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Amtrak Would Greatly Expand New England Train Service With Biden Infrastructure Plan

Amtrak's Northeast Regional line rolls through Connecticut past a gas power plant.
Amtrak's Northeast Regional line rolls through Connecticut past a gas power plant.

President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan could bring expanded or improved Amtrak train service to every state in New England.

Amtrak, the publicly funded national rail operator, released a new map this week of expansions it could offer by 2035 (PDF) under Biden’s proposal.

Among other regional routes, the map highlights east-west rail service across Massachusetts, connecting Albany and Boston through Springfield.

Over the years there has been exploration of options for both high-speed rail across Massachusetts as well as extended commuter rail service west of Worcester. A final report from the state on the long-studied issue came out in January, describing three possible passenger rail routes between Pittsfield and Boston. At the time of the report, MassDOT said officials did not believe the project would qualify for federal funding.

According to its map, Amtrak would also upgrade rail service from New York City through Connecticut to points north and east. There would be improvements on a line through Hartford and Springfield to New Hampshire and Vermont with a new extension to Montreal, and upgrades on a separate line through Providence and Boston and north to Portland, Maine. 

Amtrak says it could install expansions and new lines by 2035 with funding from Biden's infrastructure plan.
Credit Amtrak
Amtrak says it could install expansions and new lines by 2035 with funding from Biden's infrastructure plan.

The map also adds a new line from Boston to New Hampshire connecting to both Manchester and Concord. That route was part of a feasibility study 20 years ago that considered high-speed rail service between Boston and Montreal (PDF) via Concord and Burlington. Advocates for a tourist train in New Hampshire's Lakes Region have also unsuccessfully pushed the idea of working off that system to connect Boston to the White Mountains.

Overall, Amtrak says Biden’s proposed investment would let them bring service to 160 new communities, with daily trips in 15 more states and 20 million more passengers served, on top of the 32 million people who rode Amtrak trains in 2019.

Amtrak’s fact sheet says “better rail service means cleaner air, less traffic, and happier people.” They say more trains will save people time spent in traffic, lower the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, address inequalities in transit access and boost local economies.

Transportation, and particularly passenger vehicles, are the top contributor of carbon emissions across New England. That decentralized source is harder to address than, for example, the energy sector — especially in rural areas where driving is harder to avoid.

Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have backed away from a Northeast cap-and-trade plan for transportation emissions, which would increase gas prices to generate money for clean transportation projects and rebates. Connecticut advanced a plan to join this week.

New Hampshire has also been leery of commuter rail expansions in recent years, including opting to expand I-93 between Manchester and Salem rather than offer train service. The state has said that project does not preclude the potential future expansion of rail service.

A version of this report by Annie Ropeik was originally published by New Hampshire Public Radio.

Copyright 2021 New England Public Media

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