State Rail Plan Update – Meeting Nov 9th

Important public meeting on Wednesday, November 9th at 7 p.m. in Springfield.

This is your chance to speak out and speak up for,

Additional passenger rail service to/from Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke

Service on the Boston–Springfield–New Haven rail corridor, as detailed in the recently completed Northern New England Rail Study

All parties with an interest in the future plans for passenger and freight rail service in our region are encouraged to attend this meeting and offer their comments and input to the State Rail Plan Update.

This is the only planned public meeting in Western Mass. before the updated plan is finalized, and the next update to the rail plan will likely not occur before 2021.




Please note:
The Draft 2016 State Rail Plan Update has not been yet been posted on MassDOT’s website. As soon as this document becomes available we will share a link to it.

Note also that we expect that there will be an opportunity for written comment to be submitted as part of the outreach effort. As soon as these details are available they will be shared.

From what we’ve been told, the meeting will probably end at about 8:30 p.m.


Further reading

Official State Rail Plan webpage (MassDOT)

2010 State Rail Plan Documents (MassDOT)

49 CFR 266.15 – Requirements for State Rail Plan

State Rail Plan Guidance (Federal Railroad Administration)



Post last updated: November 8, 2016

Springfield Union Station – Coming Along

On Monday October 24th we took a tour of the soon-to-reopen Union Station building in Springfield to have a look at the progress to date.

The historic building, which has been vacant for many years, will start to return to service in January 2017 — as an intermodal rail and bus station.

As the images below show, a lot of progress has been made — but clearly, a lot of detail work still has to take place over the next few months before the historic station building can re-open to the public.

Thanks are due to Christopher Moskal, the Executive Director of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, who led us on this tour.


Looking East | the west side of the terminal building on a blustery October day


Looking East |a few of the new intercity bus bays (on the right)


Some of the bays that will be used by Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s (PVTA) buses


The north side of the new parking garage (on the right)
and some of the PVTA buses bays (on the left)


A new covered walking path along the south side of the new parking garage (the path connects Main Street to the terminal building)


A view of the main concourse inside the terminal building


Looking south, from the second floor


The main concourse and the passageway under the tracks | ca. 1970s
By Ed Malley | The Republican


Unfinished space on the second floor — waiting to be fitted out for new office tenants


Additional unfinished space on the second floor


Unfinished rentable space on the main floor


On the main floor | the future home of three retail shops


Looking south | into the large passageway that leads under the tracks and to Lyman Street


Looking north | from the passageway, back towards the main concourse
(Note the large set of steel beams supporting the railroad tracks above)


An unfinished stairway leading to Platform C


Please note:
Due to the limited amount of time that was available for this tour we were unable to spend any time reviewing the current platform situation at track level. We will review this topic in a future posting.



Further reading

Springfield Union Station (Trains in the Valley)

Construction of Northampton Underpass Starts

Work on the much talked about, and long-delayed, bike/pedestrian underpass in Northampton finally got underway when the contractor, Northern Construction Service of Palmer, mobilized its forces and equipment at the site last week.

Here are a few images from the area of the underpass work site from last Saturday —


First, a little history —

On the south of the Walgreens property on King Street there is a concrete path (shown above) that runs perpendicular to railroad tracks.

This path — which at the moment dead-ends at the edge of the property — was designed as a bike path back in 2007 when the Walgreens was built.

The original plan (shown below) even called for the installation of a “bike path ends” sign near the tracks, since it was apparently clear even then that it would be some time before the railroad underpass was built.


Walgreens Site Plan w/bike path shown | July 6, 2007
(Source: Public File Cabinet | City of Northampton)

Note that all of the existing bike paths in the area of the underpass, including the Walgreens path, will be connected once the underpass project is complete in 2017.


Northampton, Ma. | behind Walgreens | looking south

Fast forward nine years.

Here we have a view of the site where the long-delayed underpass will finally be built.

Note the markers that have been placed in the ground by surveyors working on the project.



This image shows markings on the ground (in orange) that would appear to indicate the location of where the actual underpass will be sited.



Shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon a set of triangular color light signals along the rail line lite up. The signal indication gives the hint that the northbound Vermonter was approaching Northampton.

The next signal was the sound of two short blasts from the engine’s horn as the train pulled out of the station.



At about 4:05 p.m. Amtrak’s Vermonter came around the curve to the  south and posed for this nice image.

Actually, the train was traveling at its maximum authorized speed of 30 m.p.h. — for this section of track — when it passed the work site.

Part of the reason the speed is limited to 30 m.p.h. here is because the jointed rail on this stretch of track has not yet been replaced with newer rail.

The jointed rail at this location will be replaced with new continuous welded rail (which can be seen laying in the weeds in this image) once the underpass is constructed.



On the rear of the train was a surprise guest — a private rail car.

This car — known as the Yerba Buena — is owned and operated by the firm Rail Ventures. It is one of about 200 private rail cars in operation in the U.S., many of which are available for private excursions.


Further reading

Northampton Underpass

The American Association of Private Rail Car Owners

Privately-Owned Rail Cars (Amtrak)

Additional Parking in Greenfield – coming soon

Greenfield, Ma. | Olver Transit Center | October 15, 2016

The Franklin Regional Transit Authority is currently working to add 24 new short-term spaces to the parking lot at the Olver Transit Center in Greenfield — as shown in the image above. The new parking spaces will be in addition to the existing 15 short-term spaces.

