WORCESTER, MA — A 90-minute commute between Springfield and the Boston area is possible, but don’t start looking for cheaper housing in the western part of the state just yet.
MassDOT this week released the final study on options for the East-West passenger rail corridor, which explores how to expand commuter train service beyond Worcester to link Springfield and Pittsfield to the eastern part of the state.
MassDOT initially created six routes for the line, but the final study whittled them down to three preferred options:
- A line that uses the Framingham-Worcester MBTA line, and then shares CSX-owned freight tracks after Worcester. This is the slowest option, with a Springfield-Boston commute time of two hours (add an hour for Pittsfield-Boston service). Estimated cost: $2.9 billion.
- The middle option would see the construction of a new rail line between Worcester and Springfield, but sharing MBTA tracks between Worcester and Boston, and CSX tracks between Springfield and Pittsfield. The option shaves about 15 minutes off the Springfield-Boston commute. Estimated cost: $3.9 billion.
- The fastest option is similar to the middle option, but adds high-speed shortcuts along the dedicated rail line between Springfield and Worcester. This option offers a near 90-minute commute between Springfield and Boston. Estimated cost: $4.6 billion.
Each of the three options would be an upgrade from what’s available now. Only Amtrak offers service between the west side of the state and Boston, and isn’t suited for daily commuter travel. An Amtrak trip between Pittsfield and Boston takes about four hours, if there are no other delays.
The report concludes by highlighting the large amount of work ahead, including negotiations with CSX and even more studies to examine how the East-West line would affect the economy and demographics.
“Most importantly, the study recommends a series of next steps to further advance planning for East-West rail, including further discussions with CSX about its policies for use of its tracks between Springfield and Worcester, a follow-up study detailing the potential economic and community benefits and impacts, development of a new approach to governance for passenger rail service in Western Massachusetts and efforts to identify possible funding sources,” MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack said in a news release.
There’s also an issue of governance. MassDOT does not have the capacity to operate a rail line, and is proposing elected leaders collaborate on a white paper to figure out what entity would operate it. The MBTA, for example, is restricted to serving 78 municipalities between Boston and Worcester, and would need permission from the Legislature to expand.
Even after more studies are complete, the project would have to be funded, designed, permitted and built. The report does not estimate how long it might be before the first Boston-bound train could depart Springfield.