U.S. Rep. Richard Neal says east-west rail ‘is going to happen’ in push for regional equity

SPRINGFIELD — Things have been quiet lately with east-west rail, the Pioneer Valley’s decades-long quest for better and more frequent passenger train service to Boston.

But that’s changing, says a leading proponent, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield.

For one, Gov. Maura T. Healey, who publicly pledged her support last fall during a campaign stop with Neal at Springfield Union Station, is expected to be in Western Massachusetts next week to mark Memorial Day.

“She says this is going to happen, the governor,” Neal said Friday in a meeting with reporters and editors at The Republican. “She is the decider on that, because the state decides what to do with federal money on the transportation side.”

Also, last week, Healey announced she would double the state’s pledge of funding to replace the 90-year-old Bourne and Sagamore bridges on Cape Cod from $350 million to $700 million, matching a $350 million pledge the Biden administration made in March.

“Those of you who have dealt with me for a long time know that triggers something in me,” Neal said in the hourlong conversation. “I read that and say, ‘Where’s ours?’”

Massachusetts is set to receive $9 billion in federal infrastructure money.

Neal, dean of the state’s congressional delegation, said he’s made it clear to the state’s other eight representatives in the House that all of that money will not go to the Boston-area MBTA. Neal said he’s also making a priority of continued manufacturing of rail cars at the CRRC plant on Page Boulevard in Springfield, where 280 people work but where there have been quality and production issues.

Neal reminds people that western Massachusetts residents pay sales tax into the T.

“We want rail and we want that manufacturing plant,” Neal said.

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal steps out of Amtrak’s “theatre car” at Union Station in Springfield last August. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican)

Neal in 2019 had federal law changed in a compromise that allowed CRRC to bid for more work.

“Where else is Springfield going to get 280 manufacturing jobs right now?” he asked.

On the issue of east-west rail, the state Legislature’s Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission has at least one more meeting to conduct. Its report, due at the end of this month, is expected to be late.

In December, state Department of Transportation and railroads Amtrak and CSX Corp. applied for $108 million in federal transportation money to help fund improvements along the 53 miles of railroad between Springfield and Worcester.

That application is pending.

Boosters, including longtime advocate and former state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, say east-west rail can ease the pressure on Boston-area housing costs and give people in Western Massachusetts access to jobs in the burgeoning Eastern Massachusetts economy.

Amtrak has proposed, as a first step, taking some trains from New Haven, Connecticut, that stop now in Springfield and continuing them east.

Amtrak would also like, in the longer term, to expand service all the way west to Albany, New York.

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