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Gov. Charlie Baker shows support for east-west rail in Massachusetts

Passengers board Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Alden Bourne
Passengers board Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited in Springfield, Massachusetts.

A proposal to expand passenger rail service between western Massachusetts and Boston gained support from Gov. Charlie Baker Tuesday.

During a press conference at Springfield's Union Station, Baker, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced the agreement. The deal calls for a new authority to oversee the project.

Neal, a Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means committee, said that panel will serve several functions.

"It would oversee the actual application for freeing up federal moneys. It would also oversee the administration of the lines and it would be the responsible agency much the same as the MBTA board," Neal said referring to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's board of directors.

It will be up to the state legislature to set up the authority. There are still several items lacking specifics at this point – including an exact timeline on when the service could begin. The cost of the project is still not clear, although estimates have placed it in the billions.

Federal infrastructure money is expected to help pay for the project and Baker said the state would have no trouble making its contribution. The train operator for the service has not been officially selected, but Baker said it will likely be Amtrak.

The announcement was made after a closed-door meeting involving Neal, Baker, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, and members of the western Massachusetts state legislative delegation.

Baker has questioned the idea of expanding passenger rail from places like Pittsfield and Springfield eastward. Standing alongside Neal, the governor defended his deliberate approach.

"I said from the beginning, my most important issue was to understand what it was we were trying to accomplish and what it would look like and how it would get framed....That somehow was viewed by a lot of people as opposition...it wasn't," he said.

Neal said the discussion between himself and Baker was civil.

"I've built a strong relationship with him and approached this again, without using charged language," Neal said. "I've regularly lobbied him pretty aggressively on this."

There have been two other major developments involving passenger rail impacting western Massachusetts this week.

Amtrak announced it is restoring service between Springfield and New Haven, Connecticut to pre-pandemic levels. And, transportation officials in Massachusetts and New York announced the start of a new pilot service between New York City and Pittsfield, which is due to start in early July.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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