Sen. Lesser votes to approve Budget Funding for Knowledge Corridor Rail Pilot Marketing

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate adopted an amendment on Wednesday to include $250,000 in the Senate budget for marketing the Knowledge Corridor Rail pilot, which is set to begin this summer.

This rail pilot, operated by an agreement between CTrail and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, expands train service from New Haven all the way to Greenfield, with stops in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, connecting the so-called “Knowledge Corridor” by rail. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has indicated that the pilot may be made permanent if it achieves 24,000 new riders annually, but there exists no marketing strategy or funding to promote this pilot program to potential riders.

In response, Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) filed an amendment to the FY20 Senate Budget to provide this funding, with strong support from Senators Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield), James Welch (D-Springfield), Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) and Don Humason (R-Westfield), who joined as co-sponsors.

“I am delighted that my colleague Senator Lesser and I were able to secure $250,000 in the Senate budget for North-South passenger rail marketing,” said Sen. Comerford. “These funds will be used to raise critical public awareness and excitement at the onset of this pilot program. This expanded train service is the result of years of work from many lawmakers at every level of government, and these marketing funds essentially lock in tens of millions of public dollars already invested in this project. We must increase ridership to ensure this pilot becomes permanent, and these funds do just that.”

Sen. Lesser spoke about the need for these marketing funds during the Senate debate.

“This rail pilot program can truly transform our region, connecting job-seekers to employers in cities up and down the Knowledge Corridor and linking our colleges in Northampton to those in Springfield, Hartford and New Haven. There are untapped opportunities here for jobs, for our local businesses and for our cultural institutions — which is why it is essential to get the word out,” said Sen. Lesser.

The funds would be allocated to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to develop and execute a marketing campaign in support of the Knowledge Corridor pilot.

“Funds that will allow promoting this new, expanded Knowledge Corridor passenger rail service to the region will undeniably be crucial to its success and transitioning it from a pilot to permanent mobility asset,” said Tim Brennan, Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. “We are enormously grateful to Senators Comerford, Lesser, Hinds, Welch and Gobi for responding to this challenge in such a proactive and collaborative fashion.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an agreement to provide on a pilot basis two extended daily CTrail trains beginning this summer. Amtrak will operate two trains in the morning from Greenfield to New Haven with stops in Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield, and two trains in the evening returning along the same route from New Haven. The only train traveling north of Springfield now is Amtrak's Vermonter, which runs once a day in each direction.

The Senate budget will now go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House budget, before a conference committee budget is sent to the Governor.

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Ryan Migeed