MassDOT Rail: Springfield Hub (East-West, NNERI, Berkshires, CT-Valley-VT-Quebec)

F-Line to Dudley

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I mean... I think the point was that an "Amherst Flyer" service could probably be started, you know, tomorrow, using existing equipment, existing facilities, etc. In the schema of organization before electronics before concrete, it's an idea that really only requires some organization work, in theory.

I'm all for the NNEIRI, but there's no reason that an "Amherst Flyer" can't be seen as a starter service of sorts, just like the Cape Flyer is seen in some circles as a starter service for eventual full-time commuter rail.
Not exactly tomorrow. The Cape Flyer comparison doesn't apply to the B&A at all because of the bigger paper barrier there with ownership and trackage rights bottling the T up no further west than Worcester Union. Right now even when the MassDOT mothership has to borrow a T consist on one-off reimbursement to perform annual inspections of state-owned rail lines in Western MA (Berkshire Line, Adams Branch, Conn River Line, Ware Secondary) it needs to have a ride-along CSX crewmember or B&A-qualified Amtrak crewmember to traverse the state.

Amtrak's usually willing to help just for the inspections because they actually loan out the special Amfleet track geometry car that does all the telemetry for those annual work jobs. And generally speaking CSX doesn't break Amtrak's balls too hard when ConnDOT wants to sponsor a "Big E" Special Springfield Shuttle that backs into CSX West Springfield Yard on the siding closest to the fairgrounds, because CSX is a hometown sponsor of the Big E and usually has a presence there.

But break balls CSX will over anything else that's too unorthodox, which is why the Vermonter's 1995-2014 "temporary" reverse move to Amherst inside of Palmer Freight Yard was so fricking excruciating for all the delays CSX levied on it. So prerequisite for anything going forward is first negotiating with CSX for expanded trackage rights or a buy of the middle (or whole) B&A. With a first move for appropriating those funds. It's not instantaneous.

Somebody in the decider's chair has to decide to do something first with advancing the project, or the funding for that first-prerequisite rights negotiation won't be there.

This is very different from how the Cape Flyer works. MassDOT has owned all the Cape trackage all along, subcontracts the shortline carriers that operate on the Cape on 12-year contracts, and subcontracts the dispatching for Middleboro-Hyannis (with Cape Rail) to do their bidding. They've always been able to there run at-will. All it needed was the third-party reimbursement mechanism for the costs of running the revenue trains out-of-district, like what they get from RIDOT for every inch of Providence service run past the state line. That came in the form of a one-time fed grant + the Cape Chamber of Commerce stepping up for the Flyer Season 1 launch in 2013. Subsequently, by Season 3 in '15 Bourne had voted to join the T district and the district border had jumped forward 6.5 miles from the Wareham-Bourne town line to the Bourne-Sandwich town line...with the Cape Chamber now being able to underwrite the last 18 miles to Hyannis without need for supplemental grants.

As an contrasting example of how this would absolutely not go well to beg for a "Move-in Day Flyer" one-off on the B&A, take Gov. Patrick's politically embarrassing whistle-stop tour to the Berkshire Line when he was pimping that billion-dollar Pittsfield-NYC folly late in his 2nd term. Took a then- brand-new T loco, a string of the newest Rotem coaches, loaded it up with dignitaries, and had them pay through the nose to get the foreign-crew escort across the B&A...down the Berkshire (which the state had not yet bought, so more 'foreign' territory), and then a press conference in North Caanan, CT (which royally pissed off his CT counterpart). The train blew a traction motor on the trip back to Pittsfield and had to hobble itself back to Worcester with a CSX rescue...the dignitaries all scattering to their cars at Pittsfield. CSX sent the state a large bill for the unscheduled assist and read them the riot act to never pull that shit again. And so...we can't easily have nice things like a negotiated one-off "Move-in Flyer" by asking CSX pretty-please, because Gov. Patrick didn't ask so pretty when he pulled that lame stunt.


