WORCESTER — Federal lawmakers from Massachusetts have reintroduced legislation to expand investments in passenger rail, which they say would give Western Massachusetts communities a needed boost.
Karen Christensen, a rail advocate who lives in Great Barrington, joined U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Malden, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, for a Wednesday news conference at Union Station in Worcester. The lawmakers announced the reintroduction of the Building Rail Across Intercity Networks to Ride Around Interior of the Nation (Brain Train) Act, which Markey first introduced last May with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield.
“This is our moment, our chance to make generational investments in our common future,” said Christensen, who founded the nonprofit Barrington Institute and the “Train Time” podcast. “There is no justification for leaving parts of the United States behind: 21st-century connectivity can give every citizen — in cities and suburbs and rural areas — the best of all worlds.”
Markey said the legislation is “specifically designed with several Massachusetts projects in mind,” including “east-west” passenger rail from Pittsfield to Boston and a Berkshires Housatonic line connecting Pittsfield and New York.
“With sufficient resources, we can make sure that Central and Western Massachusetts are at the hub of a new regional rail network instead of just picking up the caboose,” Markey said.
The legislation would have the Department of Transportation implement a competitive grant program to award up to $5 billion a year for rail projects, with preference for projects that connect with transportation networks and can bring climate and employment benefits, in addition to improved options for people with disabilities.
The Western Massachusetts Rail Coalition, of which Christensen is a member, as well as the statewide Transportation for Massachusetts advocacy coalition, has backed the bill.
The intercity connectivity the bill prioritizes “means connections between Pittsfield and Westfield and Springfield, connections to Boston, New York City, Montreal, Albany and Chicago,” Christensen said.
“I’d like to note that Boston to Chicago is just slightly farther than Beijing to Shanghai, a trip I’ve taken many times, the most popular train route in China,” she said. “People take the train instead of flying. This is one of the most important things intercity rail can do.”