New head of west-east rail has 'big plans' for expanding passenger rail in Massachusetts
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has appointed a director of west-east rail, which would extend passenger rail service from Boston to Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield.
Andy Koziol brings more than 15 years of transportation planning experience to his new role — and he also has a connection to western Mass.
Andy Koziol, MassDOT: My career has been primarily focused in planning for commuter rail and intercity passenger rail services. I recently joined MassDOT, back in June 2023, as the director of rail and transit. And prior to that, I spent about 12 years with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
I'm happy to be back working in Massachusetts again. I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I got my undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst, and my first experiences in transportation planning were actually in western Mass. and in the Berkshires. So, I do have a personal relationship with western Mass., and I am invested in its success.
One concern for many here in Western Mass, you may have heard, is equity between the western and the eastern regions. A while ago, one state lawmaker told the Western Mass. Rail Commission that it's important that western Massachusetts control east-west rail because if the service is managed from Boston, that means the interests of people living in western Mass. might not be properly represented. So, since Rep. Natalie Blais voiced that concern, would you say that west-east equity has been taken into account, and that the voices of those here in western Mass. are being heard?
Well, I'll say, I was not around when those original comments were being made. But certainly, this issue of governance has been thoroughly discussed and studied as a part of the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission. And right now, there is a recommendation to maintain governance through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. And I think that in the near term, based on the projects that we're currently trying to advance, that makes a lot of sense.
We do have big plans for bringing passenger rail to western Massachusetts. And as things grow, I think we're going to be constantly trying to reevaluate the governance structure for passenger rail. That said, we are fully committed to being very connected to the community, hearing feedback and taking that feedback into account as we make our plans.
To complete this project, funding, of course, will come from a mix of federal and state sources. Are you at all concerned with this being a federal election year, that if Donald Trump was elected, it could imperil this west-east rail buildout?
I don't have any particular opinions on who is in the administration. I've got to say that there is a lot of opportunity for the Commonwealth to receive additional funding for our projects. And really, I think that just based on the merits of the projects that we have, the pre-planning that's done by the staff before me, I think really positions us well for future opportunities in receiving federal awards.
The trains were talking about are powered by diesel, aren't they?
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the burning of diesel produces harmful emissions, including pollutants like ground-level ozone and particulate matter. How does the train service on the west-east rail fit into the state's clean energy and climate plan initiatives?
Well, for one, the Massachusetts Department station is certainly interested in offering a variety of transportation options for the public. And offering mass transit, which is generally a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, is going to be one of our key priorities. So, one of the goals of implementing this type of service is going to be mode shift and trying to bring people away from single occupancy vehicles onto mass transit, where there are efficiencies that are gained.
Does the future of this rail expansion still hold challenges?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is a very complicated project as it has many different partners, and the different partners have different objectives. So, when you go on the rail line west of Worcester, this is a freight-owned corridor. CSX owns the corridor. And we're trying to bring new passenger service onto this same corridor. So, we're going to be balancing the needs of different partners while still trying to bring benefits to all.
So we have funding for early actions along the corridor. And I think that's great. That's going to bring us to passenger rail round trips on this inland route between Boston and Springfield and New Haven.
But this is just the beginning. We want to expand the service. We have a much larger vision for bringing passenger rail to western Massachusetts. And the challenges will be funding and will be actually implementing projects, for sure.
There are impacts of expanded west-east rail service. What are those impacts expected to be on housing and economic growth?
Well, I've got to say that's one of the things that excites me about this position is that the work that we are doing for passenger rail really dovetails nicely with a lot of other initiatives that are coming from the Healey administration.
Mobility is really foundational. It's how people choose where they want to live and ... choose where they're going to work, and what institutions they can reach, what sort of services they can reach. So we want to bring that additional mobility to these communities along the west-east rail corridor.
This is a huge project. What is the timeline we should be looking for as the project progresses?
So we have several projects that are currently underway. The most notable maybe is the inland route project that recently received a $108 million award from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). That project is already underway. We are doing some service modeling right now on the corridor, which will allow us to start some real design for track improvements within the next few months. After that, we expect construction to start roughly in spring of 2027, and it'll be a two-year process. So, we anticipate new passenger rail services by 2029.
And, at the same time, we also have the Boston to Albany corridor [which] has been accepted into what the Federal Railroad Administration calls its Corridor I.D. Program. And that's going to allow us to begin working with the FRA to develop a service development plan for this entire corridor. So this is going to spread west of Springfield all the way to Albany, and have us really start planning out what sort of capital projects will be necessary to bring what level of service.
And what was the last train ride you took?
[Wednesday] — to go to work in Boston.