Northern Tier Rail Restoration Project

Upcoming Events:

  • Stay tuned for the posting of the MassDOT draft report on the feasibility of the restoration of passenger service.  In the meantime,  you can help the student research team collect data on road travel to Boston via this survey.  View research team member Kurt Oelsche

Past Events:

Your participation will help move this project forward! To learn how to volunteer on the project during the academic year, receive a stipend to conduct research during the summer or get Winter Study course credit for your participation, complete the project interest form or learn more by emailing Paula Consolini ([email protected]) or visiting CLiA’s Open Office Hours on Thursdays in Paresky Center from 11:30am-1pm.


Welcome to the Northern Tier Rail Restoration (NTier) Project Webpage.  Williams students Elain He ’26 and Christopher Rodriguez ’26, have created this page to help improve public awareness and understanding of the Mass DOT Northern Tier Passenger Rail Project.  The project seeks to restore passenger service on existing tracks between western Massachusetts and Boston, adding stops in communities through to North Adams. [Please note that this is not the official webpage for the MassDOT study, which can be found at: https://www.mass.gov/northern-tier-passenger-rail-study]

This site offers information and analysis about the project, including a list of Frequently Asked Questions. A short summary of the project’s origin segues to historical information and key documents, followed by analysis and stakeholder perspectives.  Analysis of the likely Impact of the Expansion shares research on comparable projects and links to additional resources. The Voices of Support section provides commentary from various elected officials and community leaders in the four westernmost counties.  All view the project favorably, which is not surprising given the longstanding inequities in the distribution of transportation funding in the Commonwealth. 

As the review herein shows, passenger rail restoration along the northern route, a complement to the West-East Project from Albany, New York to Boston, will enhance personal mobility and the appeal of towns and cities on the Northern Tier while having a positive environmental impact.  The project is worthy of public attention and input! 

PROJECT ORIGIN

The rail restoration project began in 2019 with a bill (S.2054), to study the feasibility of the proposed service.  This was sponsored by Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), whose district now includes territory in Franklin, Hampshire, and Worcester counties, and co-sponsored by then-Senator Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield) as well as Reps. Natalie Blais (D-Deerfield), Mindy Domb (D-Amherst), and John Barrett (D-North Adams).  After selecting consulting firms for the study, the work proceeded under the supervision of MassDOT’s Makaela Niles.  In 2022, $256 million was included in the transportation bond issue specifically for western Massachusetts rail service. In June 2023, MassDOT released a preliminary finding that declared the project feasible while estimating its cost at $2.1 billion. The final report is expected in early 2024.

  • History of the Northern Tier Rail

    The Northern Tier Rail, also known as the Pan Am Southern Patriot Corridor, is a joint venture railroad established as a partnership between Norfolk Southern Railway and Pan Am Railways (PAR). The track lies between Albany, N.Y., and the greater Boston area, using rail lines formerly owned by the Fitchburg Railroad and later on the Boston and Maine Railroad.

    After the June 2022 acquisition of PAR by CSX, PAS became independently operated by the Berkshire and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming. It was previously operated by PAR subsidiary Springfield Terminal Railway. Pan Am Southern owns the existing 155-mile freight line (also called the Patriot Corridor) between Mechanicville, New York, and Ayer, Massachusetts.

    Most of the Patriot Corridor, also called the PAS Freight Main Line (FML), is owned and operated by Pan Am Southern Railroad (PAS). The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) owns a 15-mile section of the corridor between Fitchburg Station and Ayer, which carries its commuter rail service on the Fitchburg Line. PAS maintains exclusive freight rights on the MBTA Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line.

    While the Patriot Corridor is now limited to freight trains, it has a history of accommodating passenger rail in the past. The purpose of the Northern Tier Rail Project is to reinstate passenger rail from North Adams to Boston, allowing for a cheaper, more accessible, and environmentally friendly option of transportation.

  • Proposed Stations & Map

    The redevelopment of the Northern Tier Rail will connect Boston to Western Massachusetts. Station stops on the proposed full local service route (Option #4)  include North Station, Porter Square, Fitchburg, Gardner, Athol, Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, and North Adams. To keep up with the most recent information on the Northern Tier Rail and proposed stations, please refer to the MassDOT website. The image referenced below from MassDOT is the proposed "Higher Investment Alternative" including a map of the rail, proposed stations, and estimated travel times for both east and westbound.

