Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey has thrown his support behind the effort to get high-speed train service between Springfield and Boston.
At the town hall-style meeting the Democratic Senator hosted in Springfield earlier this week, the very first question from a member of the audience of 250 was whether Markey supports the much-talked about east-west rail link.
" Yes, I support the east-west rail. I want to see that happen," said Markey as the audience broke into applause.
Efforts to get the administration of Republican Governor Charlie Baker to just do a feasibility study of east-west rail have run into roadblocks.
Markey said a bipartisan bill the Congress approved in late 2015 gave Massachusetts $5 billion for infrastructure work over five years, with spending it left largely to the discretion of the governor.
" But, you can't fund every single project even though it is $5 billion coming in from the federal government," said Markey.
A massive infrastructure bill of the kind promised by President Trump during last year’s campaign could be just the ticket to pay for the east-west rail project.
" If we can pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, it would put a lot of people to work building roads and bridges, and new rail transit, new airports across the country," Markey said. " Also, the money could be used for the east-west rail project, so that is what I am going to be working on."
Markey said he agrees with the assessment of regional planners and others that high-speed rail linking Springfield with the booming economy of Boston would be a game-changer for western Massachusetts.
" So you can get in and out of Springfield in a way that reflects a modern transportation system. If that happens, the sky is the limit for Springfield, and I want to be a part of making that happen," declared Markey.
An amendment sponsored by Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser to require MassDOT to conduct a feasibility study of high-speed east-west rail was killed in the conference committee that wrote this year’s final state budget.
" The Senate has passed this three years in a row on unanimous bipartisan votes, so I think the public should be frustrated about this," said Lesser.
He has vowed to pursue it as a separate bill.
" It has doubled-down our resolve," Lesser said.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack insists the state is already looking into east-west rail as part of a larger study of rail transportation.
" Whether or not we do that specific study we continue to speak to ( Senator Lesser) and other elected officials in the Springfield area and we have an ongoing statewide rail planning process that is looking at both east-west and north-south rail connections for Springfield," said Pollack.
Any infrastructure money that might come from Washington will be highly coveted in eastern Massachusetts where several rail expansion projects have been on the drawing board for decades.
Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield has argued east-west rail should receive consideration as a matter of regional equity.