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Could Springfield become a western suburb one day?

The Boston City Council today endorsed the idea of high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield, saying it could become something that transforms the state.

City Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), who sponsored the non-binding resolution, said high-speed travel between the two cities could help Boston with its high housing costs and worker shortages and Springfield, which he said has the reverse problems - declining population and employment and a growing housing stock.

"We all know that Boston is the Hub of the Universe," he said. "I'm hopeful and confident that with your help, Boston will be the hub of high speed regional rail as well." He added that getting more people on high-speed rail would reduce the state's carbon emissions.

The resolution, which comes as the state studies the idea, as it does every decade or so, got the full throated support of Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester), who said that coming from an old railroad family, he would be thrilled to finally be able to travel to the western part of the state by train.

Amtrak currently provides once-daily service in each direction with its Lake Shore Limited train - which currently takes 3 1/2 hours to travel between Boston and Springfield.

Unlike with a resolution by at-large Councilor Althea Garrison on a proposed charter high school, the council agreed to suspend its normal rules and vote on the resolution immediately, rather than send it to a committee for study.

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Seriously duh....

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Voting closed 42

Put this resolution within the Eric P. Lesser file - also known as the "Politicians who make a BOS-SPG rail proclamation without knowing anything about the BOS-SPG tracks. The rail corridor between Worcester and Springfield is a winding journey up and down hillsides and mountains. On your crawl to Springfield, you go north, south, west, and even east during the trip. The line is great for freight service. Its terrible for passenger service. The one Amtrak train to Springfield is always half empty and is priced as CR (23 bucks). The Boston CC should focus on Boston's tattered streets, not Springfield service.

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Voting closed 15

file under NIMBY, Shortsightedness

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No, NIMBY would be, "Trains are great, but build them near someone else's house."

That post was "Trains to Springfield would not be an efficient transportation project."

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File under fiscal responsibility

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Springfield, like the Berkshires, are within NYC's region of influence. Both areas care more about NYC than Boston. Massachusetts politicians have a different motive.

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Several of these transit groups pester city and state officials for transit declarations 24/7. Just like with labeling Uber & Lyft taxis, these transit groups should be formally labeled as lobbyists. The resulting regulation would shave the groups down by 75%

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Springfield's Mayor Sarno has enough on his plate these days. The MGM Casino is dying. Their new train station is dying, the Basketball Hall of Fame is dying. None of them have enough activity to keep the doors open. Rumor has it the MGM casino floor would become the Basketball Hall of Fame, however the B.H.O.F. is in the middle of polishing its oversized car dealership building (the ugly showroom / mini mall with the basketball sphere) in an attempt to draw more people. Springfield needs to consolidate and streamline . not expand. Springfield actually has a second train station on its North-South line that today functions as a summer-time police station. Its right next to the casino and hall. Its size and location matches the city's train service (majority N-S from Vermont to DC) Hand the remainder of the current oversized train station to Peter Pan. Hand over the B.H.O.F. car dealership building to an actual car dealership.

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Get every last dollar

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When you can't afford a home anywhere around here.

Guess what? Even your sainted extra special Tax Free RedneckHampshire would be easy to get to if their politicians could actually do math.

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MY tax free Redneck Hampshire?
I live in Dorchester ,and you are unhinged.

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It's possible anon was using the word "your" as it is being used in the below quote
from a M*A*S*H episode (I think the 2nd or 3rd season) starting with "Your Napoleons":

Maj. Frank Burns:
"As you all know, tonight Colonel Blake will resume his command after a week in Tokyo. Now, unless I made a few remarks about my recent stint as your temporary supreme commander, I would be derelict in my "officiousness." I think you'll all agree that by trying to introduce more discipline, more order, I have hopefully made this a more enjoyable war for all of us. Leadership is a lonely business. Your Napoleons, your Kaisers, your Attilas the Hun... were all alone there in the front office as I have been this week. I have thought of you, and I know you have thought of me... But some of the notes in the suggestion box were really below the belt! I mean, why drag my mother into this?"

https://www.quotes.net/movies/m%2Aa%2As%2Ah_104308

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That's your basic mash note, right there.

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Today, rather than getting something like "Your Napoleons, your Kaisers, your Attilas the Hun" you're much more likely to get "Your an idiot!"

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I wasn't expecting them to stand up and say "Huh huh, trains suck, Beavis, heh heh."

Are they going to pass a resolution on ice cream and puppies next? Elect them again, you schmucks.

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You've been a big help.

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You've been here for one. Dereliction on your part if you don't recognize my game.

