East–West Rail in Massachusetts

This page provides an overview of ongoing efforts to expand east–west rail service in Massachusetts.

If you are looking for Amtrak’s existing daily service between Boston, Springfield, Pittsfield, and Albany-Rensselaer NY please visit this page.

Contents

Introduction

Service options

Latest developments

Milestones

Available funding

Background information

Further reading


Introduction

The need for expanded east-west passenger rail service has been discussed, debated and studied in Massachusetts for more than ten years.

If the Baker administration had moved forward with the recommendations from the first east-west rail study (the NNEIRI Study) back in 2016, expanded service between Boston and Springfield could have been running by now.

That service would have connected with the expanded service that Connecticut launched in 2018 between New Haven and Springfield on the Hartford Line.

Under pressure from multiple constituencies in western Massachusetts — including elected officials, advocates and citizens — Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) finally decided to move forward with east-west in 2018.

They did so by initiating a new multi-year study of the potential for expanded service west of Worcester — this time all the way to Pittsfield. 

This second study indicated that the projected infrastructure cost of the project would range from $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion, depending on the selected alternative. Note that this projected cost is roughly ten times the estimated cost ($309 million, or $340 million in 2021 dollars) that was projected in the 2016 NNEIRI Study of east-west rail . 

In April 2022 — seven years after the release of the NNEIRI study — Governor Baker agreed to a “path forward” that gave the east-west rail project a long-awaited green light. 

Current progress appears to be slow. However, many who have long advocated for east-west rail now have a sense of optimism that now might actually be the moment when east-west rail becomes a reality. The hope is that the new governor in January 2023 will usher in “new thinking” in Boston that will allow the project to finally move forward with the attention and urgency it deserves.

Along with other states, Massachusetts now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to apply for significant federal funding to expand intercity rail service. This funding only became available because of the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in late 2021.

Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Richard Neal and State Senator Eric Lesser, both of whom have been strong political advocates for the service, east-west rail will almost surely now become reality in one form or another.

The major questions at the moment are how will this project and service be managed? How much will it cost to build and operate? And how long will it take before additional trains start running?

With some luck we’ll know the answers to these questions early in 2023.


Service options

This diagram details the three versions of East-West Rail that have been discussed in recent years.

The three options are summarized as,

New Haven – Springfield – Boston (the so-called Inland Route)

In 2016 the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation, in coordination with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, completed a three-year feasibility and planning study known as the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative. (also known at the NNEIRI Study.)

This study recommended that eight (8) new daily round-trip trains be established between Boston and New Haven on the Inland Route as part of a larger plan to increase intercity passenger rail service in the region.

Back in 2016 MassDOT chose not to move forward with any of the recommendations from the NNEIRI study, even though the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) was, and remains, keenly interested in establishing through passenger rail service between central Connecticut and Boston via the Inland Route.

Pittsfield – Springfield – Boston

In January of 2021 MassDOT completed a two-year study — known as the East-West Passenger Rail Study — that examined the feasibility of passenger rail service from Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield.

The study recommended three possible build alternatives with up to nine (9) new round-trip trains between Boston and Springfield and Pittsfield on this corridor.

Albany-Rensselaer NY – Springfield – Boston

In May of 2021 Amtrak released a Corridor Vision Plan which outlined Amtrak’s desire to add new intercity passenger rail service in key markets across the country over the next 15 years.

Amtrak’s plan included two (2) new round-trip trains between Albany-Rensselaer station and Boston. These trains would be in additional to the single round-trip (trains 448 and 449) that Amtrak operates today on this route.

And from these options we have a conundrum — what will the path forward be for East-West Rail?

At the moment this is not clear since there does not exist a Service Development Plan1 for the service that MassDOT intends to move forward with.

MassDOT appeared until recently to been solely focused on the Boston, Springfield, Pittsfield corridor, while CTDOT for its part remains focused on the Inland Route corridor.

And until recently the New York Department of Transportation and MassDOT had not indicated what their level of interest is for additional passenger rail service between Albany-Rensselaer and Boston.

Amtrak would surely be happy to have any or all of these options implemented, as long as they are selected as the operator of the service.

This changed in the summer of 2022 when MassDOT formally notified the Federal Railroad Administration that they were interested in establishing additional intercity rail service between (1) Boston MA and Albany NY via Springfield, and (2) Boston, MA and New York, NY via Springfield, MA and New Haven, CT.

