MBTA Commuter Rail: Why the State Won’t Approve an East-West Rail

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts extends past Worcester.

Shocking, right?

Not really, considering the fact that state government leads the charge in neglecting Western Massachusetts. It’s also no surprise that eastern and central constituents and legislatures don’t seem to bother themselves with their western neighbors, either.

But that is exactly the problem: Western Massachusetts is just as much a part of the Commonwealth as Boston, but is completely disconnected from it. It doesn’t prosper the way Boston does. It doesn’t attract young professionals, startups, and innovators the way Boston does.

Western Massachusetts needs a commuter rail connecting Springfield to Boston. But, so long as that commuter rail doesn’t exist, the west will never thrive like the east.

Western Massachusetts: the state’s no man’s land.

As a Western Massachusetts native that lives, works and attends school in Boston, it’s rare that I travel home for the weekend. There’s no nightlife scene; there’s no tourism; and there’s not nearly enough opportunity out there for my career. Oftentimes, I find myself asking why Western Massachusetts is this way when Boston is just over an hour drive away from my hometown of Longmeadow, and I arrive at the same conclusion: Western Massachusetts is the most inaccessible region the state. And until that changes, nothing else will.

Western Massachusetts actually has a lot to offer already. Springfield is home to the Basketball Hall of Fame and an up-and-coming casino, Springfield’s suburbs offer great housing at low costs, and its location resides within reasonable driving distance of two other cities besides Boston: Hartford and New York City.

But, the west is still struggling. Springfield boasts an unemployment rate that is almost four times larger than Boston’s, even though Western Mass housing is considerably more cost-efficient (and more within budget of the state’s young population). And Western Mass millennials like me, millennials that go to Boston for school and have countless career opportunities and future prospects in the east, are never going to come back here.

So, how does the state fix this imbalance?

Simple: provide an easy gateway of transportation between the two regions.

An east-west commuter rail would give Western Massachusetts residents access to Boston job opportunities, and would give Boston residents opportunities to buy cost-efficient homes instead of renting overly-priced apartments. It seems like a mutually beneficial deal that would cause the entire state to prosper. So, naturally, state government should be prioritizing the creation of this commuter rail.

But, alas, they are not. If anything, they seem to be against it.

Some speculate that it’s because of the lobbying of Springfield native Peter Picknelly, CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines. Others insist that it’s because, so long as Boston is prospering, elected officials will disregard the well-being of other parts of the state. Regardless, the House quietly stripped the East-West rail study from the budget earlier this month, and Western Massachusetts residents were not happy.

However, the battle for the rail still continues.

Senator Eric Lesser, the front-man of this commuter rail proposal, continues to lead the charge with local support backing him along the way. Petitions continue to circulate within the state in hopes of elected leaders feeling pressured into supporting the rail. And rallies are being held to increase awareness of these prospects.

Western Massachusetts does not plan on going down without a fight. Perhaps it’s time for Boston leaders to take notice.

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