Now, absolutely none of these studies have (despite some inaccurate politician comments here and there) ever hinted towards these service proposals...any service proposals...west of Worcester being a T-logoed thing. It's always assumed Amtrak is going to be the operator, because the schedule times involved are beyond what's truly appropriate for sitting still in Purple Line livery. Plus the whole conundrum of how exactly you go fishing for service that far outside the T district when there isn't any lucky coincidence like the Cape Chamber there to pitch in. So nothing official was ever going to fly as a T joint anyway...including Knowledge Corridor commuter rail which would have to be its own independent (or CTrail ops-contracted) thing even if it played lend-lease with T-logoed equipment. But that extends, unfortunately, to the one-offs like "Move-in Day Flyer" where a reluctant Amtrak is probably going to say no and we already burned that bridge with CSX.

First order of business on any of these study flavors is working out the expanded trackage rights with CSX and/or buying the line. Which, no doubt, CSX is eager and willing to deal for if we float the right "Pimp My Yard" package at them for West Springfield. They've been waiting for years for the state to bite on one of these studies, because there's as much in it for them with faster freight and a region-largest West Springfield facility brought up to par with the new intermodal bells/whistles of Worcester Yard. But it does mean there has to be an actionable sequence coming out of these studies and appropriation of monies for the share of control before anything...even a Baker/Pollack cross-state victory train...can run. This is, after all, one of national CSX's steadiest-growth corridors. They aren't out to ransom when it's a pretty short, fair, and universally agreed-upon list of freight grant extras (namely, judicious West Springfield upgrades) they want from the state in exchange...but they ain't giving it away for free either. So that is the starting point for anything and everything.
 

HenryAlan

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Like the Cape Flyer, it would have to be double-ended, as there's nowhere to turn it in Amherst.
That's not why the Cape Flyer is double ended. None of the Keolis operated trains do a terminal turn, they all operate in push/pull mode with a control car at one end. The Flyer has the second engine for emergency backup. If a train with just one engine breaks down some distance from the normal MBTA catchment, it is difficult to get a spare out to the train in a timely manner. The second engine mitigates against that issue.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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That's not why the Cape Flyer is double ended. None of the Keolis operated trains do a terminal turn, they all operate in push/pull mode with a control car at one end. The Flyer has the second engine for emergency backup. If a train with just one engine breaks down some distance from the normal MBTA catchment, it is difficult to get a spare out to the train in a timely manner. The second engine mitigates against that issue.
They've run the Flyer as regular one-loco push-pull before when they've been short the second engine, so there's no blanket rule on that. Double-draft is just, as you mention, the preferred butt-covering protection because it's out-of-district. Don't know if the major MassDOT renovations recently done (with more to come) on Hyannis Yard are going to eventually change that. Cape Rail does have its home shop onsite and their new ex-MNRR FL9 excursion loco can take the same layover plug-in idling power source as T equipment so on-Cape upgrades are trending to a place where they probably can hedge on dropping the second unit off the Flyer within a year or two.
 

Wash

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Is it too early to be worrying about cab cars? It sounds like whatever East/West service happens is going to need them and there's a chronic shortage in the US at the moment.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Is it too early to be worrying about cab cars? It sounds like whatever East/West service happens is going to need them and there's a chronic shortage in the US at the moment.
The cab shortage is easing. When the new Midwest and Cali coaches go into service over the next 2 years over a dozen of the hollowed-out ex-F40 loco "cabbages" are going into standby storage where they'll basically be doing nothing except backing up the Downeaster's and Cascades' cabbages until those routes' cab replacements trail a few years year and the cabbages get completely retired. (NNEPRA gets its new Downeaster cabs during the statie wave of Amfleet replacements, and WSDOT is on-deadline to the NTSB's ruling on the 2017 Cascades wreck to retire its 4 remaining Talgo VII trainsets within 2 years in favor of more supplemental-order Talgo 8 sets with integrated cab cars.) So even if the state had gotten a much earlier jump on NNEIRI/E-W action plans they'd be able to run it on Opening Day with spare cabbages right away...since these wouldn't be Penn Station run-thrus where the cabbages are too tall for the NY tunnels. And then the Amfleet-replacement order is going to be a perma-solve sending the remaining cabbages to permanent retirement, retiring the Metroliners, and generously expanding the rosters (mostly for PennDOT, who are going to be ordering up more cabs than they immediately need for the sake of future slow-cook Pennsylvanian service increases).