How this will play out still remains to be seen, but a strong argument can be made that the Service Development Plan for East-West Rail must include provisions for interstate service on one or more of the corridors noted above.

Why? Because significant grants from the Federal Railroad Administration are expected to be used to fund both the capital and operating costs of this new passenger rail service.

If federal funds are being used these funds should be used to benefit the greater region (CT/MA/NY) rather than only serving to benefit Massachusetts.


Latest developments

November 14, 2022 | The Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission held an organizational meeting

December 9, 2020 | The first of six public meetings of the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission will be held at 11 AM at the Berkshire Innovation Center, 45 Woodlawn Avenue, Pittsfield.

There will be an option to view and participate in the meeting remotely via livestream on the MassDOT website. (Details will be added here when they are made available.)

A copy of the official notice of this meeting can be found here: WMPR Commission Hearing Notice (PDF)

Future dates of note

December 1, 2022 | Applications due date for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant funding. Available funding in this round is $1.4 billion. It is possible that MassDOT will submit a CRISI grant application for funding to move forward early action items related to the East-West Rail project.

March 31, 2023 | The due date for the East-West Rail Commission to submit its final report.1

1 Per Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2022.


Milestones

Drop down boxes

1991 – 2009

August 15, 1991 | Massachusetts and New York State officials agree to work together to seek federal funds to study the development of a high-speed rail system between Boston, Springfield and Albany, NY.

Springfield Mayor Mary Hurley and the Western Massachusetts Coalition for High Speed Rail, which she created, hosted a meeting of 30 industry and business representatives as well as officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. (The Republican)

April 5, 1994 | A preliminary engineering report presented to the Joint Massachusetts-New York High Speed Rail Committee indicated that would be physically feasible to build a high-speed rail system linking Boston and Albany, NY. The report found the best route for the high-speed trains would be along the median of the Massachusetts Turnpike and the New York State Thruway.

The article in the Globe said that “no quick action was expected, although funds for additional studies are included in a proposed state transportation bond issue.” (Boston Globe)

December 1, 2004 | Representative John Olver announced that the 2005 federal omnibus appropriations bill included funding to expand the New England High Speed Rail Corridor plan to include western Massachusetts. The new funding would expand the corridor plan to include train routes from Boston via Worcester and Springfield to Albany NY, and from Springfield via Hartford to New Haven CT. (US Fed News)

2010 – 2019

2013

January 13, 2013 | The MassDOT Board of Directors released a ten-year transportation plan that called for spending $362.4 million to expand passenger rail service between Boston and Springfield, with thru service to Hartford and New Haven.

December 18, 2013 | The first meeting of the Stakeholder Committee for the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (the NNEIRI Study) was held in Springfield, Mass.

The Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative examined the opportunities and impacts of adding more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service on two rail corridors — Boston–Springfield–New Haven (known as the Inland Route) and the Boston–Springfield–Montreal.

2014

Two (2) Stakeholder Committee meetings and four (4) public meetings were held to support the ongoing work of the NNEIRI Study.

2015

Five (5) Stakeholder Committee meetings were held to support the ongoing work of the NNEIRI Study.

The group Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop was established to advocate for East-West Rail and a future station in Palmer.

2016

June 2016 | MassDOT releases the final report for the NNEIRI Study. The report recommended that eight (8) daily round-trip trains should be operated between Boston and New Haven on the Inland Route as part of a larger plan to increase intercity passenger rail service in the region.

Printout of the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative final report | January 28, 2020

July 19, 2016 | The Federal Railroad Administration issues a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Tier 1 Environmental Assessment that was prepared as part of the NNEIRI Study.

2017

January 30, 2017 | Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy wrote to Governor Charlie Baker asking for Massachusetts to establish passenger rail service on the route between Hartford, Springfield and Boston.

June 19, 2017 | State Senator Eric Lesser travels from Boston to Springfield, with stops in Framingham, Worcester, Palmer and Springfield, on a ‘whistle-stop’ tour to promote expanded East-West passenger rail service. (RNR #2)

October 24, 2017 | A bus load of citizens from western Mass gave up their day to ride a charter bus from Springfield to Boston to testify before the legislature in support of expanded rail service between Springfield and Boston. (RNR #8)

November 13, 2017 | A statewide survey by the Western New England University Polling Institute showed that 80% of adult registered voters in Massachusetts support east-west rail between Springfield and Boston. (RNR #8)

2018

February 2018 | Three local rail advocacy groups — Trains In The Valley, Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop and The Train Campaign — hosted pop-up meetings in 19 locations across western Massachusetts in an effort to encourage public support for East-West Rail in the 2018 State Rail Plan update.

