Sen. Ed Markey explains the BRAIN TRAIN bill yesterday at Union Station in Worcester. Behind him are, from left, Rep. Jim McGovern, Transportation for Massachusetts Director Chris Dempsey, Train Campaign Director Karen Christensen of Great Barrington and State Rep. Mary S. Keefe. Photo: Rachel Christensen

Markey, McGovern tout passenger rail bill’s benefits to western Mass

The BRAIN TRAIN bill would authorize $5 billion annually, for a total of $25 billion over five years, to be spent in high-performance passenger rail projects that offer service to unconnected and under-connected communities across the country.

WORCESTER Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim McGovern yesterday announced the reintroduction of the Building Rail Across Intercity Networks To Ride Around Interior of the Nation (BRAIN TRAIN) Act.

This Senate bill would authorize $5 billion annually, for a total of $25 billion over five years, to be spent in high-performance passenger rail projects that offer service to unconnected and under-connected communities across the country — such as those in central and western Massachusetts, Markey’s office said in a written statement.

Markey said passenger rail is an essential and popular alternative to highways or air travel. Studies consistently show that expanding passenger rail service will improve mobility, enhance safety, promote economic development, generate new jobs, and protect the environment. Yet despite these benefits, Congress has not dedicated the resources required to build a passenger rail network worthy of the 21st century, he said.

In this file photo, Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited, between Boston and Chicago, departs Pittsfield. Photo: John Bazan

“Passenger rail is an essential ingredient for a healthy economy, a healthy environment, and a healthy workforce,” added Markey. “That’s why President Biden’s American Jobs Plan rightfully calls for a massive expansion of rail across the United States … We are reintroducing the BRAIN TRAIN Act to provide the focus and funding that will ensure every part of our Commonwealth is connected to the larger national rail network Congress is poised to create.”

Warren said she was “glad to join Senator Markey and Congressman McGovern in reintroducing the BRAIN TRAIN Act which would help fund critical infrastructure projects here in Massachusetts and across the country.”

“We have a once-in-a-generation chance to cut through the gridlock in Washington and build a more thoughtful, accessible, and inclusive transportation network that empowers communities and passengers throughout Central and Western Massachusetts to have a say in shaping the future of this country,” said McGovern.

See video below, courtesy of WWLP-TV, of a news conference yesterday at Union Station in Worcester in which Sen. Markey, Rep. McGovern, and Great Barrington resident and Train Campaign director Karen Christensen discuss the BRAIN TRAIN Act:

The text of the proposed legislation can be found here. Key components are bulleted below:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement a competitive grant program and award up to $5 billion annually over five years to fund high-performance rail projects
  • Instruct the DOT to evaluate applications for funding based on: the anticipated provision of passenger rail service in regions that are historically and persistently unconnected or under-connected; the levels of estimated ridership, increased on-time performance, reduced trip time, or additional rail service frequency; and the anticipated favorable impact on air or traffic congestion and safety
  • Direct the DOT to give greater preference to rail projects that will: Encourage direct connections between multiple modes of transportation; improve conventional intercity passenger, freight, or commuter rail operations; use environmentally sensitive, fuel-efficient, or electrified rail equipment; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; improve air quality and public health; provide positive economic and employment impacts; and provide enhanced transportation options for persons with disabilities

Markey said the act is endorsed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Rail Passengers Association, Transportation for America, Transportation for Massachusetts, and the Western Massachusetts Rail Coalition, which includes the Train Campaign, Trains in the Valley, Chester Railway Station & Museum, and Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop.

“The Western Mass Rail Coalition strongly supports Senator Markey’s bill because investment in regional rail between smaller American cities and major urban centers will benefit communities like ours across the United States,” said the coalition.

The Train Campaign’s Karen Christensen of Great Barrington acknowledged the reintroduction of the BRAIN TRAIN bill. Photo: Rachel Christensen

“The Train Campaign’s supporters in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York have been waiting for leadership from Washington,” added Great Barrington resident Karen Christensen, founder of the Train Campaign, the regional rail advocacy organization. “The BRAIN TRAIN bill introduced by Sen. Markey is just the ticket! The bill promotes interstate and regional rail, and focuses on reducing climate emissions, as well. This initiative will help us build a healthy, equitable, truly 21stcentury, rural-urban relationship.”

Markey first introduced the legislation a year ago with Rep. Richard Neal. The reintroduction of the legislation comes as Congress is considering President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $85 billion to modernize public transit. Markey said his proposal would build on Biden’s bill and work to ensure a more accessible rail system.

The Great Barrington-based Train Campaign supports rail initiatives and proposals, including the East-West Rail Study, the Pownal line, the Berkshire Flyer, and the Housatonic Line.