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Commuter rail is possible, but 'years away'

Date: 10/10/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Speaking at a rebuilt rail bridge spanning Roosevelt Avenue, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray told Reminder Publications that the Commonwealth "would be foolish" not to study the possibility of adding commuter rail service from Springfield to Worcester, where riders could connect to trains traveling to Boston.

Murray was in Springfield to announce the completion of a deal with freight carrier CSX to purchase 30 additional miles of track between Worcester and Framingham. Murray predicted that within the next year 20 additional trains would be providing commuter service for that part of the state.

Part of the arrangement was the rebuilding of rail brides that weren't high enough to accommodate the stacking of two rail cars — a common practice now. Murray said because the rail bridges were tall enough between the New York border and Worcester, CSX had to disassemble the stacked cars and then re-stack them costing the company time and money and putting Massachusetts in an uncompetitive position.

Murray said that about 30 percent of the freight traffic in New England comes through the Commonwealth.

Another part of the new arrangement with CSX is that more freight trains will be using the train yard in West Springfield, Murray added.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation Administrator, Highway Division Frank DePaola said the total bridge project cost $25 million.

"This is a great example of transportation reform in action," he said.

For commuter trains to come to Western Massachusetts, Murray said studies on potential ridership figures, track standards — as freight trains need a different standard of track then passenger trains — and if rates would be attractive to customers.

"I think it's worth building into the programming going forward," he said.

As the former mayor of Worcester, Murray said he saw first hand the impact of commuter rail service. When it was added to Worcester, he said he saw "private dollar investment spread out in concentric circles around Union Station."

Murray sees Springfield's Union Station redevelopment project fulfilling the same role as Worcester's: becoming a regional intermodal transportation center with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, Amtrak and Peter Pan Buslines.

He did admit though that commuter rail to Worcester and Boston is "probably years away."