Healey names director for east-west rail

Passengers get off an Amtrak train in Northampton last December. Gov. Maura Healey has appointed Andrew Koziol, a UMass Amherst graduate, as the first  West-East Rail director within the Department of Transportation’s Rail & Transit Division.

Passengers get off an Amtrak train in Northampton last December. Gov. Maura Healey has appointed Andrew Koziol, a UMass Amherst graduate, as the first West-East Rail director within the Department of Transportation’s Rail & Transit Division. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By James Pentland

Staff Writer

Published: 02-09-2024 5:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The dream of east-west rail service in Massachusetts came a step closer to reality this week with the appointment of a director for the project.

Gov. Maura Healey’s office announced Tuesday that Andy Koziol, currently the state’s rail and transit director, will head up the West-East Rail project, which would extend passenger rail service from Boston to Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield.

As the West-East Rail director within the Department of Transportation’s Rail & Transit Division, Koziol will oversee and coordinate all projects in support of West-East Rail and the Compass Rail program.

He will be responsible for implementing federal grants, such as the CRISI awards received for the Inland Route and Springfield Union Station area improvements, and lead the pursuit of additional federal resources to advance the effort to expand passenger rail service.

“We have never been closer to making West-East Rail a reality,” Healey said in a statement. “(Koziol) will be a strong leader for West-East Rail and for the people of central and western Massachusetts who are eager to see this vision come to life.”

Through a recent $108 million federal grant, MassDOT is undertaking the necessary trackwork to enable two daily Amtrak round trips between Boston and New Haven, with a stop in Springfield, dubbed the Inland Route.

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The Boston & Albany Corridor has also been accepted into the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor ID Program, which will lay the necessary groundwork to expand passenger rail operations west of Springfield to Pittsfield and beyond.

“The importance of West-East Rail cannot be overstated,” Koziol said.

In her first budget, Healey worked with the Legislature to secure funding for staff support for West-East Rail, including creating the director position. The administration also included $12 million for the Palmer and Pittsfield rail projects.

Koziol, a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, joined MassDOT’s Rail & Transit Division as director of rail and transit in June 2023 with a goal to advance passenger rail initiatives and improve transportation options across Massachusetts. He has over 15 years of transportation planning experience centered on commuter rail and intercity rail planning.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, he holds an undergraduate degree from UMass and a master’s degree in planning from Rutgers University.

“Andy’s competence, experience and passion for transportation are exactly what we need in this crucial moment for our state’s infrastructure,” said Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

“West-East Rail will be transformational for Massachusetts. It will help better connect our rural communities to economic opportunities, provide additional seamless travel routes by train, and encourage more travelers to opt for public transportation.”

West-East Rail is an integral component of Compass Rail, the state’s overall vision for intercity passenger rail services. Compass Rail includes existing north-south services along the Knowledge Corridor in western Massachusetts as well as proposed west-east services between Boston and Albany, New York.

Rail advocates were enthusiastic about Koziol’s appointment.

“This announcement is a significant milestone. The appointment of a dedicated director for MassDOT’s Compass Rail is a pivotal step forward in our journey toward realizing West-East Rail,” said Trains in the Valley co-founder Ben Heckscher.

Kimberly Robinson, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, agreed. “This is a huge step forward in a project that has been a long time coming,” Robinson said. “Transportation infrastructure serves as the bedrock to thoughtful planning and West-East Rail can be an anchor for our local economy.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal also praised the Healey administration’s commitment to expanded rail service.

“With the $108 million CRISI grant that I announced with Governor Healey at Springfield Union Station in September, the Commonwealth is well positioned to capitalize on an opportunity that will not avail itself again,” Neal said in a statement. “Fortunately for Massachusetts, we have a governor who is meeting the moment by taking significant steps to help bring this project to fruition.”

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.