MA: West-east rail director says trains to Boston will be incremental projects

Feb. 12, 2024
MassDOT’s Andy Koziol, appointed last week as west-east rail director, says Springfield will get renewed passenger service to Boston and, heading westward, to Pittsfield and Albany, New York.

SPRINGFIELD — MassDOT’s Andy Koziol, appointed last week as west-east rail director, says Springfield will get renewed passenger service to Boston and, heading westward, to Pittsfield and Albany, New York.

But it won’t all happen at the same time.

“It is a program of projects,” he said in an interview after his appointment was made public. “It’s going to be through a series of incremental projects.”

And he also urges the region not to think of west-east, or east-west, rail in a vacuum. But as part of “Compass Rail,” the state’s branding for passenger rail improvements east-west and north-south – that is Vermont to New Haven, Connecticut, and points in between – all centered on Springfield Union Station.

“Walk across the platform to make a connecting train,” Koziol said. “It will work together as one unified system.”

Think of the proposed station in Palmer, he said.

“It’s a multimodal activity,” he said. “That station makes sense because of strong expected support from UMass and a bus connection from PVTA.”

The idea is to connect, without adding more cars to the highways, Western Massachusetts to the burgeoning Boston economy where a lack of space and housing is hampering growth.

In September, Healey and U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D- Springfield, announced $108 million in federal funding for track work between Springfield and Worcester. It’s from a federal program called Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements funding, known as a CRISI grant.

The $108 million followed $1.75 million in CRISI money awarded in 2022 to design track improvements in and around Springfield Union Station.

Also, Healey placed $12 million in the state’s capital budget to study the Palmer rail station and start track improvements near the Pittsfield rail station.

The Boston-to- Albany corridor was also added last year to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor ID Program, making it eligible for as much as $500,000 in planning and research funding.

Koziol said some work is already happening behind the scenes.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Amtrak and freight railway CSX are doing a service model to figure what specific construction needs to happen with $108 million. It’ll be complete in June, MassDOT said. At that point MassDOT will transition towards preliminary engineering for the work between Springfield and Worcester and the Pittsfield track capacity project.

The Springfield area track reconfiguring preliminary engineering and environmental review, is expected to be complete in spring 2025.

The project will make it easier for north-south trains to use Union Station and plan out ways to open more passenger platforms.

“This is going to be a long haul,” said State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D- Lenox. “We knew that from the get-go.”

Pignatelli, who will not run for re-election in the fall, said part of the reason west-east rail has taken so long is that it hasn’t had a staff person.

“We haven’t had that official voice yet,” he said.

Koziol, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and master’s in urban planning from Rutgers, joined Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Rail & Transit Division as director of rail and transit in June 2023

“He’s familiar with rail, he’s familiar with Western Mass., he’s familiar with the Berkshires,” Pignatelli said.

Koziol’s also getting familiar with the perennial fear that Boston, and its needs, will win out.

A state legislative report out in November included an expansion at Boston’s South Station on the to-do list for west-east rail.

Koziol said more trains means more capacity for those trains in Boston.

“It’s kind of inevitable that we need to see capacity increase in the Boston area,” he said.

But Pignatelli is suspicious.

“The state has done absolutely nothing to address the South Station,” he said. “Start the rail out here in Western Mass. It gives Boston more time.”

And he pointed out there is already commuter rail service from Worcester.

“I think we’ll be sending more people from Worcester to Boston, not more trains,” he said.

Koziol also addressed why Albany is now the western terminus of the project, a concept Pignatelli supports.

This isn’t commuter rail, Koziol said

“It’s an intercity passenger rail,” he said.

It connects metropolitan areas.

“It’s not coming from suburbs into a business core,” he said.

It’s also about connections at Albany, which is one of Amtrak’s busiest hubs.

Ben Heckscher, co-founder of Trains In The Valley, compared the incremental approach to Neal’s decades-long effort to fund the $108 million rehab of Union Station.

“You have to put these pieces together,” he said. “Assembling money. Until you get the whole thing basically built.”

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