The beacon of light touted recently by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal for an east-west passenger rail extension in Massachusetts is a grant program under which all states could compete for transportation project funding.
Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said at a press conference last week that the new $1.5 trillion infrastructure package House Democrats will pursue includes language he wrote "on rail transportation connecting Boston to Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield."
The bill text, though, does not explicitly authorize the long-sought Massachusetts project or allocate funding for it. Instead, the bill calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch a five-year, $19 billion grant program to support passenger rail improvement, modernization and expansion projects, prioritizing efforts that impact multiple states, are included in a regional planning process, or achieve environmental goals.
The bill says about 40 percent of the grant funding would be reserved for projects in the Northeast Corridor.
"The state would have to apply for this funding once the bill gets through the Senate and signed into law," Neal spokesperson Margaret Boyle said in an email to the News Service.
Project supporters want to make regular, non-Amtrak passenger service available west of its current terminus in Worcester. State transportation officials estimate the costs could range from $2 billion to $25 billion depending on the degree of construction, an amount the state is almost certainly unable to fund on its own.