Two days before President Joe Biden visits Connecticut to discuss his Build Back Better agenda — including a $1 trillion infrastructure bill — elected officials in Hartford and Springfield made their latest push for a potential rail line between New York and Boston by way of Hartford, Springfield and Worcester.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, along with Massachusetts state Sen. Eric Lesser, held a virtual meeting Wednesday to promote a revival of the Inland Route, a $6.4 billion to $9.4 billion project that stands to see more riders than Massachusetts initially thought, according to a new, independent analysis.
“This is about economic opportunity. It’s about job creation. It’s about housing opportunity,” Bronin said Wednesday. “And at this moment, when we have a historic opportunity to invest in our infrastructure after decades of under-investment, disinvestment, we have to seize the moment to complete east-west rail.”
The proposed, expanded line from Springfield to Boston — for which there is no funding — could see up to 540,000 boardings in 2040, according to a sketch-level forecast by engineering firm AECOM, commissioned by the Capitol Region Council of Governments and Springfield-based Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
That’s 15% more trips than the Massachusetts Department of Transportation projected in a feasibility study it released in January.
The two regional planning bodies, CRCOG and PVPC, said Wednesday they requested the forecast because the state’s feasibility study didn’t factor in transfers from the Hartford Line, which extends from New Haven to Springfield and opened in 2018.
Ridership could rise even higher if the new Inland Route offered direct, one-seat rides from Hartford to Boston, AECOM found. If half of the east-west round trips continued on to Hartford rather than traveling west to Pittsfield, Mass., the line would see up to 720,000 boardings in 2040 — a 54% increase over Massachusetts’ ridership forecast.
Lesser, a Democrat who represents western Massachusetts, said he wants his state to “go back to the drawing board” and update its projections with transfers from the Hartford Line.
The new analysis is a follow-up to an economic impacts study CRCOG and the Springfield-based planning commission released in April, which concluded the east-west passenger rail would generate a 10-1 return on investment.
“Frankly, there is nothing else on the horizon that would have this economic impact on the region,” Lyle Wray, executive director emeritus of CRCOG, said during Wednesday’s meeting.
That report also estimates that, over time, fast and reliable commuter rail between New York and Boston could bring 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in information, finance and professional services back to the region.
Many more jobs were lost in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of a “degradation of passenger rail service” and a regional economic decline, the study said.
The proposed infrastructure bill winding its way through Congress would include $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, mostly for Amtrak.
While transportation experts say the bill would mostly pay for much-needed maintenance, lawmakers and rail advocates around the country are hoping to secure funding for larger, transformative projects.
“If we let this moment pass without doing everything possible to ensure east-west rail gets built right now, it could be another generation or more before that connection is made,” Bronin said.
Rebecca Lurye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.