True High Speed East-West Rail for Mass

I applaud Massachusetts State Senator Eric Lesser on his efforts to promote high speed east-west to connect Boston and Springfield.

See MassLive article:

The legislature has repeatedly approved funding for a study and it is consistently vetoed in order to protect lucrative bus routes. I feel strongly that it is short sighted to reject the high speed rail project. The need to connect Springfield and Boston is compelling, not just for Springfield, but for Boston, and the long term viability of the entire state as an economic engine.

There are some important caveats however to the viability of east-west rail. First of all, it must be truly high speed. A route that takes more than ninety minutes is indeed a needless competition to existing bus routes. Ninety minutes is too long a travel time to compile Boston workers to live in Western Mass rather than the closer in communities. Ideally, we would see sixty minute or less times from the new Springfield station to South Station in Boston. The distance by road is 90 miles. The math is simple. A train would need to average 90 mph including stops. Compared to the trains in Europe and Asia, that’s still quite reasonable.

The second area of concern is access to the Springfield train station. Currently there is inadequate parking in the area to support a large commuter population. The alternative would be light rail, or, buses. I would think the operator of the largest regional bus line might see the potential there and get behind the ventureā€¦

Scheduling is also a concern. Currently there are a few trains a day traveling in different directions form Springfield and Holyoke and the reliability has been less than optimal. With low frequency and reliability, it’s not worth the risk to take a train compared to slogging it out in traffic in a car.

Finally, cost is always a concern. The Mass Pike and Logan Airport are quasi private enterprises operating with the benefit of state resources with profits accruing to individuals. Given the legislative oversight of those enterprises, you can reason that those individuals are well connected at the State House. A similar situation exists with the Commuter Rail in Boston. The Commuter Rail is in poor repair with slow, old, unreliable trains and schedule failures. The failures are due to high levels of debt, secured by high interest bonds. Take a look at who holds those bonds and you will not feel good about your state’s transparent democracy. I know I would like to get my hands on a bond with yields as high as those paid by the Commuter Rail.

So if the idea is to create another entity like Logan Airport, the Mass Pike, or the Boston Commuter rail, I too would veto it. If however we can create a workable entity that is fiscally sound, well designed and managed, count me in.

The benefits to the entire state would be compelling with low cost housing in West Mass allowing mid-tier workers to commute to higher wage jobs in Boston. Boston would be able to expand its workforce further, making it more competitive with the NY Tri-State region and its vast rail-connected housing markets. Workers at Mass Mutual who currently face few choices in the career mobility, could stay in West Mass, and commute to Boston if they become stagnated at Mass Mutual. In turn, Mass Mutual could recruit people currently working in Boston, offering the ability to move to a lower cost housing market without losing touch with the vibrant state economic engine. Finally, large employers such as State Street, Fidelity, and many others could expand operations to West Mass for lower wage jobs while allowing management connectivity to headquarters.

Without this connection, Boston is strangled in its growth, and West Mass continues to fall behind in a global economy dominated by leading hubs. Get behind the push for high speed east-west rail for Massachusetts, but do it right.