    Regional Lawmaker See Possibilities in Northern Tier Passenger Rail / iBerkshires.com - The Berkshires online guide to events, news and Berkshire County community information.

  • Impact of the Restoration

    • Positive Effects
      1. Reliable Transportation
      2. Cost-Effective Transportation
      3. Environmentally Friendly Transportation
      4. Economic Growth of Businesses
      5. Expanded Career/Academic Opportunites
      6. Decreased Relative Distance to/from Urban Cities
    • Reasons to Travel
      1. Work/Academic Related
      2. Visiting family and friends
      3. Day-trips
      4. Extended vacations
      5. Attending games, concerts, or events
      6. Medical Appointments

    The return of passenger rail service from North Adams to Boston would bring numerous benefits by enhancing work commutes, fostering social connections, and facilitating day trips and recreational activities. Moreover, this environmentally friendly mode of transportation would reduce traffic congestion, promote reliability, and stimulate economic growth for businesses along the rail corridor. It would decrease the relative distance between urban cities, spur population growth, and increase academic opportunities for those outside of Boston. The rail would also promote transportation equity by investing in public transport in western Massachusetts. With rising fuel prices, the train would provide an additional, cost-effective method of travel.

    Extending the rail system would address the growing transportation needs of our communities, providing a reliable and efficient mode of travel for residents and visitors alike. Because of traffic congestion, there is a high demand for alternative transportation options. In addition, rail travel is known for its lower carbon emissions compared to other modes of transportation, making it a competitive option for alternative environmentally friendly transportation. Developing a rail system also generates economic opportunities by creating jobs in construction, operations, and maintenance. It attracts businesses and investors, spurring economic growth and revitalizing local economies along the rail corridor. It also enables people to reside in a different town without having to relocate or give up their jobs.

    Timing is crucial in infrastructure projects, and delaying the development of a rail system may result in increased costs. Furthermore, the allocation of transportation funds has often favored metropolitan areas like Boston, leaving other regions in Massachusetts disproportionately underfunded and underserved. This disparity not only perpetuates economic imbalances but also raises questions regarding regional inequity.

    A striking example of this imbalance can be traced back to the "Big Dig," a monumental infrastructure project in Boston that consumed substantial state resources. While the project benefited Boston's transportation network, it also heightened the sense of injustice felt by residents of regions like the Berkshires.

    A broader lens reveals an unsettling trend: the West frequently finds itself on the short end of the stick when it comes to resource allocation. Such inequities translate into limited development opportunities, reduced accessibility, and hindered economic growth for regions like the Berkshires. Addressing this issue isn't just about transportation—it's about rectifying systemic biases perpetuating socio-economic disparities. By prioritizing the needs of underserved regions, we can promote economic vitality, enhance connectivity, and provide equal opportunities for communities that have long been neglected. 

  • Ways to Weigh In

    Provide Feedback

    To ensure that this initiative is successful, gathering support and feedback from the community is crucial. Your feedback is essential in helping to understand the needs and preferences of our community members regarding the passenger rail. Please take a moment to fill out the public feedback form below. The survey is estimated to take about 2 minutes.

    Northern Tier Rail Feedback Survey

    We kindly request you share this survey with your friends, family, and colleagues, encouraging them to participate as well.  Williams students interested in working on the project for Winter Study course credit or as volunteer members of the new North Berkshire Passenger Rail Research Team should complete this interest form.

    Write a Letter of Support to the Governor and State Legislators

    By writing a letter of support, your words can inspire action and motivation for positive change in the greater community. A good approach would be to state your support regarding the Northern Tier Rail project as well as include your reasons for supporting the project and how this project will impact you. Letters can be addressed to Massachusetts State Governor Maura Healey and/or your state representative and state senator.

    Emails to the governor can be sent through the form on the Mass.gov website. The email addresses of district representatives can be searched for at malegislature.gov.

    Learn More!

    Links to other resources and news about the project:

    Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study Overview

    Notes from the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study Public Workshop

  • Voices of Support

    Many key figures have reflected on the importance of the rail and the positive impact it would cause.

    "I believe Northern Tier rail would have a significant, positive impact for the people of Williams and our communities throughout the region. A rail route connecting the north Berkshires to Boston would expand our HR recruitment reach, create flexible living and working opportunities for employees and their families, provide access to further academic and career opportunities for our students, and encourage more Massachusetts residents and visitors to take advantage of the many cultural and business opportunities on this side of the state. In my opinion, few other programs at the state level would have as great or as beneficial an effect."

