The Importance of Buses

PVTA Route 33 bus | Amherst, Ma. | 2011
By Newflyer504 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] | via Wikimedia Commons
On Wednesday, July 19th, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Advisory Board will meet to considering significant cuts to the PVTA route network in Hampden and Hampshire counties.

The possible cuts in service (detailed below) are driven by the need to address an operating budget deficit at the PVTA of up to $1.2 million for the coming fiscal year.

Source: http://www.pvta.com/media/pdfs/PVTA%20FY18%20Deficit%20table%2005-19-17.pdf

 

We can’t speak to the details of the PVTA’s FY2018 operating budget but we can speak to the importance of the overall service provided by the PVTA in our region.

Source: http://www.pvta.com/media/pdfs/SystemMap2017.pdf

 

The PVTA is the largest regional transit authority in the commonwealth. During the last fiscal year their fixed-route network carried in excess of 12 million passengers.

Simply put — the services provides by the PVTA are absolutely critical to our region.

The PVTA’s fixed-bus network network of fixed-buses

• are often the only transport option for people who don’t drive, can’t drive, or have disabilities

• are flexible, fast, green and clean

• play an important role in social cohesion, helping people, especially those on low incomes, access education, work and healthcare

• play a crucial and expanding role in connecting different modes of transit (in particular passenger rail)

And with minimal investment, new routes – across town or the region – can be launched.

 

In particular, we are naturally very concerned about the possible elimination of M40 express route between UMass Amherst and Northampton since we know that there are aware of many UMass students who use this bus to travel to/from the train station in Northampton.

We would encourage the PVTA Advisory Board to find other ways to cut costs and enhance their passenger revenue streams before cutting major routes.

 

On a more positive note it must be mentioned that Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) has no plans to cut any of their major routes and instead will be adding two new routes starting in September.

Source: http://frta.org/wp-content/uploads/FRTA_Summary_of_Fixed_Route_Changes_09_05_2017.pdf

Unfortunately though the FRTA fixed-network continues to be one of the only two regional transit authorities in the commonwealth that do not provide service on Saturday, Sundays and holidays – despite the continued efforts of the advocacy group Transportation Justice for Franklin County Mass.

 

Just to say it one more time – buses are important for the Pioneer Valley.

Next time you take the train ask yourself, “can I take the bus to the station instead of a car?” Chances are, the answer is yes.

 

> Updated on July 20, 2017 at 8 a.m. <

“The PVTA Advisory board voted Wednesday to eliminate or cut bus service on 20 routes, saving $838,000 in the coming year on the way toward closing a $1.38 million gap in its total budget of $48.21 million.”

A full news report from the meeting can be found on this link:

“PVTA approves bus service cuts, spares some routes while decrying state budget that forced its hand”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | July 19, 2017

 

 


Further Reading

“Riders troubled by PVTA’s proposed service reductions”
By Rebecca Mullen | Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 9, 2017

“Colleges balk at bus service reductions”
By Rebecca Mullen | Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 12, 2017

“PVTA bus service loses out in state budget”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | July 12, 2017

Rail News Roundup

 

The latest regional rail news from Trains In The Valley

Today’s Reports

• Union Station is Open!

• Senator Eric Lesser’s “Rally4Rail” Whistle Stop Tour

• Democratic Party Platform Includes Support for East-West Rail

• Strong Vermonter Ridership in Northampton Reported

• Design for Expanded Northampton Station Platform Released

• Vermonter Extension to Montreal Takes Another Step Forward

• New Rail Dropped along the Conn River Line

• Track Washout in Vermont Affects Vermonter Service

 



Union Station is Open!

Springfield Union Station re-opened to the public on Sunday morning June 25th.

Main waiting room | Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

The first Amtrak passengers in over forty years to enter though the main waiting room — captured in the image above — were spotted in the building shortly after it was opened at 10 a.m.

 

Public Open House at Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

An open house was held from 10 a.m until 3 p.m. for the public and then at 4:30 p.m. the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority moved the hub for their bus operations in Springfield to the station.

(Yes, that is the Cat in the Hat in the middle of the picture.)

 

Trains In The Valley & Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop at the Open House
Union Station | Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

Trains In The Valley and the advocacy group Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop shared a table at the open house.

We talked with people all day long about the rail service in our region and we thank everyone who stopped by to say hello.