June 12, 2018 | Governor Charlie Baker joined elected official at Springfield Union Station to announce a Request for Proposals for a consulting team to study the feasibility of east-west passenger rail service. (RNR #14)

December 18, 2018 | MassDOT hosts the first meeting of the East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee in Springfield.

2019

One (1) advisory committee meeting and one (1) public meeting are held to support the ongoing work of the East-West Passenger Rail Study.

March 12, 2019 | MassDOT hosts its first public meeting of the East-West Rail Study to a standing room only crowd.

East-West Rail Study Public Meeting #1 By Robert Kearns | Springfield, Ma. | March 12, 2019

May 1, 2019 | The Boston City Council adopted a resolution supporting east-west rail service between Boston and Springfield. (RNR #24)

June 1, 2019 | The UMass Amherst Center for Economic Development releases a report — The Case for Palmer: Towards a Passenger Rail Station on the East-West Massachusetts Train Line.

June 23, 2019 | The Western Mass Rail Coalition is formed and holds its first meeting in Springfield.

Western Mass Rail Coalition – group shot Springfield, Ma. | July 23, 2019
2020

2020

Four (4) advisory committee meetings and two (2) public meetings are held to support the ongoing work of the East-West Passenger Rail Study.

February 21, 2020 | The Boston Globe publishes an editorial in favor of moving forward with East-West Rail.

The Boston Globe | February 21, 2020 | Page A8
2021

2021

January 10, 2021 | MassDOT releases the final report for the East-West Rail Study. The report includes a summary of the actions that MassDOT intends to take as part of what they refer to as “advancing the conceptual planning phase for East-West Passenger Rail.” (RNR #38)

January 15, 2021 | Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a $16 billion Transportation Bond Bill which included “not less than $50 million” for East-West Rail. (RNR #41) (ed. as far as we are aware, none of this money has been spent.)

May 6, 2021 | Congressmen Richard Neal hosted at press conference at Springfield Union Station to highlight a new report — commissioned by the Capitol Region Council of Governments (located in Hartford CT) — and the need for thru passenger rail service along the New Haven – Springfield – Boston Corridor. (RNR #39)

May 27, 2021 | Amtrak announces that it is planning to deliver by 2035 more frequent passenger rail service to over 160 more communities and 20 million more people nationwide. Amtrak’s proposal includes a new Amtrak-operated rail corridor between Albany and Boston. (Amtrak press release)

The proposed new service would add two (2) new round-trips between Albany and Boston, with new station stops in Chester MA, Palmer MA, and Chatham NY. (RNR #39)

Proposed Amtrak 2035 Network Map – Northeastern Corridors
Source: Amtrak Connects US Vision (PDF) | Page 57

November 12, 2021 | MassDOT released the Massachusetts Intercity Passenger Rail Governance White Paper. The paper recommends that Amtrak be the operator of any additional east-west rail service and that the legislature should create a “Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority” to manage the project. (RNR #40)

November 15, 2021 | President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation provides an unprecedented $66 billion in funding for intercity passenger rail. (RNR #40)

2022

January 12, 2022 | CSX, the owner of the rail corridor west of Worcester, formally indicated to the federal Surface Transportation Board that it will agree to a set of [pro-passenger rail] conditions requested by Amtrak as part of their acquisition of Pan Am Railways. (RNR #41)

April 26, 2022 | Governor Charlie Baker announced that he has agreed on a “path forward” for East-West Rail. The agreement calls for the legislature to create a new rail authority to manage the development of East-West Rail. (Agreement Reached to Advance East-West Rail)

The announcement of this agreement occurred soon after a meeting (shown below) that was attended by the Governor, Congressman Neal and Congressman McGovern, the Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, Rail & Transit Administrator Meredith Slesinger, and just about every state senator and representative from western Mass.