    — Maud Mandel, Williams College President

     

    The Northern Tier Rail Passenger Rail project would connect the northern Berkshires in important ways with the rest of the Commonwealth. Immediately, it offers additional opportunities for the Berkshires to share our unique brand of art and culture with the rest of the Commonwealth while providing additional economic activity via an environmentally sustainable pathway for transportation.  As one of the largest employers in the area, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is in full support of this endeavor to provide better access to the area for our students and employees and to open up new pathways for recruitment of both.

    — James Birge, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President

     

    "This is an exciting opportunity for the restoration of Northern Tier passenger rail service from North Adams to Boston. The Northern Tier line will transform the economies of communities along the Route 2 Corridor by providing affordable, accessible transportation and enhanced opportunities for tourism, employment, higher education, and housing. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we should move forward now in getting it done."

    — Representative John Barrett III, 1st Berkshire District

     

    "Western Massachusetts needs and deserves a robust public rail infrastructure. Route 2 — or Northern Tier Rail — will be an economic and social game changer from North Adams all the way to Fitchburg and everywhere in between. It will take all of us to make it a reality."

    — State Senator Jo Comerford, Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District

     

    “As a regular user of the Fitchburg line, it is evident that our residents would prefer to commute into Boston using safe, reliable public transportation rather than sitting in traffic on Route 2. The Northern Tier Rail will address the stifling traffic along the Route 2 corridor, promote cleaner modes of transportation, and improve access to recreational and tourism activities in the central and western parts of Massachusetts.”

    — Representative Simon Cataldo (D-Concord)

     

    "Right now there is an ongoing discussion about expanding rail service throughout our Commonwealth and in particular to Western Massachusetts. This is also a special moment because there is a good amount of funding available for investment in rail infrastructure and services. It is important that as these conversations happen and as these funding decisions are made that we continue to advocate for Northern Tier rail service that would potentially connect North Adams and Northern Berkshire County with points east through reestablished passenger rail. Northern Tier rail service has the potential to open up our local economy to new opportunities in economic development, education, and public transportation and I will continue to work alongside my local colleagues in support of this project."

    — State Senator Paul Mark

     

    I’m a proud supporter and advocate for the Northern Tier Rail which will serve a critical component to the sustained economic and housing development of North Central Massachusetts. This project brings not only the promise of a flourishing tourism conduit between eastern, central and western Massachusetts, but with it, the opportunity to foster greater cross-connectivity and investment between our respective regions.

    — Representative Michael Kushmerek, 3rd Worcester

     

    Investment in Western Mass Rail, including the Northern Tier project is a matter of regional equity, economic development and environmental protection. For far too long the Berkshire's transportation needs have been ignored and we are seeing the results in population loss. When we invest in all of Massachusetts, all of Massachusetts benefits.

    — Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, 2nd Berkshire

     

    Williamstown is very excited to see that this important transportation issue is being studied. The town supports the return of rail service to the area as it addresses important transportation equity for our region and would ensure that we receive equitable investment from the state. We are hopeful that this initiative moves forward because we see this as an important economic driver for the town and region.

    — Robert Menicocci, Williamstown Town Manager

     

    Improved transportation into and out of the Berkshires via the Northern Tier Line could have an immense positive impact on our regional economy, communities, and population. It would provide improved visitor access to the region, allow for deeper industry and innovation connections between the Berkshires and Eastern Massachusetts, and could support population growth by improving the transportation and connectivity that skilled workers seek when identifying a place to live, work and play. All of these elements can help to bolster a robust, diverse, and resilient rural economy in the Berkshires and surrounding areas.

    — Ben Lamb, Vice President of Economic Development at 1Berkshire

     

    The Northern Tier rail project could be a significant economic benefit to all of northwestern Massachusetts. Running from Boston through Greenfield to North Adams, the train could open up opportunities for development of businesses and residences in Berkshire and Franklin counties, increasing the vitality of the region. It could serve passengers for business, recreation and cultural destinations at both ends of the state. The rail line is already there in freight service, as well as in passenger service in the eastern third of the track - let's find a way to restore passenger service to connect all of Massachusetts.

    — Andy Hogeland, Williamstown Selectman

     

  • Contact

    For questions, comments, or concerns, please email the Center for Learning in Action at [email protected].

    More information can be found on the MassDOT website.

Photos by Christopher Rodriguez