 

Union Station | view from the parking garage roof | looking East
Springfield, Ma. | June 26, 2017

 

Bronze rededication plaque at Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

Further Reading

“Union Station grand opening honors Springfield history”
By Elizabeth Roman | The Republican | June 25, 2017

Video | “Springfield’s restored Union Station filled with history”
By Kait Walsh | WWLP-22News | June 24, 2017

2017 Union Station Open House (48 images)
Flickr album | Spirit of Springfield | June 25, 2017

Infrastructure | Springfield Union Station
Trains in the Valley

 


Senator Eric Lesser’s “Rally4Rail” Whistle Stop Tour

On Monday, June 19, 2017, State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) embarked on a “whistle stop” tour across the state to make the case for expanded East-West passenger rail service.

Making stops in — Boston, Framingham, Worcester, Palmer, and Springfield — Lesser spoke of the benefits to all of making this rail connection.

Focus Springfield Community Television joined the senator and his staff for the tour and recorded each of the public events.

Credit:
Focus Springfield Community Television: Stephen Cary, Executive Producer | Brendon Holland, Producer | Josue Vazquez, Editor

Further Reading

“State Sen. Eric Lesser rallies for high-speed rail study at Springfield’s Union Station, last stop of day-long tour”
By Brian Steele | The Republican | June 19, 2017

 


Democratic Party Platform Includes Support for East-West Rail

The 2017 Massachusetts Democratic Party platform now includes support for East-West rail service between Springfield, Worcester, and Boston.

The new wording, quoted below, was adopted at the quadrennial platform convention that was held in Worcester on June 3, 2017.

“Investment in transportation infrastructure that links communities to each other and to jobs across the Commonwealth, including: increasing the expansion of capacity and reach of the MBTA, including the Green Line Expansion; the construction of the North-South Rail Link to unify north-side and south-side commuter rail systems and to extend the Northeast Corridor; building high speed rail along the East/West route between Springfield, Worcester, and Boston; and construction of the South Coast Rail Project.”

 


Strong Vermonter Ridership in Northampton Reported

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on June 23, 2017 the follow news regarding passenger rail service in the city.

• Northampton station has become the 3rd leading station for passenger traffic on the Amtrak Vermonter line since rail service resumed in the city on December 29, 2014

• Northampton ridership has increased to over 18,000 people annually which is 20% of the Vermonter’s total rail ridership of 88,006.

• Travel between Northampton and New York’s Penn Station is the leading travel “pair” for passenger arrivals and departures.

• Unofficial ridership data for April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2017 shows that Northampton ridership is up 20% with 15,781 passengers in 2016 to 18,980 for 2017.

• The 2009 HDR Knowledge Corridor Study projected that realignment of the Vermonter to its original CT River corridor would result in 28 riders per day in Northampton. In 2015, Northampton station averaged 44 riders per day and in 2016 that increased to 50 riders a day.

Further Reading

“Northampton’s popularity among rail riders boosts push for more service”
By Amandra Drane | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 26, 2017

Vermonter Performance | Ridership
Trains in the Valley

 


Design for Expanded Northampton Station Platform Released

It has been announced that the passenger station platform in Northampton will be be expanded to a length of 120-feet by the end of the year.

Architectural rendering of planned expanded rail platform
Northampton, Ma. | June 2017

The expanded station platform will allow for two pairs of passenger car doors to be opened on the platform, which would basically double the speed of boarding (and deboarding) passengers in Northampton.

The platform expansion project will go out to bid soon and if all goes well the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

Further Reading

Infrastructure | Northampton
Trains in the Valley

 


Vermonter Extension to Montreal Takes Another Step Forward

On June 21, 2017 the House of Commons of Canada adopted Bill C-23, the “Preclearance Act, 2016″, which among other things would allow for establishment of a preclearance facility in Central Station in Montreal. The passage of this bill is is one of the many things that must happen before Amtrak’s Vermonter service is extended to north to Montreal.

The bill has been sent to the Senate of Canada, where it will sit until the Senate returns to session on September 19, 2017.

Further Reading

Vermonter Extension to Montreal
Trains in the Valley

 


New Rail Dropped along the Conn River Line

New pieces of continuously welded rail have been laid along portions of the MassDOT owned Connecticut River Main Line over the past two weeks.

Connecticut River Main Line | looking North
Keets Road crossing | Deerfield, Ma. | June 26, 2017

In the image above, new rail has been dropped next to the so-called Deerfield Siding. Presumably this siding will be rebuilt, with new ballast, ties and new rail, in the near future.

 


Track Washout in Vermont Affects Vermonter Service

> Updated on July 5, 2017 at 4 p.m. <

Amtrak’s Vermonter was temporary replaced with bus service between stations north of Springfield, Ma. from Sunday, July 2nd through to the morning of Wednesday, July 5th.

