High-speed rail from Springfield to Boston might be inching forward.
The idea of linking the cities — about 90 miles apart — has been a favorite of Springfield-area politicians in recent years. Now, the state Department of Transportation says it’s ready to take a closer look.
It’s an incremental step, but a somewhat surprising one, given that Governor Charlie Baker in 2016 vetoed a study to determine whether the project was realistic. The study proposal resurfaced last year but was shelved by lawmakers.
This week, the state’s transportation department released a draft of its broad plan for its railroads, as required by the federal government every few years. The plan listed projects it considers priorities, such as commuter rail service to New Bedford and Fall River and the expansion of South Station. Other less likely projects, including rail service to Montreal, were removed from consideration.
The Boston to Springfield link, known as East-West rail, fell in the middle, not listed as a priority but deemed worthy of a study. The state’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, said the study could begin later this year.
There is already one train a day that runs between Springfield and Boston as part of an Amtrak route to Chicago. But the state’s rail plan noted several obstacles to more frequent service: the state does not own the tracks west of Worcester, South Station is already quite crowded, and additional tracks would probably be needed along the Worcester/Framingham commuter line.
State senator Eric Lesser, one of the proposal’s chief proponents, said the benefits would outweigh the costs by connecting low-cost housing in the Springfield area to Boston’s booming economy.
“For several decades now we’ve seen a brain drain,” said Lesser, of Longmeadow. “We need to have some big visionary changes.”
State officials also said they hope to implement rail service between Springfield and Greenfield to build off Connecticut’s forthcoming connection between New Haven and Springfield. The Connecticut-Springfield service is expected to launch this spring.
Separately, the transportation department is considering a seasonal rail link between New York City and the Berkshires, with a report on the project due to the Legislature in March.