Work has begun on a project that officials say will bring high speed passenger train service to the most heavily populated cities of western Massachusetts. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Construction work has started on a $73 million dollar project to upgrade 50 miles of train track running parallel to the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. When the work is finished in two years it will bring passenger trains back to several cities that have not had direct Amtrak service for decades. Federal, state and local officials gathered in Holyoke Monday to mark the start of the work, which Mass. Lt Governor Timothy Murray called tremendously exciting.
Over the course of the next two years, 80,000 rail road ties will be replaced, new welded rail tracks and new signals will be installed from Springfield to the Vermont state line. Its estimated there will be 300 construction jobs. The upgrades will allow the Amtrak Vermonter to stop at Greenfield, Northampton and Holyoke, cites the train has been forced to bypass since the 1980s after track conditions badly deteriorated.
Money to pay for the project came from the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Including rail work in the economic stimulus bill was strongly supported by Massachusetts Congressional delegation, represented at Monday’s announcement by Representatives Richard Neal and John Olver
When the Amtrak Vermonter starts traveling on the upgraded track it will be able to reach speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. The new route will reduce the travel time by half-an-hour. Ridership is also expected to increase according to Dana Roscoe, a principle planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
Roscoe said additional service beyond just the two daily Amtrak trains now on the schedule is the ultimate goal.
In Holyoke, officials secured $2 million in a recently approved state transportation bond bill to build a 400 foot long covered passenger rail platform. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said high speed rail is critical component of his strategy to revitalize Holyoke.
The rail platform is going to be built in part of downtown Holyoke that is in need of revitalization.
The rail station will be four blocks from a new inner city and commuter bus terminal that opened in a Holyoke two years ago. A shuttle between the two is planned.