The City of Greenfield has applied for a MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant to complete the funding for the construction of a new multi-level parking structure on Olive Street — across from the transit center and within walking distance of the new Franklin County Courthouse. The proposed 5 level, 4-story open parking structure will contain a total of 358 parking spaces. If awarded a grant, construction of the parking garage is expected to begin in the spring of 2017.


Further reading

“More parking coming to transit center”
By Avia Luttrell | The Recorder | May 16, 2016

Infrastructure – Greenfield

Fleeting Summer



This image of a watercolor painting by the well-known artist Gil Reid was featured in a posting on Amtrak’s History blog the other day.

The posting — “A Closer Look: Fleeting Summer” — looks back at the history of Amtrak’s Montrealer service, which operated overnight between Washington and Montreal until 1995.

The painting shows the southbound Montrealer crossing the historic 3,800-foot-long East Alburg Trestle on Lake Champlain in northwestern Vermont.

Yes, it has been a long time since an Amtrak train crossed this trestle.

The good news is that plans are afoot to extend Amtrak’s Vermonter to Montreal — over this trestle.

Why is the Southbound Vermonter always late?

In this posting, we’ll look at the number one issue on Trains in the Valley’s list of short-term advocacy issues —

the simple fact that the southbound Vermonter is departing late virtually every day from every station in the Pioneer Valley.


Passengers waiting for the late Southbound Vermonter Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2015
Passengers waiting for the late southbound Vermonter (Train 55)
Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2016 | 2.36 p.m.


No one likes to wait for a late train, especially when they have to wait on an open platform — like we have in Greenfield, Holyoke, and Northampton — when it is hot or cold outside.

Many of the passengers standing on the platform shown above have probably been waiting for almost an hour for their train to arrive. (The Vermonter was reported to be already 35 minutes late when this image was taken last Friday.)


So what’s going on?

The late departure from stops in the Pioneer Valley is caused, for the most part, by a whole set of slow orders that has been issued for sections of the track on the New England Central Railroad’s main line in Vermont.

This essentially means that the train is being severely delayed — in Vermont.

As just one example of a slow order, we understand that there are currently three slow orders in place that require the Vermonter to reduce its speed to just 10 m.p.h. due to rocky outcrops near the tracks. These orders were issued soon after a fallen piece of rock caused a derailment in October 2015.

Generally speaking, temporary slow orders are also often issued after maintenance is performed on the tracks as well as during periods of high temperatures.


So what is being done to resolve this problem?

Last week, out of concern that the problem was getting worse rather than better, I drove to Montpelier, Vt. to attend the quarterly meeting of the Vermont Rail Council.

During the Public Comments section of the meeting, I made a brief presentation during which I provided the Council with this chart illustrating the extent of the problem —

Vermonter - data - SB Delays - 16 Aug 2016


A twenty-minute discussion ensued.

It was suggested during the meeting that if the slow orders cannot be resolved in the short term then consideration may be given towards adjusting the Vermonter’s schedule — possibly when the timetable is changed in October 2016.

The chairman of the Rail Council — who happens to be the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) — requested that Amtrak, NECR, and VTrans meet to review all of the slow orders on the NECR line and agree to a plan of action to resolve this ongoing problem. He also requested that NECR and Amtrak present to the Rail Council at the next meeting on what has been achieved to eliminate slow orders of the line.

It was a long drive up and back to Montpelier to attend the meeting. However, I left there with the impression that the Vermont Rail Council and VTrans are indeed concerned about this problem — and that the Vermont Agency of Transportation is going to work hard with Amtrak and NECR to resolve it. Let’s wait and see.


Ben Heckscher
Co-founder, Trains in the Valley


Amtrak Train 55 — now 42 minutes late — ready for departure Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2015
Amtrak Train 55 — now 42 minutes late — ready for departure
Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2016 | 2.43 p.m.


Update — August 26, 2016

We’ve been asked, “what about the northbound train? Isn’t it also late?”

The northbound Vermonter has been departing late from stops in the Pioneer Valley on a fairly consistent basis for the past few months. Some of the departure delays are due to the ongoing construction on Amtrak’s tracks between New Haven and Springfield  — and some of the delays are due to the late southbound Vermonter. (The northbound train normally cannot depart Springfield until the southbound train has arrived in Springfield since the Connecticut River Line is, for the most part, a single track.)

The timekeeping of the northbound train while traveling through Vermont has been affected by the same slow orders on the NECR main line that have been affecting the southbound train.


Update — November 22, 2016

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has announced its intention to request a temporary timetable change for the Vermonter due to slow orders along the New England Central main line in Vermont. Once the schedule is adjusted it is anticipated that there will be a noticeable improvement in the on-time performance of the train at station stops along the Vermonter’s route, in particular in Massachusetts and Vermont.

As soon as the new schedule is posted it will be made available on this website.


See also

Vermonter Performance
A collection of performance metrics for Amtrak’s Vermonter service.


Further Reading

Minutes of Meeting
Vermont Rail Council
August 17, 2016



Post last updated: November 22, 2016