Also should be noted that there is no physical requirement that anything running through SPG Hub needs to have a cab car. Springfield has the bi-directional wye, and New Haven has a turning loop just like Boston. Springfield Tower does assisted revenue-service backup moves from station platforms to wye each and every day for the Valley Flyer and pull-only Vermonter, which do not change prevailing directions mid-trip, as well as for reversing the pull-only SPG Regional. It's century-old hat there that doesn't unduly chew dwell times. And New Haven Union's turning loop is a straight shot south off the platforms, operationally easiest to hit from the Shoreline or Springfield Line directions. The only reason the Springfield Shuttles have run with a mandatory Metroliner cab for 35 years has been Metro North v. Amtrak turf politics at New Haven Union. MNRR doesn't like excessive cross-cutting moves like AMTK needing dispatch priority over commuter trains for berths on the southernmost platforms or crossing a bunch of track switches to hit the yard. This was much more a problem back before Boston electrification when those cross-cuts were needed all day long for engine swaps, so AMTK agreed in the early-80's to mandate the cab car on the Shuttles to keep MNRR's bitching to a minimum. It's functionally not a problem at all anymore now that power swaps have been reduced from all-day to scant trickle with only the Vermonter and couple SPG Regional trips daily still needing to summon the diesel/electric change from the yard. And AMTK/MNRR, after decades of bad blood, are on much more cooperative terms than ever before. So in theory the Inlands to Boston don't need a cab car at all if MNRR agreed to dropping the cab requirement for the Shuttles. (NOTE: pre-2004 Inlands ran pull-only, but those were thru slots from D.C. like the SPG Regional and not Boston-extended Shuttles like NNEIRI turning at New Haven). The one-seat BOS-MTL trip wouldn't need a cab to begin with, since it goes straight through end-to-end.

It's only *genuine* short-turns like the Valley Flyer's Greenfield reverse (however long that lasts before being supplanted by Knowledge Corridor CR) or any East-West patterns that stub out in Pittsfield instead of running all the way to Albany that would need cabs. And those are extreme trace service patterns when the NNEIRI's service baseline was 8 Inland round-trips (waivable cabs), 1 BOS-MTL, and 1 Lake Shore Ltd...none of which have an outright physical requirement. With the tiny share of the pie made up by any additional Western MA short-turns above-and-beyond the NNEIRI baseline, you'd be able to run those services on the same number of replacement-level cabs the Shuttles currently run on. And honestly, Pittsfield short-turning is a crappy long-term proposition vs. running thru to Albany and being able to "Lake Shore"-lash up to a Toronto slot or something much more useful, so the permanent world order for SPG Hub probably won't require any AMTK cabs at full buildout. If they have to seed-start some Pittsfield short-turns as a mea culpa to Berkshire County for E-W making too many up-front promises it never intended to keep, I would hope that's only a temporary arrangement before thru-to-Albany (and hookup to the cross-Empire juvenation machine) being a final goal. But they can probably seed just fine with Pittsfield turns on borrowed cabs for however many years it takes to bring thru-to-Albany online.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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F-Line to Dudley

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They've at least adjusted WAAAAY up the horseshit-lowballed ridership figures, so that's a win. But the horseshit-blowout costs are still unexplained, as are the slower-than-present-day travel times so the Admin. is still holding onto the tankapalooza for dear life while they continue getting torn ear from ear by the Western MA fact-check. If there was any hope of a "conference bill"-type reconciliation between East-West's findings and NNEIRI's findings to produce a coherent blueprint forward, you can forget about that as long as Sec. Trollmaster is running the show. Pollack could not make it any clearer with the show she put on in that meeting that you have to drag her kicking and screaming into any cooperation whatsoever with this.

