Reviving the Inland Route to NYC
Link Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven
WE WERE MIDDLE-AGED and lifelong residents of the Boston area when we moved to the Pioneer Valley in 2002 in search of more affordable housing. The smaller towns and cities in central and western Massachusetts have long attracted people like us with their abundance of reasonably-priced homes and a less hectic lifestyle.
What’s missing from life in our neck of the woods? About 130,000 jobs not created since 1990 due to the lack of regional and intercity rail connectivity, according to a new study.
On May 6, Congressman Richard Neal hosted a press conference at Springfield’s Union Station to announce the findings of a study entitled “The Economic Impacts of Regional Rail Investment in Metro Hartford-Springfield.” Prepared by AECOM for the Capitol Region Council of Governments, the study crunches the numbers to show that continued investment in rail infrastructure on the so-called Inland Route between Boston and New York City could have a 10-to1 return on investment.
Connecticut’s highly-successful CTrail service on the Hartford Line to Springfield commenced in 2018 and serves rebuilt stations on upgraded tracks between New Haven and Hartford. In the year and a half before the pandemic, ridership on the new service reached 1 million, exceeding expectations, and transit-oriented development brought new life to Connecticut downtowns all along the line.
By providing an alternative for rail travel from Boston to New York City, the Inland Route would alleviate overcrowding on the current shoreline route, which is also threatened by climate change-induced flooding. Additionally, frequent train service would reduce highway congestion on Interstates 91, 84, and the Massachusetts Turnpike, which may soon reach pre-pandemic levels of gridlock. The health and environmental impacts of eliminating carbon emissions would be especially significant for Springfield, which is the fourth largest city in New England but often rates number one in emergency hospital visits for asthma.
The study includes a stop in Palmer, which most people know as the Mass Pike exit they take when traveling between Boston and Amherst. Our “Town of Seven Railroads” sits at the junction of the East-West and Central Corridor rail lines, offering a potentially seamless connection to the flagship campuses of UConn to the south and UMass to the north.
During the past decade, towns in Palmer’s auto-dependent Quaboag Valley region have struggled to create mass transit options for residents who don’t have cars. A 2019 study by the UMass Amherst Center for Economic Development found that among the 175,000 residents of our 21-community region “a significant number may opt to commute by rail” if trains were to stop again in Palmer.As Congress crafts an infrastructure bill in the coming months, now is the time for the Commonwealth’s leaders to join together and support the long-delayed, much-studied revival of passenger rail along the Inland Route, connecting all of our state’s three largest cities through the revitalized Hartford Line to metropolitan New York.
Ben Hood and Anne Miller live in Palmer and are members of Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop, an advocacy group that is part of the Western Mass Rail Coalitioon working to restore passenger rail service to the “Town of Seven Railroads” at the junction of the East-West (Boston to Pittsfield) and Central Corridor (New London to Brattleboro) rail lines, and to improve mass transit options for residents of the Quaboag Valley region.