The tracks are humming!

We’re expecting further news about the East-West (or West-East) Rail Study soon, and SB2096 “An Act Special act funding a study of passenger service on the housatonic rail line” sponsored by Sen. Adam G. Hinds (D) was referred to Joint Committee on Rules on Thursday, April 30. Thanks to Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, too, for his support. Legislators across western Massachusetts and Connecticut are working harder than ever to help constituents cope with the consequences of COVID-19, and looking ahead to recovery, too, with passenger rail playing a key role.

Meanwhile, MassDOT has put out an RFP for the next stage of work on the Housatonic Line, and has bids of about $11 million. New ties continue to be installed, and the 1/4-mile-long pieces of modern welded rail that you can see along the line is going to be put in place this summer. Download our background paper on the Housatonic Line restoration in MA and CT.

And this month’s cover story in a magazine called Rail Fan tells the entire history of the Housatonic Line – missing the fact that the line is being upgraded for passenger service, but nonetheless full of interesting details. See below for an extract and link.

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Recovery Funding Principles

There is a growing global consensus that passenger rail should be prioritized as part of economic recovery, after decades of focus on roads and air travel. The French government, for example, is doing something else that should be a model for the US in the next round of stimulus and infrastructure spending: “Modal shift from plane to train has been made a condition of a state aid package which the government is offering to Air France-KLM,” with a target of reducing its CO2 emissions by 50% on 2005 levels by 2030. Read more.

Here in the United States, we’re also seeing proposed principles for infrastructure funding. This makes a lot of sense. The economic recovery effort is  going to include investment in infrastructure, and those working on sustainable public transportation want to see the public funds spent wisely.

The Western Mass Rail Coalition, which the Train Campaign co-founded with Trains in the Valley and Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop, has prepared a position paper focused primarily on the East-West Line.

There are two problems we want to avoid: (1) lavishing money on “easy” projects instead projects that will really make a difference, and (2) going so big that the completion timeline is out of sight. We want results, and are willing to accept realistic, cost-effective compromises. Download the position paper “Key Elements of an East-West Rail Service, February 2020.” Here are a couple of points:

  • A higher speed service (with speeds up to 90 mph) within a few years would be preferable to high speed service (with speeds up to 150 mph) 10-20 years from now.
  • Amtrak has the legal right to operate additional service on CSX’s east-west line and increased service could theoretically run on this line [between Pittsfield and Boston, and even Albany and Boston if New York State is involved] as soon as state officials negotiate an agreement with Amtrak.

And here’s an extract from a letter being prepared by the organization Transportation for Massachusetts (which the Train Campaign is a member of) to the MA Congressional delegation setting out important principles. Your comments are welcome!

This text is only a partial extract from the draft T4MA letter. Contact [email protected] if you are interested in seeing the full text.

“Building a future that is more fair and more prosperous will require policy change at all levels of government – and that means that Congress must think differently about the role it plays in advancing transportation nationwide. We urge you to consider these principles:

  • Focus on projects that maximize jobs. A recent study determined that stimulus spending in 2009 produced 70 percent more job hours when spent on transit than when spent on highway projects.
  • Fix it first. Congress must prioritize the repair and rehabilitation of existing over the creation of new infrastructure.
  • Rethink historic funding ratios between transit and highways. The next reauthorization should make sustainable transportation a priority.
  • Focus on policies that advance accessibility, equity, and the environment. For too long, the nation’s transportation system has been a barrier to economic opportunity, perpetuated and exacerbated inequity, and harmed the environment. Federal policy must focus first on addressing these fundamental inequities before simply pouring more money into programs that make these problems worse.”

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Housatonic Today

In Rail Fan & Railroad magazine, May 2020

Nestled in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and Connecticut is a hidden gem of railroading. Housatonic Railroad is a 120-mile short line, headquartered in Canaan, Conn., a small town 47 rail miles north of Danbury, Conn., and 37 rail miles south of Pittsfield, Mass. Canaan is the base of operations, home to the locomotive shops, dispatcher, clerk, main office, and maintainers, and is where most of the train crews report for duty.

To understand how the present-day Housatonic gained its identity, you need to explore its roots. The original Housatonic Railroad was chartered in 1836 to build from Bridgeport, Conn., on Long Island Sound, north to the Massachusetts state line. From there, Berkshire Railroad was chartered the following year to build to West Stockbridge, Mass. West Stockbridge Railroad was incorporated to build to the New York state line, and continue as Hudson & Berkshire Railroad to reach the Hudson River. . . .