This column was published in Commonwealth Magazine.
By Tim Murray
THROUGHOUT MY CAREER in both public office and private industry, I’ve worked alongside like-minded New Englanders to help create economic opportunity throughout our region. This is true of my tenure as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, my terms as mayor and city council member in Worcester, and in my current role as president/CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In that regard, we have transformed our city into a modern, future-ready community and region. Progress like what we’ve seen here in Worcester doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of committed, focused people pulling in the same direction. Large-scale progress also requires serious capital investment, whether you’re talking about Worcester, the entire state, or all of New England.
Attracting investment is key to a region’s ability to grow. During my three terms as mayor, Worcester was home to around $1 billion in new economic development projects, and that capital has helped to fuel the progress we’ve seen in recent years. Cultivating that kind of private investment is incredibly important. I can say from firsthand experience that it’s also challenging.
That’s why it’s so important that, when a potentially beneficial project surfaces, we are decisive in voicing our support and doing what we can to capitalize on the opportunity in hopes of making our community an even better place to live and work.That’s what’s at hand with the proposed merger of CSX, one of seven so-called Class I railroads in North America, with Pan Am Railways, a regional railroad that’s been operating in New England for many years.
This merger would bring the substantial investment capital, operational expertise, and innovation prowess of one of the best railroad operators in the business into our back yard. That promises to be an economic boon for New England, and it’s great news for companies that rely on freight rail and the passenger rail network alike.
If approved, CSX has indicated they would take extensive steps to improve Pan Am’s existing infrastructure and operations, driving drastic improvements to the broader regional railroad network.
For example, CSX plans to upgrade Pan Am’s aging rail lines to support larger loads and higher speeds, replacing older, less efficient locomotives with newer, more powerful models that also run cleaner, thereby benefiting our environment. Additionally, CSX will add new technology capabilities such as positive train control, which help to remove human error from the equation and better ensure that freight and passengers alike arrive safely and on time. All of these upgrades will further benefit the environment by helping to take additional trucks off of our highways, which has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75 percent.
I believe in this project on its merits – it represents yet another step our region can take to continue to power our way into the future. But I also support this project because I have confidence in CSX. It’s a good company run by smart people that has proven itself willing to think creatively and collaboratively so freight rail and passenger rail can co-exist and benefit from one another. As lieutenant governor, I led the state team that acquired strategic track and property rights from CSX across Massachusetts for commuter rail, which also resulted in a $100 million investment by CSX in their intermodal terminal here in Worcester. That partnership between the Commonwealth and CSX was a good deal for our community, bringing improved service and more commuter trains – good for shippers and passengers alike, and creating good jobs.
CSX demonstrated throughout the process that they’re a good corporate citizen that’s committed to investing in and improving its network.
Railroads are deeply entwined in our way of life in New England, whether it’s local companies moving goods to market or passengers traveling within the region. I believe strongly that the proposed CSX/Pan Am merger will make our rail system stronger, bringing improved service not just to freight rail but passenger rail as well.
Attracting investment is hard work. The CSX merger will strengthen the economy and lead to needed investment in our regional rail infrastructure. Moreover, CSX is a proven freight rail operator and their expanded presence will create more jobs in the New England region.
Timothy P. Murray is the president and CEO of the Greater Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.