The good news is Western MA is succeeding at taking an icepick to the state's study whoppers stab-by-stab, so there's basically nothing substantive for the state to do except trollololol and run because they've got nothing to counterpoint how flawed their handiwork is. The fact that Pollack had the gall to resort to calling SOUTH COAST RAIL of all projects the model for cost efficiency that East-West fails to meet while she was whining about the feds needing to pay for nearly all of this shows how they've got damn near nuthin' substantive in their favor. There's zero credibility on the Admin's side, and she knows it. Especially now that they've conceded the ridership could be 4x their initial estimates. Plus the fact that Baker was already looking fatigued and disinterested in a new term last summer with the comatose state non-response to the RMV scandal...nevermind now after after the gut-wringer of having to govern through COVID (which no one would blame him for wanting/needing a break after)...and this thing is guaranteed to get a fresh set of eyes looking at it after 2022. But not before it has become a Top 3 issue for half the state in that election, thanks to how much this Admin's botching of E-W has galvanized Western MA. Baker won't make any overt attempt to kill it, because whether he's on the ticket or endorsing someone to replace him he does not want this to become a deciding issue for that high a % of state voters. So basically nothing bad is going to happen except for a few more trollolol statements from a completely ineffective Pollack. It'll be up to somebody else to pick up the pieces and begin the tough job of reconciling this piece of hot biased garbage with NNEIRI and retrench the service proposal back to the safety-in-numbers SPG Hub beachhead that gets ConnDOT's and VTrans' enthusiastic buy-in. But at least that TBD Admin. will be left with all the breadcrumbs in the world on how to accomplish that. E-W isn't the final earth-salting word on it all.


What I can't understand is why Pollack is reducing herself to so enthusiastically playing the substance-free troll. I mean, she's not going to be Sec. forever. Even if Baker does do the unlikely and run a 3rd term, nobody in the appointed Cabinet ever sticks around that long without going stale. And Pollack has been acting very, very stale of late being typecast as the Negative Nancy in the room while the FCMB starts more and more ignoring her (see: RUR), these last few tankapalooza studies for E-W, NSRL, etc. get loud advocacy pushback for straining the bounds of credulity, and most of the signature transpo items Baker staked himself to like T repair are now far enough along to be self-sustaining and no longer need a 'guru' whipping things along at the top. This is the time in backside of a 2nd term where you almost always start seeing a few high-profile Cabinet departures because there's nothing really big left to hang one's hat on. Pollack, for reasons unknown, has decided to hang on past that typical expiration date and contort herself into this ineffectual one-note troll persona...and allow herself to increasingly get written off on that stereotype.

I don't get the motivation here. With her experience level she could be in-play for any big-name transpo guru job in the world...private sector, thinktank sector, further/higher public sector aspirations, or raking it on consulting. What is she gaining for herself tearing down her self-made 1-1/2 terms (and more) rep for being a keen pragmatic operator with demonstrated success chilling out polarized political divides to sell a strategy...to dive full-bore into incessant one-note "can't do" scold? Month after month after continuing month the longer she malingers. This is getting counted in demerits against her own post-Sec. resume to so willingly let herself get lost in this heel turn. I don't get it at all. There's zero upside in it for her, and she was on a way better next-career track before she decided to start tearing it down plank-by-plank playing this "Sec. No" caricature.
 

pmichael73

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The B&A is never going to be electrified west of Worcester. Worcester-Springfield there's 35 overhead bridges that would have to be cleared from current 21'6" double-stack clearance to 24' DS-under-wire (i.e. +2-1/2 ft. over an unshielded car roof) clearance. Nevermind all the ones west of SPG to Schodack, NY where the freights split off. Too many of those bridges were already maxed out during the DS clearance project 10 years ago with all the feasibly cheap trackbed undercutting tricks, so the bridge replacement and MassDOT road grade modification costs are going to be absolutely crippling if they have to go to that well again. Intercity traffic levels are not projected quite dense enough to amortize that premium, nor would it make that big a total schedule difference diesel vs. electric on speeds when Palmer is the only intermediate stop on that segment. Curve easing is the investment with real ROI by simply reducing the number of places where trains have to recover lost speed, and it's underwritten by CSX profits because ton-for-ton their trains save so much more operating $$$ with each fewer slowdown recovery.

