A screenshot of the state Department of Transportation’s virtual meeting about a proposed passenger rail service from North Adams to Boston on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Screenshot by Shaw Israel Izikson.

MassDOT: Creating passenger railway service to North Adams estimated to cost $1 billion

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimates that creating a passenger rail service between North Adams and Boston could cost billions but would save commuters millions in transportation every year. State Rep. John Barrett III (D-North Adams) and State Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) agree that the cost would be well worth it.

Berkshire County — The state’s Department of Transportation estimates that creating a proposed passenger rail service from North Adams to Boston would cost billions of dollars. At least two state representatives who attended MassDOT’s virtual meeting on Wednesday, January 11 believe that the project would be worth the money.

At the meeting, representatives from MassDOT’s Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study went over potential plans and costs for the service. The study was originally directed by the state legislature during the Fiscal 2020 state budget to identify necessary improvements that would support passenger rail service between northwestern Massachusetts and Boston.

Potential plans for the service were presented by MassDOT representatives and representatives from multi-state infrastructure firm HNTB, which has an office in Boston. Anna Berry from HNTB said that, in calculating potential plans, factors including materials, location, equipment, and labor have been considered. However, Berry said that contingency costs are unknown, and cost estimates are based on recent railroad construction projects both in Massachusetts and surrounding states.

Berry presented two potential cost estimations, one for a plan that would involve a lower investment, and a second plan that would involve a higher investment.

Screenshot by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The lower investment plan would cost a total of $1,044,850,000 and include a limited amount of track upgrades. The estimated costs of the project would include $450,220,000 for bridge work, $273,400,000 for track work, $145,360,00 for signals and grade crossings, $131,330,000 for rolling stock (engines and passenger cars), and $44,540,000 for station and layover facility construction. The total project cost per mile, including track upgrades, is estimated at $7,358,100 in 2027 dollars.

A second higher investment plan would include much more extensive track upgrades throughout the proposed train route. For the second plan, the total estimated cost for the project is $2,187,350,000. The bulk of the costs for the second plan is track upgrades, estimated at $1,418,340,000, with bridge work at $450,220,000, signals and grade crossings at $142,920,000, rolling stock at $131,330,000, and stations and layover sites at $131,330,000.

Both plans would include the construction of a new station and platform in North Adams, and a new platform and a reconfiguration of the Greenfield station.

Barry said that if the higher investment plan was undertaken, it would mean quicker travel times for passengers. She said that passengers traveling eastbound from North Adams to the Boston North station would arrive in two hours and 48 minutes, while westbound passengers would arrive at the North Adams station in two hours and 58 minutes. Barry said that travel times would be longer with the lower investment plan, with passengers traveling eastbound from North Adams to the Boston North station would arrive in three hours and 55 minutes, while westbound passengers would arrive at the North Adams station in three hours and 59 minutes.

Screenshot by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Paul Nelson from HNTB added that both plans would mean transportation cost savings for commuters. Nelson said that the lower investment plan would mean transportation cost savings of $1,248,000 to $3,293,000 per year. The higher investment plan would mean transportation cost savings of $1,932,000 to $5,193,000 per year. He added that both plans would have limited environmental impacts and would not impact MBTA operations.

The four stations included in both plans would be located in North Adams, Greenfield, Fitchburg, and Boston North Station. However, MassDOT Project Manager Makaela Niles said that four additional plans are being developed, and the additional plans may include stops at other stations.

During the meeting, State Rep. John Barrett III (D-North Adams) said that he is very impressed with the initial plans. “I started a little skeptical of all these things last year, but I’m very happy with the way it’s moving and what is being analyzed here,” Rep. Barrett said. “[Berkshire and Franklin counties] lost some of their population in the past ten years. These two counties would benefit the most from this. When I see an investment of $2.1 billion compared to what we have put into roads and bridges and all the other things that would improve access on our roadways to get to Boston or the eastern part of the state, this to me is a very small price. Looking at the investments the federal government has made in the last couple of years through ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funding and other things, if we could get this done for $2.1 billion, this is a cheap price to pay, because the benefits that can be reaped from this are unknown.”

“I think it’s everybody else’s turn to invest in us,” State Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) said. “The big thing that I’ve learned today is the relatively low cost of this project.”

Niles said that the next step for MassDOT is to develop four other potential plans, along with refining the two existing plans based on public comment. The public comment window for the two existing plans is 30 days and the plans may be viewed at the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study’s website.

Niles did not give a date for when the new plans would be unveiled.