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Betsy’s Corner: Reconnecting via Railways

Produced by “Spirit of Springfield,” designed by Ed Pessolano, photo taken by Paul H. Schnaittacher.

I enjoy hearing the train whistle as the Amtrak train heads north or south through Longmeadow. Growing up near New York City, the trains did not make that old-fashioned sound. Trains traveled on the local Westchester tracks very often, and you could catch a train to NYC every 25 minutes. Commuters lived near the towns that had regular service, so they could get to work on time. Driving was always a problem with so much traffic and parking issues. Trains were the best way to connect with Manhattan.

When we came to Western Massachusetts two decades ago, I had assumed that I could take a train to Boston whenever I wanted. It was not so. Certainly high-speed rail would come to our region sooner or later, I thought! Well, the possibility of connection via tracks to Boston and points east is becoming a possibility. Eric Lesser and other local advocates are in the news discussing the importance of getting our tracks updated and improved. We need a speedy way of getting to Boston! The recent delay last Friday, July 7, when Lesser announced on Facebook that his proposal to study east-west rail was not on the budget was a surprising disappointment! Such a lack of vision on our Boston leaders!

Union Station in downtown Springfield just reopened with much fanfare! A gala celebration was held on Saturday, June 24 and tours of the newly-restored and refurbished station followed. I hope to visit soon to see all the exciting changes. Many of us hope that trains to Boston will be a regularly scheduled reality before we become Senior Citizens. It’s not just a dream – it is a much-needed necessity!

It is incredible to learn that as many as 97 trains went through our Union Station in the 1920s. That certainly dwindled, as the car became the desired mode of transport and the highways improved in the 1940s-1960s. By the 1970s train travel was almost extinct around here. Think of all the new job opportunities within our state we could reach with an expanded railroad service! North-South service has improved from Springfield to Northampton through Vermont, and the ridership is up! Better connectivity to Hartford, New Haven and beyond will be a reality in the coming year. I find it ironic that 150 years ago a person in Springfield could ride a train west to Albany or east to Boston quite easily.

From my postcard collection. Inherited from my grandfather, born and raised in Connecticut, named Carroll Alton Means.

If you follow news, you will see many updates on the railroad development in our state. Senator Lesser recently had a whistle stop tour, traveling west from Boston to Palmer, and then to Springfield. Trains in the Valley, Rail News Roundup, and other catchy titles explain the needs and the hurdles we must still jump over.

The problem is this: the tracks from Springfield to Worcester are not up to par. We need to expand the tracks and greatly improve the quality of the tracks before high-speed trains can handle travel on a daily or even hourly basis.

I welcome the possibility of getting to Boston without the headaches of traffic on the Mass Pike. The tolls may be gone, but the amount of drivers using cellphones and driving recklessly has increased. Sometimes I feel like I am taking my life in my hands just traveling on local roads!

Let’s continue to keep up with the high-speed rail news and make sure your local state representatives know that you want a better connection to Boston! Let’s make history repeat itself! It’s a shame to think we used to be able to travel on tracks to Boston easier a century ago, than we can today. Keep your fingers crossed that a bus ride to Boston isn’t the only way to get there on “Mass Transit” – I pray the Boston lawmakers don’t derail us again.

– Article by Betsy Huber Port. This is an opinion piece, and the views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Longmeadow News or its staff. Opposing viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged. Email pressreleases@thelongmeadownews.com for more information.