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East-west rail authority omitted from Massachusetts legislation, but Rep. Neal remains optimistic

Passengers board Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited after it arrives in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Feb. 10, 2020.
Alden Bourne
/
NEPR
Passengers board Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited after it arrives in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Feb. 10, 2020.

Language helping to set up expanded passenger rail service from western Massachusetts to Boston was left out of a nearly $10 billion transportation bond bill on Beacon Hill.

Last month, Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, announced a deal on east-west rail. It calls for an authority to oversee the proposed service. But, that provision was left out of the recent legislation.

Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said Wednesday he is "very optimistic" lawmakers will file an amendment to include the new authority.

"This is just a temporary blip and we will get to creating the rail authority as Governor Baker and I envisioned it," Neal said. "I think that in conversations we've had with legislators even over the last 24 hours, we think this is still achievable."

Neal did not offer specifics on what the hang up might have been, but said he also was not taken completely by surprise by the omission.

"I also have been familiar with legislative life for a long period of time and how it plays out," Neal said. "I don't think there was any real big impediment or disagreement here. It's just a matter now of trying to figure out how to insert the necessary language to accomplish the desirable goal."

The authority would help to acquire federal funds for the project while overseeing the new rail service's operations. At a press conference announcing the deal in April, Baker said it was likely Amtrak would run the trains.

The bond bill, which has cleared the legislative transportation committee, builds upon the original bill filed by Baker.

The bottom line represents a combination of federal and state spending. According to the committee summary, the bill calls for using $3.5 billion to compete for federal grants as well as steering $2.8 billion to federal highway projects, $1.35 billion to state roads, bridges and routes, $1.38 billion to MBTA modernization, and $145 million to multi-modal projects and shared use paths.

Other areas of funding include $114 million for aeronautics safety and modernization, $200 million for state emissions reduction programs — including expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure — $82 million for an industrial rail access program and $64.9 million for regional transit authorities.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.