PEABODY — The push for a Peabody trolley service linking the downtown with the Salem MBTA Commuter Rail Station gained some steam on Beacon Hill this week.
Money to pilot the idea is contained in a $455 million economic recovery bill called the ENDURE Act. If passed, the bill would provide relief to small businesses and make investments in infrastructure, according to a press release from state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem.
Lovely said she was able to secure several amendments in the bill, including $500,0000 "for a downtown trolley, implementation pilot linking Peabody and Salem." The goal is to set up a test run for some sort of trolley or bus service along a 2-mile freight line that runs from Peabody Square to the Salem depot.
"We are not investing a ton of money into this," Lovely said in an interview about the potential trolley service. "This can be done without making a major railway, it's already there."
Supporters of the idea say the trolley would alleviate congestion and make it easier for Peabody residents to get to downtown Salem or to Boston without using a car.
"We ought to be able to increase our transportation options," said Lovely, who said a trolley would allow those living in downtown Peabody and Salem to go back and forth on a frequent service.
Curt Bellavance, Peabody's director of community development, said the money shows that the state is invested in the idea.
In 2018, the city conducted a $50,000 state-funded feasibility study looking at the idea of developing a trolley service between downtown Peabody and the Salem Commuter Rail Station along the existing railroad. This initial study estimated it would take a capital investment of about $35 million to restore passenger service, which ended on the line in 1958.
Last year's study showed that ridership could support the trolley.
Late last year, city officials were seeking $200,000 in a state supplemental budget for an engineering study, which would among other options, explore a dedicated bus lane along the railroad corridor.
Bellavance said because of the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the city was not able to use the funding.
"We are still in the process to see if that's available or not," Bellavance said.
This new funding, if it's approved, would be a different source of money, he said. It would pay to explore a test case to see where and how people are using public transportation before the state and the city invest more money into the program. What form the trolley test might take, whether it would be a bus or an actual trolley, has not been determined.
The idea, Bellavance said, would be to make test runs, do a cost analysis, study where potential ridership might come from and what routes would work best.
"We have to see what's going to work," he said.
With the use of public transportation down due to the pandemic over the need for social distancing, Bellavance said they will have to factor in whether this is a permanent change in how people get around.
Lovely said the money for the pilot study is contained in a bond authorization and "it's not actual dollars." They would have to work with the Baker administration to be able to fund the program.
"It's not actual dollars until the governor authorizes it and he funds it," said Lovely, who credited state Rep. Tom Walsh, D-Peabody, for his push to create the Peabody trolley.