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I’ve been reading your nonsense for years. My apologies for not getting an account sooner. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make your comments automatically superior.

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if I recall, MassDOT ownership ends in Worcester. Once you leave Union Station in Worcester and head toward Springfield, the tracks are owned by CSX. Since CSX doesn't care about passenger service, only freight service, passenger service always takes a back seat to any freight trains running.

High Speed Rail is a great idea of MassDOT owns the track to Springfield to prioritize passenger service over freight service. If we can't control the track, High Speed Rail is a pie in the sky dream.

There's a reason why it takes so long via Amtrak.... Amtrak is slow but not that slow. Blame CSX.

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I took the train from Pittsfield to South Station once. It took over 5 hours.

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CSX doesnt "hate" passenger service.. they just prefer their business over helping other businesses. This is the case across America and not unique to CSX. Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, etc, etc all have priority on their own trackage. And this is why Amtrak is terrible across the US. I do agree having their own track would make this feasable.

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I say that in a bit of jest but if policy (regulation) is put in place that gets the rails to be used to their greatest efficiency for considerations of moving both goods and people there could be a quantum leap in the quality and potential of rail travel in the US. Most people want to travel by day, most goods can be moved at night, just making the tracks prioritize on that schedule could change the game.

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It all sounds very noble in theory, but in practice it would be near-impossible to implement high-speed rail to Springfield at costs which wouldn't make the Big Dig look like the bargain of the century.

A train to Springfield would likely have to share right-of-way with the MBTA Worcester Line; however, there are only two tracks on the line at present and limited or no potential for widening the right-of-way. So the Springfield trains at peak hours would be stuck behind MBTA commuter rail trains making stops. West of Worcester, CSX owns the tracks and right-of-way, and they're going to prioritize their freight traffic over passenger rail. And the route between Worcester and Springfield is single-track for a significant portion of the distance so that's an expensive project to double-track. Worse, due to terrain and the historical need to pass near or through town centers, the tracks between Worcester and Springfield are curvy so it's unlikely the train could go faster than 80 mph.

FWIW the schedule for the Lake Shore Limited has the train making the trip between Springfield and Boston in two-and-a-half hours, not three-and-a-half.

If they're really serious about connecting Springfield and Boston for a cost under ~$20 billion, the best solution would be to offer a subsidized bus connection between Boston and Springfield, while converting one lane in each direction on the Pike to HOV-only (and HEAVILY patrolled) from Framingham to 93. Want to do it in a revenue-neutral way? Make that lane HOT and charge $10 or $20 each way for cars with fewer than 2 or 3 passengers.

If this is about making affordable housing available, you could probably build close to 100,000 housing units within reasonable distance of the T or commuter rail for the cost of doing HSR to Springfield.

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If we can get the MBTA electrification juggernaut untangled (of course this requires double tracking, bridge clearance and replacement) several subsequent transit improvements would become very well aligned. Will not happen for the next three decades, at least.

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And, yes, the LSL is scheduled for 2:28 SPG-BOS. Back in 1950, of course, the B&A was running the trip, with stops in Palmer, Worcester, Framingham and Newtonville, in 2 hours flat.

A couple of notes:

there are only two tracks on the line at present and limited or no potential for widening the right-of-way. So the Springfield trains at peak hours would be stuck behind MBTA commuter rail trains making stops.

Mostly true, but Weston to Framingham was once four tracks, and could be easily widened to 3. That's not far-fetched, the rebuilding of the Natick station will allow for a third track eventually. That would allow express trains to overtake locals. And since there are only four grade crossings between Boston and Springfield (well, four and a half, there's a very low use crossing out in Grafton) grade separation is not a major issue (outside of Framingham and Ashland).

For overtaking, electrification of the current line would allow much faster service to run with better acceleration, and level-boarding would reduce dwell times, so the line could operate like Providence does, mixing local trains and express, high-speed trains (although Providence is a much faster line; there are some curves between Boston and Worcester).

And the route between Worcester and Springfield is single-track for a significant portion of the distance so that's an expensive project to double-track.

The whole ROW is double-tracked, though, and it was only singled by Conrail in the '80s. Without grade crossings it's relatively cheap: just lay the second track. Relatively cheap, of course, is not that cheap! But no ROW acquisition, etc.

Worse, due to terrain and the historical need to pass near or through town centers, the tracks between Worcester and Springfield are curvy so it's unlikely the train could go faster than 80 mph.