The Springfield Line almost certainly is going to be electrified. So will MBTA territory because there's only 6 overhead bridges (some of them already confirmed tall enough) in double-stack territory to evaluate, vacated 19'6" autorack clearances Westborough-Framingham (no longer needed since the CSX autoport relocated to East Brookfield) that don't need modification because Plate F/17' is the remaining max clearance going inbound, and vacated 17' clearances east of Framingham to Beacon Park that don't need modification because the freights are gone and CSX contractually sunset its Plate F clearance at the end of calendar year 2018. What you will likely see if/when New Haven-Springfield electrification proceeds is Amtrak using dual-mode Siemens Charger-Sprinter hybrid locos on the Inland Route, like NYSDOT is evaluating for the Empire Corridor GE Genesis P32AC-DM replacements. Only the Siemens platform, being modular, can be orderable with DC third rail or AC pantograph pickups within the same make. Meaning after NYSDOT orders theirs, Virginia and North Carolina may be looking at their own orders to eliminate the engine-change layover at Washington for run-thru Regionals (and also prevent Richmond from gaining an engine-change layover on the schedule whenever the wires get extended down there). If those states dip, ConnDOT/MassDOT/VTrans have low barrier to entry for buying their own and eliminating the New Haven engine-switch layover (plus preventing Springfield from gaining one like Richmond if/when the wires are extended north). Doubly good for MassDOT because their Amtrak routes will also be future-proofed for the North-South Rail Link at running Regionals through to Portland or Concord through patchwork-powered territory.

That will probably be the ideal way to handle the ice cold cost-benefit valuation of trying to bridge WOR-SPG diesel territory between to-be wired NHV-SPG and WOR-BOS territories. Unlike commuter rail where duals are a colossal waste vs. just biting the bullet on the fullest electrification and EMU fleet they can net...a fairly slim-profile investment in duals is much more right-sized for the region's intercity equipment needs and territory that doesn't amortize its costs well enough to ever wire-up. And very much in-line with what other Amtrak regions are going to likewise find right-sized, so there'll be some starter scale for pooling PRIAA dues with New York and Virgnia, etc. on a standardized flavor of Amtrak equipment for the task.
Back in the 1960s, I wrote to several senators and others arguing for electrification from New Haven to Boston. The unanimous opinion was that it was prohibitively expensive and could never be done because of infrastructure problems. The Worcester-Springfield route was surveyed in the 1830s. How much longer are we going to content with that? The Inland Route from Boston to New Haven has many advantages that can be exploited: it passes through Framingham, Worcester, Springfield and Hartford - all of which would benefit from an active service in both directions. The other issue, often neglected, is the Thames River bridge. It is a prime target for enemies wishing to paralyze the Northeast. At one time (and it may yet be true), only one nuclear submarine at a time was let into the base for that reason. Check out this proposal by a young student who has made many such illustrations of how rail transport can be improved:
 

Semass

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And the article about the meeting. The west-of-Springfield contingent shot themselves in the foot with rail or bust stance. They continue to double down with some profoundly dumb comments. and now it is DOA. I'll let the article speak for itself.

 

Arlington

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Did they kill the SPG-BOS part by being ridiculous SPG-PIT?
 

millerm277

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I remain puzzled as to why anyone would do a study of rail to Pittsfield and not thru Pittsfield, and as to why their political leaders seem only interested in pitching PIT-SPG and not ALB-PIT-SPG.

I'm aware the route isn't great to get to ALB, but hitting a metro area of ~1m people as your end destination is a hell of a lot more of a selling point than hitting one of....45k, especially given connectivity with other Amtrak services at that endpoint for some degree of network effects, however modest. (Empire Service, Adirondacker, Maple Leaf).
 

meddlepal

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I still can't figure out who these mythical people are that are going to commute daily from either Springfield or Pittsfield and spend 4 or 6 hours on a train a daily. Absolute fucking nutjobs out in the western part of the state.
 

fatnoah

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I still can't figure out who these mythical people are that are going to commute daily from either Springfield or Pittsfield and spend 4 or 6 hours on a train a daily. Absolute fucking nutjobs out in the western part of the state.
Not going to lie. Trying to work at home while the family is here and remote schooling is going on makes me wish for some long commute in a quiet rail car. In all seriousness though, it might not be a bad option for a day or few a week kind of work where time on the train could be productive. It seems fairly niche, but perhaps in the aftermath of COVID the niche will at least be somewhat larger.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Let advocates take note: when you already have a completed tri-state endorsed study for the highest-demand hub/spoke plug-and-play configuration for that part of the state, it is ABSOLUTELY worth severely questioning ahead-of-time why there is such a crying need to re-study the same basic thing barely 3 years later on much squishier mission statement and methodology.

