Tallying Up the Costs and Benefits of More Western New England Train Service

Jul 22, 2016

If you want to take a train from Springfield to Boston, there’s only one a day, and it’s notoriously slow. But a new federally funded study looks at the cost and benefits of expanding train service to Boston — and Montreal.

The Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative calls for higher speed passenger train service in Massachusetts and nearby states. It would include eight new trains a day, round trip from Boston to Springfield and then on to New Haven.

It also calls for one new trip from Boston — and another from New Haven — to Montreal.

Congressman Richard Neal says it would bring “regional equity” for cities like Springfield and Worcester.

“There’ve been a lot of medium-sized cities that have been left out of the economic recovery,” Neal says. “And I think that this is an effort to call attention to the idea that transportation is a very important part of creating greater efficiencies and, in turn, productivity, but also opportunity.”

Building the infrastructure would cost more than one billion dollars. And another $56 million to operate the new train service every year.

Revenues from train fares wouldn’t cover the cost, but Tim Brennan of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission says the benefits don’t come from ticket sales.

“They come from economic development where the trains land, they come job creation, they come from enhanced tourism, they come from climate change benefits,” Brennan says. “When you roll all those benefits up, that’s what makes the investment worthwhile.”

At Union Station in Springfield, there aren’t actually many trains running right now because work is being done on the tracks.

Train arriving at South Station in Boston
Credit Loco Steve / Creative Commons

Chad Stoloff, a Springfield College professor who got off a bus from New Haven, says he’d like to take a train more easily to sports events in Boston and nearby towns.

“More trains, more options to the surrounding areas would be really nice,” Stoloff says.

Eighteen-year-old Eli Shearer is meeting someone at the bus. He says a lot of his friends who go to college in Boston would save money if there were more trains.

“A car in Boston is expensive, so I feel like for them they would probably enjoy that immensely,” Shearer says.

In Massachusetts alone, the study predicts the demand for the additional trains would translate into more than 300,000 riders every year.

Congressman Neal says he’s sending the study to Governor Charlie Baker. He hopes Baker will spend federal transportation funds to help pay for the proposed rail expansion.

This report was originally published on New England Public Radio