Worse indeed! But it's not due to the need to serve town centers, but rather the lay of the land: past Worcester it's hilly, and 1830s-era trains didn't do great with hills. (2010 trains don't either, but electrified trains can handle much steeper hills than steam-pulled freights.) Note how the Pike has a lot of 5 to 6% grades: fine for interstates, not so good for trains. Here's some information about the speed limits on the line, and curvature. From Springfield to Palmer, much of the line is only good for 45, plus the curves add distance. Palmer to Springfield is flat and straight.

The issue with a HOT lane would be that it would cost a lot to figure out how to get cars in and out of it; you'd need a whole new set of ramps at 128 and Allston and anywhere else (there's a lot of on-and-off traffic at 128), and it still doesn't save any time over driving, nor does it handle the issue of traffic west of Worcester, which at peak times can be worse than Boston (and by peak times, I mean weekends in the summer, lots of Fridays, any holiday, etc). Plus, a bus can't easily serve submarkets: the penalty to serve Downtown Worcester from the Turnpike is about 20 minutes for a bus, but maybe 3 minutes for a train.

Building a high speed rail line to Springfield would be feasible, but $20m would be a lot. Upgrades to Worcester would cost a billion dollars, maybe two billion, but would get a grade-separated, high-speed line which would probably make the run in 35 minutes (add a billion and shave off 3 or 4 minutes with a tunnel bypassing the curve just east of Worcester). That's the place to start, since it would have a huge benefit for Springfield (shaving 30 minutes off the current travel time) as well as Worcester Line commuters. From there, the key would be to bypass the curves to Palmer. If a train could follow the Turnpike ROW out to the Chicopee River, it would require 25 miles of new right-of-way, but it's rural and there aren't that many bridges to build, so that's maybe another $3 billion. But there are some grades that might require new right-of-way or tunneling that could push that up.

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Only the 4 Beeliner trips made it in 2 hours. Those trips were DMUs, and I assume the others were traditional loco-hauled trains. The people in charge should pay attention to this the next time they spend hundreds of millions of dollars replacing loco-hauled trains in kind.

There's no reason for more than 2 tracks, if the crossovers and schedules are designed properly.

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Thanks Ari and Scott for the intelligent and well-informed posts!

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The $11 billion Gateway Hudson conduit between Boston/NYC and Philly/DC is far more important. Springfield already has good links to NYC and DC. No need to climb over mountains to provide more rail service for maybe 50 people. Take Peter Pan on I-90. Problem solved.

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I agree that a new high speed dedicated right of way is necessary. That is what has made high speed rail work everywhere else in the world and why the Acela will never truly be high speed.

The problem here is it is a train to nowhere. Springfield MA has a population of 150,000. There is a working population of 62000 in the city. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Springfield would double in population and workers willing to travel by HST to Boston for work due to this project. Let's use a below reality cost of $25 Billion to build the line all in (land, rail, technology, equipment, etc.). That is over $400,000 per new worker in Boston to pay for this project (at an unrealistically low project cost). And realize NO ONE wants to travel from Boston to Springfield, so this is entirely a one way morning trip east and one way evening trip west.

So, the rest of us need to be taxed to pay for a project so we can add another 150000 residents to Springfield and double its working population so that those families can have cheaper housing? At $400,000 a worker? With the effect of moderating salary rates in Boston due to the additional available working population?

By the way, don't think having high speed rail will help Boston suburbs. This train can make 1 stop in Worcester before South Station or else it will no longer be high speed.

And the "Democratic Socialist" Left wonders why rational America questions its logic...

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If increasing the population of Springfield was the only goal of the proposal, you might have a point. It isn't. Extra points, though, for grousing about Socialists. That's always persuasive.

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Isn't high speed rail replacing air travel one of the major proposals in the green new deal, written and sponsored by the second most famous Democratic Socialist in the country? I don't think it was inappropriate to tie the two together.

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HSR to Springfield is the start of HSR to Albany. HSR to Albany is the start of HSR to NYC.

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To Montreal, Cleveland, Chicago, and about a dozen other cities in between.

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stop calling reactionary thought "rational".

you raise ostensibly valid points, but you assume that 1) you are the first to think of them, 2) that they automatically negate HSR plans.

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"And realize NO ONE wants to travel from Boston to Springfield"

If that were the case, Peter Pan and Greyhound wouldn't be running buses between both cities 14 times a day.

Reasons why people from Boston would want to go to Springfield:
MGM Springfield
Basketball Hall of Fame
Six Flags New England
Big E

Visiting family and friends
Going to one of the many colleges in the area
Transferring to North/South rail service to Northampton/Vermont or Hartford/New Haven.

