initial estimates in a Department of Transportation study that drew swift criticism for its methodology, officials said.
After revising the study in response to complaints from lawmakers and other project stakeholders, MassDOT consultants found that the long-sought East-West connection could draw hundreds of thousands more riders per year.
The revised projections, which Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack described to reporters on Wednesday ahead of an East-West Passenger Rail Study Advisory Committee meeting, could give momentum to supporters who argue that making passenger service available west of Worcester will help reduce traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and the strain on the housing market.
Pollack said the department believes its methodology for cost estimates, which range between about $2 billion and nearly $25 billion for the six options on the table, remains sound.
The expansion would require federal funding, but Pollack said that its costs outweigh its benefits too much to qualify under existing eligibility rules.
However, committee member Sen. Eric Lesser told the State House News Service that while the update is "a step in the right direction," he still has concerns that even the increased estimates leave "a lot missing."
"It begs the question: how earnestly is MassDOT engaging on this, or is the study being used as a way to kill the project before it even starts?" Lesser said.