East-West Rail meeting | Springfield Union Station | April 26, 2022
Tweet by Congressman Richard Neal

May 18, 2022 | MassDOT said that it is continuing to work with Amtrak on the feasibility of an “incremental service improvement plan” with a near-term focus on improved service between Springfield and Boston (the Inland Route) — with Springfield as second rail hub in Massachusetts — and additional service to Albany. (MassDOT Board presentation)

June 2, 2022 | The Federal Railroad Administration announced that it had awarded a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant to MassDOT for preliminary engineering design and environmental clearance work for track, signal, and infrastructure improvements in and around Springfield Union Station.

This design project is seen by some and an early action item in support of expanded passenger rail service at Springfield Union Station.

July 18, 2022 | MassDOT submitted an Expression of Interest for rail corridor development to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the form of a comment to the FRA Docket regarding the Establishment of the Corridor Identification and Development Program.

The two corridors submitted for consideration are (1) “Boston, MA to Albany, NY via Springfield, MA” and (2) “Boston, MA to New York, NY via Springfield, MA and New Haven, CT.” (MassDOT letter to the FRA)

August 2022 | The Empire Passenger Rail Association published this infographic —

August 2022

The graphic presents a set of arguments for moving the western terminus of East-West Rail from Pittsfield MA to Amtrak’s Albany-Rensselaer NY station.

August 10, 2022 | Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an Act Relative to Massachusetts’s Transportation Resources and Climate (MassTRAC). Among other things, the bill includes $275 million in bonding authorization (to be supplemented with federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill dollars) that could be used for the East-West passenger rail project. (Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2022)

The bill also establishes a commission to investigate what the governance structure should be for passenger rail in western Mass.

August 18, 2022 | The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) submitted a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) which included support for MassDOT’s expression of interest for expanded intercity rail service between Boston, MA and Albany, NY. (NYSDOT letter to the FRA)

August 23, 2022 | Governor Charlie Baker, Congressman Richard Neal, and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner took a tour of the east-west rail line aboard an inspection car that was attached to Amtrak train 449, the westbound Lake Shore Limited.

The press conference that Congressman Neal hosted at Springfield Union Station after the tour can be viewed below —

Press Conference | Springfield Union Station | August 23, 2022

Available funding

January 15, 2021 | Chapter 383 of the Acts of 2020
Item 6622-2184 of Section 2E — “For the purpose of implementing rail improvements pursuant to chapter 161C of the General Laws; provided, that not less than $50,000,000 shall be used for transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction, construction of stations and right-of-way acquisition for the East-West passenger rail project, …”

August 11, 2022 | Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2022
Item 6720-2260 of Section 2F — “For the purpose of implementing rail improvements pursuant to chapter 161C of the General Laws; provided, that in addition to funds authorized in item 6622-2184 of section 2E of chapter 383 of the acts of 2020, not less than $275,000,000 shall be expended for transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, public hearings and engagement, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction, construction of stations and right-of-way acquisition for the East-West passenger rail project, …”


Background information

Rail corridor ownership

Boston South Station–Worcester (45 miles)
MBTA

Worcester–Schodack NY (142 miles)
CSX

Schodack NY–Albany-Rensselaer station (13 miles)
Amtrak

Current intercity passenger service

Boston South Station ⬌ Albany-Rensselaer2
Amtrak trains 448 & 449 (the Lake Shore Limited)
1 daily round-trip train with 5 intermediate stops
Boston to Springfield | 2hr 31m
Boston to Pittsfield | 3hr 52m
Boston to Albany-Rensselaer | 5hr 20m

Past intercity passenger service (1958)

Boston South Station ⬌ Albany Union Station3
5–6 daily round-trip trains with 8 intermediate stops
Boston to Springfield | 2hr 0m
Boston to Pittsfield | 3hr 15m
Boston to Albany | 4hr 30m


Footnotes

[1] A Service Development Plan details the infrastructure investments needed to improve service. The Service Development Plan for the Inland Route, that was prepared in 2016 during the NNEIRI Study, can be found on this link.

[2] Amtrak Lake Shore Limited timetable (PDF) | May 19, 2022

[3] New York Central timetable (PDF) | July 1, 1958

Further reading

East-West Rail topic page
MASSlive | The Republican

East-West Passenger Rail Study (official site)
MassDOT

East-West Passenger Rail Study Overview
Trains In The Valley

NNEIRI Study Overview
Trains In The Valley

Page last updated: November 26, 2022
Page last reviewed: June 22, 2022