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.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.
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.