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I was referring to daily commuting traffic for workers, not other travel purposes. I'm sure these travelers could fill on average one side of one car.

I traveled for years on the commuter rail outbound from Back Bay to the South Shore on a daily commute. There were about a dozen of us each day. The only economic usefulness of the trip for the T was to reposition its equipment for the next trip back into Boston.

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Ah I see. The number of commuters is low, but not zero. It's currently not easy!

https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/04/an-early-morning-van-pool-from-lud...

> The group of van commuters — around six these days, down from nearly a dozen a year ago — meet each morning at 5:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a Ludlow McDonald’s, off Exit 7 of the Massachusetts Turnpike. They get to Boston around two hours later, depending on traffic and weather.

> The van leaves Boston at 4:30 p.m. and the crew arrives around 6:30 in Ludlow, where they pick up their cars and head home to Springfield, Chicopee or Hampden.

> The group takes turns driving, and they split the cost of renting the van from Enterprise and parking in a Boston garage. They pay a little over $300 a month, which is less than the $363 a month they would pay if they drove to Worcester and took the commuter rail.

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There's already one train. Demand is met

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The amount of time it takes to get from Boston to Springfield depends on the day, but it’s generally about three hours. Barring any freight delays or extreme weather it take four hours to get from Boston to Pittsfield, its only three and a half if we’re very lucky. My family lives out west and I am carless so i take this train a lot. I very rarely take it from Pittsfield to Boston though, it’s almost always delayed by weather or mechanical trouble somewhere between Chicago and Albany.

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What a complete waste of time for the city council.

Is it a good idea? Of course.
Is everyone already aware that Boston supports this? Probably yes.
Will it ever happen? No and they know that.

There are so many other issues, like charter schools, that they should be discussing.

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Would be more fitting.

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Montreal

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Sincere Regards, New Hampshire

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High-speed rail would of course be fantastic, but perhaps we can start with more incremental changes. Double track the sections that are currently single track between Springfield and Worcester (the whole thing actually was double track up until the 1980s, oops!) and then extend some of the Worcester Line runs out to Springfield so that there are multiple trains per day serving Springfield. I guarantee that people would ride this non-high speed train even just to avoid the Mass Pike traffic.

(Oh and also add a stop in Palmer where there used to be a station many years ago. People there have been clamoring for rail service to Boston!)

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I believe the old station in Palmer is now the Steaming Tender restaurant. Wouldn't be a bad place to grab some food and a beer before a (very) long ride to Boston...

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The commuter rail takes 75 min from Boston to Worcester already, no one will want to commute 2+ hours to Springfield. And its $363/mo to Worcester already. Probably be $750/mo for Springfield.

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About making it high speed?

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About making it high speed?

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Has never been to Europe.

In 4 short weeks I will embark on an adventure, heading first to the continent and then to the Isles.

My transit time between Paris and London, by train? 2 hours 15 minutes.

The distance is 305 miles.

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About making it high speed.

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We don't even have high speed rail to NYC, the Acela only hits full speed between 128 and Providence; worse once it gets into Metro North territory and plod behind local commuter rail. South of NYC the catenary system built for the old MetroLiner is not rated for Acela speeds, either.

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Sounds exciting at first, but then you start to think about it. How many people would live within walking distance of the Springfield train station (a low density area) and work within walking distance of Back Bay or South Station. If one needs to drive a car/take transit at the end of each line, even with a high speed train (that make stops along the way) the commuting time becomes ridiculous. It's about as sensible as commuting from Fitchburg or Worcester. And that’s before we even tackle the feasibility and cost issue of building high speed lines.

I am trying to picture Councilor Baker or mayor Walsh leaving their car in the driveway, walking to the Saving hill station, getting on the Red Line, waiting for the train, catching the train to Springfield, and then waiting for a city bus to their final destination. I find it intellectually challenging to put this picture together!

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I think the biggest ridership boost would probably be people commuting between Springfield and Worcester rather than Springfield and Boston. And of course people traveling to see family around the holidays, when Mass Pike traffic is exceptionally terrible. I do think people from Springfield would be more likely to travel to Boston for a weekend trip with rail service rather than just the Peter Pan and Greyhound bus service available today. The reverse would likely be true as well: MGM Springfield, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Big E, and Six Flags New England may see more visitors from Eastern Mass with regular rail service as well, rather than just via the bus service that exists today.

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Walsh didn't ride the T when he lived across the street from a dang station.