The tankapalooza worked. Mission statement confusion got the whole western part of the state to buy hook/line/sinker the Pittsfield-or-bust baseline so NNEIRI's Springfield Hub could get knocked off its pedestal as a high-urgency build. It really was a deft sleight-of-hand on Baker/Pollack's part to get the whole constituency that was lined up behind the logic of SPG Hub to tear themselves apart taking the Pittsfield bait. Not only was East-West's un-focussedness an end unto itself, but it ended up tainting the very cut-n'-dried NNEIRI by association and supersedence...not to mention royally pissing off ConnDOT and VTrans who are pulling the Jon Lovitz-as-Dukakis on SNL "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy?" face at how something as universally/uncontroversally-endorsed as the NHV-HFD-SPG-WOR-BOS Inland Route could be fucked for an entire generation by their wayward partner state's self-immolation.

It's not like you can just hit "Undo" on E-W and roll it back to 2017 and the NNEIRI baseline. A study was conducted. Conclusions were reached. Expectations were raised. A lot of garbage data and garbage-ier suppositions may have led to it...but East-West did happen and any future studies are going to have to bend backwards to make sense of its nonsense conclusions even if the next study is back-to-basics with SPG Hub. It gets to play the role of unwanted homewrecker guest in the prior studies back-reference section forevermore, and will always awkwardly be starting arguments about whither-Pittsfield even if a future MassDOT Admin. only wants the SPG Hub essentials that should've been the Priority #1 focus all along. Yes, you can mount and win with a more focused effort next time...but E-W being on the record means it's going to take more elbow grease to keep things focused. It would've been easier for Baker/Pollack to just out and say "We don't want to do this, and can't be arsed to pretend" rather than actively chum the waters with the extra tankapalooza study...for real $$$ spent, no less...solely to confuse the issue and make that confusion have to be counterpointed forevermore by every subsequent attempt.

A spectacularly successful giant fucking waste of time and mental energy, it was.


Also...besides not being a good look at all to shit on your enthusiastic partner states' DOT's like this, the implosion of everything including the SPG Hubbage could boomerang right back in our faces immediately as Connecticut torturously debates interstate tolling as Gov. Lamont's signature push. How much does trashing the Inland with a self-implanted Operation Chaos raise the odds of really punitive I-91/I-84/I-395 state-line tolls having to be ConnDOT's answer because this Masshole Admin. didn't want to play nice on a broad slate of linked transit trips affecting all 3 of those road border crossings? Baker/Pollack probably won't be around to see the Pike Corridor go aflame in revulsion to those tolls, and it'll be somebody else's mess to retalitate tit-for-tat. But if ConnDOT absolutely has to do tolls as statewide policy to fund its multimodal portfolio the way forward with things like 30-30-30 New Haven Line service, I-84mageddon re-route in Hartford, and other home-run swing transpo initiatives...what choice did we just give them but to hit the Masshole plates as hard as possible at the border??? The Inland was arguably the equalizer that would prevent those state-vs.-state toll wars from being played by placing a cooperatively-financed multimodal throttle on road congestion's upper bounds. If that's functionally not available to them because of our tankapalooza study 'success' and their highways are going to take all the more beating for it, toll war it unfortunately is going to be. Shitty reductionist policy and all, we aren't giving the Nutmeggers much choice in the matter. It's going to suck...for all of us.
 

cden4

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We already have buses between Springfield and Pittsfield. What would be the point of studying that?
 

Norval Elliot

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I remain puzzled as to why anyone would do a study of rail to Pittsfield and not thru Pittsfield, and as to why their political leaders seem only interested in pitching PIT-SPG and not ALB-PIT-SPG.
Andrew Cuomo probably has little or no interest in funding the segment between ALB and the Massachusetts border.
 

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