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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: To maintain forward progress on East-West rail, Beacon Hill must get in gear

Last month, we were elated to hear that the state’s East-West rail plans appeared to be picking up speed. Gov. Charlie Baker, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and other officials joined in Springfield to announce a new agreement on a real path forward for a landmark passenger rail project that stands to supercharge public transport, economic development and connectivity across the commonwealth.

While we were optimistic about the summit’s headline announcement, we are still clear-eyed about what still must be done to convert this dream of a great leap forward for Mass. transit into a reality. For reasons ranging from political to logistical, we stressed that this pronounced big step in the right direction must be followed with timely action to see some wheels in motion sooner rather than later. Particularly, we noted that this moment behooves the Legislature to act quickly to do their part in helping the train get out of the station.

Moving with timeliness and purpose often is not Beacon Hill’s strong suit, though, and we are concerned that this appears to be the case even at this important juncture. At the Springfield summit, Rep. Neal, a longtime champion of East-West rail plans, highlighted the next important step necessary to maintain some forward momentum: establishing a new state rail authority that would act as the conduit for necessary federal funding streams. The congressman predicted that authority would be set up in an infrastructure bond bill being teed up by the state House Transportation Committee. Any mention of a new rail authority was conspicuously absent, however, when the $9.75 billion bill cleared the committee last week.

Lawmakers can tack on the language to create the rail authority as the bill navigates the rest of its journey through the House and Senate, but this is no time to dawdle on such a critical project for the commonwealth. The Legislature’s Joint Bonding Committee is slated to take up the bill today, and if it makes quick work of it, the infrastructure package could feature in a House formal session as soon as Thursday. The promise of East-West passenger rail expansion is immense, and there are many more stops before this train can truly pull into the station. It would be equal parts tragic and inexcusable if a relatively simple procedural step proves a stumbling block. The Legislature must get its priorities straight and do their part to maintain forward progress by establishing the rail authority, which will be necessary to take advantage of sizable federal funding on the table. Creating the authority does not obligate the state to do anything, but failure to do so risks slowing or even scuttling the entire initiative.

We have said it before, and we urge once again: Do not squander the vital momentum that countless advocates and regional stakeholders have banked for this once-in-a-generation investment in the commonwealth, its infrastructure and its people.

The Berkshire delegation and other Western Massachusetts legislators have been strong voices in that advocacy for the powerful potential East-West rail offers our overlooked and underserved regions. We call on those representatives to continue that advocacy by ensuring Beacon Hill does its part to get this plan on track.

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