I don't think Baker takes the T very much either but I at least think he's more clued in with the fact that non-car transportation is good than Walsh is.

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It's a stupid idea.

First we should boost frequencies on existing routes, and re-introduce service on the routes that people would actually ride, using low-cost methods like single-employee DMUs. We need rail to Arlington, Woburn, Watertown, Medford, and Saugus way more than we need it to Springfield.

Only then we should look to regional services with less demand, like conventional trains to Springfield with incremental track upgrades, and Worcester-NYC.

After that, it would be nice to have high speed rail from Boston to NYC, with enough capacity to meet demand. The Acela doesn't count. It's expensive, but that's about it. Somehow its schedules have inched up to 4 hours. And it only has 4 cars of normal seating, which means it often sells out. A sold-out train should not even be a thing, and it isn't in countries where they know what they're doing.

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and roads to get to them so people can actually ride the trains.

Sitting in traffic to squeeze into a parking lot that fills up by 630AM is less tempting than sitting in traffic to get into the city at 8AM.

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Of course, putting stations where no one can walk to them (Ashland, Westboro, Grafton) doesn't help. Bus shuttles are an option, but can be pretty kludgy. TOD + parking is a good idea.

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Any improvements lasting beyond 2030 ought to include raising the railbed a couple feet at least. HIgh-speed trains and flooded tracks don't mix.

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2 out of 3 days of the year there is a simple solution that keeps you slim and destressed and allows you to cover a couple of miles in 10-15 minutes.

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To the other...

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from a high speed train to and from Springfield?

Springfield would absolutely benefit; Boston? Not so much.

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  • Access to a larger pool of employees.
  • Access to more affordable housing, reducing the pressure on Boston and inner suburbs.
  • Access to the touristy/recreational stuff in the Pioneer Valley (Big E, here we come!).
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Fitchburg, Attleboro, Worcester and Haverhill for all of those needs. Each of the listed cities is closer to Boston vs. Springfield. Each city has underutilized commuter rail service. After these 9, Fall River, New Bedford, and Taunton are in line. When each of the listed cities are near build out and the commuter trains are nearing capacity, then Mass can ponder other alternatives beyond the closest in-state rings: RI, NH, and WMass

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We should spend this money to make existing commuter rail not horribly infrequent, unreliable, and expensive to ride.

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A used, 55 passenger Chinook helicopter goes for approximately $3 million at a government auction and can get from Westover to Boston in 40 minutes. A new one is $39 million. The main problem would be finding a place to land in Boston so the heliport issue would have to be revisited or Massport could figure something out at Logan. Massport would probably have to run it via contractor, just as the MBTA does with the heavily subsidized ferry program.

I can't see more than a couple hundred people taking the proposed train which will take 20 years and cost billions before it's done. Three or four Chinooks could probably be bundled together for $10 million. Add another $10 or $20 million for retrofitting to passenger and you're still way ahead of the game. The Chinooks have proven their efficiency and reliability for 58 years.

The state could subsidize free Westover parking and a ten year copter pass for those willing to buy and renovate a rundown property in Springfield and commute to Boston. The local property tax boost and improved neighborhoods could only help the Springfield tax base, easing the need for state aid. Any unused seats could be sold for those taking a day trip.

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Even republican ones! Wow.

Gov. Swift had a MEDICAL EMERGENCY in her family but she's not a man so ...

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Before we try to build a 1-hour train to Springfield, we should try to get the train commute to Boston College under an hour.

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This doesn't exactly peg the "bang for the buck" meter. It doesn't even budge it.

New stuff, like a rail line, is sexy. Maintenance is not sexy. But, how about taking some of that $20 billion and investing in the system we already have? How about making the T something people can count on and would want to use, instead of being forced to use it.

Springfield, really?

FWIW, I'm very familiar with the area. I used to live in Agawam, right next to Riverside Park, now Six Flags, and put up with the stock car races every Sat night. We often go out to the valley for fun, it's a great area. But this is a waste of money.

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Even in terms of sexy new rail lines, I can think of some that are much easier done, that affect a greater density of people (red out to arlington or belmont, orange out to needham, blue to lynn) that increases the overall catchment and makes now-midrange suburbs into inner-suburbs and outer exurbs into doable suburbs. hell, new hamshire is a pit, but even running CR the last few stops up to manchester probably provides more concrete benefits per dollar spent than springfield.

the best possible thing for springfield would be to invest in worcester, making it the new boston, and by default, springfield becomes the new worcester.

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Obviously what's needed here is an Elon Musk tube. But, first conduct a multi-million dollar study.

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