East-West rail ‘absolutely vital’ for smaller communities, Mass. rural affairs director says

Mass. Newsmakers: Part of an ongoing series talking to those with unique insight into the issues and concerns Massachusetts communities face.


Living in Western Massachusetts and still being able to commute or telecommute to Boston is something Anne Gobi, the new Massachusetts rural affairs director, finds “appealing.”

The East-West passenger rail project is expected to provide faster and more frequent trains through Boston, Worcester, Palmer, Springfield and Pittsfield, and will benefit smaller communities that want to increase their population base and create more economic activity, according to Gobi.

“If you have a station, a town where people have to get to, they’re probably gonna go out to eat and they’ll probably do some shopping and so it lends itself to so much more economic activity that can benefit an area,” said Gobi.

At the end of July, lawmakers passed a $56.2 billion Massachusetts budget without the $12.5 million which the Healey administration requested for a passenger rail station in Palmer and track improvements in Pittsfield.

The projects would have included $4 million for site selection and preliminary engineering in Palmer, and $8.5 million for track work in Pittsfield.

The $12 million project was shown during a July presentation on MassDOTs 2024-2028 Capital Investment Plan, and would include state, federal and other funds to pay for long-term improvements.

As the new rural affairs director for Gov. Maura Healey’s administration, Gobi serves the purpose of advocating for rural communities. She is also a member of the East-West Rail Commission.

During an interview at MassLive’s office in Worcester, Gobi said that the rail project is “absolutely vital” for smaller communities and that these communities would rely on it.

“The town of Palmer … the town of seven railroads, they have a station basically there already, and it would need to be expanded, but it had been a railroad station … If we were having this talk 50 years ago there were about 20 trains a day that ran from Springfield to Boston in the 1960s.”

In December, MassDOT and rail companies Amtrak and CSX Corp. applied for $108 million in federal transportation money to help fund improvements along 53 miles of railroad between Springfield and Worcester.

Gobi said she expects “that we will see some funding coming later on,” and although she didn’t specify what kind of funding, it may come from a transportation bond bill, an economic development bill, or a supplemental budget.

Healey also has voiced support for the project, saying she’d hire an east-west rail director, but that job has not yet been filled.

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