FRA Approves Environmental Report for New England Rail Initiative

On July 19th the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI Study).

The finding clears the way for states and the federal government to invest in future passenger rail service in New England.

The NNEIRI Study proposes to restore service between Boston and New Haven through Springfield and Hartford and add new service between Boston and Montreal.

Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study

 

“Existing passenger rail service through New England is limited and already at capacity for a region that is growing,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With an approved blueprint in hand, New England can now move forward to connect people to key job centers and allow students to easily travel to and from New England’s numerous colleges.”

FRA awarded $942,775 to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) through FRA’s Next Generation High-Speed Rail Program to study potential service options and complete the Tier 1 Environmental Assessment, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

FRA found that no significant environmental impacts would result from adding more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service, in large part due to the use of existing operating rail lines within existing rights-of-way. The proposed infrastructure improvements also would be located within existing right-of-way along areas that were in the past double or triple tracked.

“More than two million people live within three miles of a station along this corridor,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. “For everyone to move safely and efficiently, the region needs a robust rail system, and this blueprint will help achieve that goal.”

 


See also

Proposed Boston–Springfield / New Haven / Montreal Service

 


Further reading

“Rail Advocates Praise Study Of Potential New England Expansion”
By Paul Tuttle | WAMC | July 25, 2016

Editorial: “Worthy rail idea remains on the siding”
Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 26, 2016

Governor Asks for Changes to Proposed Springfield – Boston Rail Study

On Friday July 8th, Governor Baker formally requested that Senator Lesser’s budget amendment requiring a study to review the feasibility of a high-speed rail connection between Springfield and Boston be amended.

In his letter to the legislature, which can be found below, the governor has requested that a much broader study be conducted.

In particular, the governor has requested that the study instead focus on,

(a) the potential expansion and enhancement of several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including

(b) automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

 

The proposed study working group would include, but not be limited to a designee from the
– Secretary of Housing and Economic Development,
– elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations,
– duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor,
– duly elected Mayors in the greater Springfield region,
– the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission,
– the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission,
– the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission,
– existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways.

 

On Friday, July 8th Senator Lesser provided this update on his Facebook page:
“Senator Lesser’s East/West Rail Feasibility Study Signed into Law by Governor Baker”

On Monday, July 11th, Senator Lesser said that he anticipates that the House and Senate will approve the new language before the state’s legislative session ends July 31.

 

We will update this posting as soon as we have any additional information.

 


Further Reading

“Gov. Baker widens scope of Springfield rail study; narrows time frame”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | July 12, 2016

 

Letter from Governor Baker to the Honorable House and Senate Representatives
Attachment Q – Amendment Letter Section 180
July 8, 2016

QUOTE

ATTACHMENT Q

July 8, 2016

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives:

Pursuant to Article LVI, as amended by Article XC, Section 3 of the Amendments to the Constitution, I am returning to you for amendment Section 180 of House Bill No. 4450, “An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2017 for the Maintenance of the Departments, Boards, Commissions, Institutions and Certain Activities of the Commonwealth, for Interest, Sinking Fund and Serial Bond Requirements and for Certain Permanent Improvements.”

Section 180 would require the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of establishing high-speed rail service between Springfield and Boston.  While I support studying ways to improve transportation between Springfield and Boston, several aspects outlined in Section 180 are already the subject of ongoing studies.  Moreover the proposed study focuses exclusively on high-speed rail, ignoring the potential benefits of improving and coordinating other modes of transportation including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

Accordingly, I believe that we would be better served by convening a working group to identify and evaluate whether improvements to these various modes of transportation between Springfield and Boston would result in significant economic and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

For this reason, I recommend that Section 180 be amended by striking out the text and inserting in place thereof the following text:-

SECTION 180.  The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall convene a working group, not later than October 1, 2016, for the purposes of identifying and evaluating the economic and cultural benefits and challenges to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole, through the potential expansion and enhancement several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.  The working group shall include, but not be limited to a designee from the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations and duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor and in the greater Springfield region, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways. The Secretary & CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall designate a qualified individual to chair the working group.  The working group shall draw upon the findings and conclusions of the Transforming the Rail Network for Economic and Community Development Report (September 2012) and the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study to guide its evaluation and analysis. The working group shall submit its findings to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than March 3, 2017.

Respectfully submitted,

UNQUOTE

 

Massachusetts House Bill 4450
Section 180
as originally proposed by Senator Lesser (D-Longmeadow)

QUOTE

SECTION 180. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall conduct a feasibility study relative to high-speed rail access between the cities of Springfield and Boston.

The study shall examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing high-speed rail service between the cities of Springfield and Boston including, but not limited to: (i) the projected capital costs; (ii) the projected operating costs and revenue estimates; (iii) the projected ridership levels; (iv) the prospect of operating high-speed rail service on existing rights of way and other operational issues, including upgrades to the at-grade crossings in the towns of Ashland and Framingham; (v) the environmental and community impact estimates; (vi) the availability of federal, state, local and private sector funding sources; and (vii) the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

The department shall file a report with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives, the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means and the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on transportation not later than March 1, 2017.

UNQUOTE

Hartford Line on Target to Open in 2018

Connecticut Governor Malloy held a press conference today at the site of the new station that is being built in Wallingford, Ct. as part of the Hartford Line project.

Highlights from the press conference include:

  • The Hartford Line is still on target to open in January 2018.
  • More than 50% of the track work has been completed.
  • Eighty percent of train station foundations and platforms are in place and 100 percent of the steel beams and pedestrian bridges have been installed.
  • In September, Amtrak’s Track Laying Machine (TLM) will be brought in to lay down 10 miles of new track between North Haven and Meriden.
  • Ridership on the line, between Springfield and New Haven, is expected to more than double — from 300,000 to 750,000 passengers a year.

The Hartford Line will offer 17 daily round trips between New Haven and Hartford, and a dozen between Hartford and Springfield. Currently, Amtrak operates just six round trips on the route.

 


Further Reading

“Malloy: Hartford Line Trains Ready To Roll In 2018”
By Don Stacom | Hartford Courant | July 7, 2016

“Hartford Line Press Conference” (1:04)
Video | Hartford Courant | July 7, 2016

New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (Official website)