WCAX in Burlington reported that about 800 feet of New England Central Railroad’s track in West Hartford, Vt. had been “compromised” after heavy rain on Saturday, July 1st caused an embankment to become unstable from the saturated ground.

Amtrak service was restored when the northbound Vermonter (Train 56) departed Springfield on Wednesday afternoon, July 5th. It is expected that the Vermonter will operate normally in both directions tomorrow.

Further Reading

“Vermont Amtrak passengers bussed, rail track unstable”
By WCAX News | July 2, 2017

“Amtrak Service Restored in Hartford”
By WCAX News | July 5, 2017

Rail News Roundup

 

There’s a lot happening currently so we thought we should pause for a moment to review a few of the major news stories and highlight whats on tap for the coming week.

 

Recent Regional Rail News

“Plans revealed for $32 million transformation of Springfield’s Paramount Theater and Massasoit Block into boutique hotel”
By Peter Goonan | The Republican | June 15, 2017

$32 million redevelopment of the historic Massasoit Block and Paramount Theater on Main Street, just two blocks from Springfield Union Station.

This is very big news for Springfield, and the redevelopment of the area near Union Station.

 

 

“Canada-U.S. preclearance bill finally moves ahead, but privacy concerns mount over Trump’s ‘extreme vetting’
By Marie-Danielle Smith | National Post | June 15, 2017

Montreal Central Station / Pascal Normand
Montréal Central Station / Pascal Normand

The Canadian bill, which among other things, would allow for the establishment of a preclearance facility at Montreal Central Station.

With some luck the bill will be approved by Parliament this summer so that the long discussed plan to extend the Vermonter to Montreal can move forward.

Further Reading | Vermonter Extension to Montreal

 

“Track laid at CRRC subway car factory in Springfield”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | June 16, 2017

Newly laid track at the CRRC factory in Springfield, Ma.
Dave Roback/ The Republican

Continued progress at the CRRC rail factory in Springfield.

“At 204,000 square feet, the $95 million factory at the old Westinghouse site in East Springfield is the largest industrial investment in greater Springfield in generations. The factory building is about 300 by 700 feet, with room inside for three and a half football fields.”

“CRRC, also known as China Railway Rolling Stock Corp., plans a grand opening celebration at the plant in October or early November, with production on new MBTA subway cars to begin early in 2018.”

 


Upcoming Events

Monday, June 19th

Senator Eric Lesser travels from Boston to Springfield, with stops in Framingham, Worcester, Palmer and Springfield, on a ‘whistle-stop’ tour to promote expanded East-West passenger rail service.

Here’s a summary of Monday’s westbound-only schedule.

9:00 am in Boston – Press conference with Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and Sen. Joe Boncore

11:00 am in Framingham – Press conference at Framingham MBTA commuter rail station with Sen. Karen Spilka and local elected officials to discuss the regional and state-wide importance of modern rail infrastructure and concerns about the Framingham at-grade rail crossing.

12:30 pm in Worcester – Meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler and the Editorial Board of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette to discuss how expansion of MBTA rail service to Worcester has transformed the city.

3:30 pm in Palmer – “Rally for Rail | Palmer” event and meeting with Sen. Anne Gobi and local business leaders at Palmer’s Steaming Tender Restaurant to discuss Transit Oriented Development opportunities for the town and region.

5:30 pm in Springfield – “Rally for Rail | Springfield” event at Springfield Union Station hosted by Sen. Lesser and other local elected officials. (You can park for free inside the new Union Station parking garage.)

The rallies in Palmer and Springfield are open to the public and we would encourage people to attend.

 

Tuesday, June 20th | 6 pm – 7:45 pm

A special evening program at Sixteen Acres Branch Library, 1187 Parker St, Springfield, on the long-awaited grand reopening of the Springfield Union Station.

 

Sunday – June 25th | 12 Noon to 2 pm

Official Public Open House for Springfield Union Station

Activities include:

• Guided tours by the designers of the new murals in the station

• “Saving Union Station” Book Signing

• Model Train Exhibit by Amherst Rail Society

• Amtrak Safety Display

• Antique Cars and Bus Displays, including historic Peter Pan buses from the past

• Little Hands on the Move – Explore the city streets and landmarks of the Springfield Cultural District using wooden cars and motorcycles on a giant carpeted map.

• Early Transportation Please Touch Table – Put on your white curator gloves and touch car parts from a century ago.

• Marble Run – Use plastic, wood, recycled, and even illuminated materials to create twists and turns to see how far you can get your marbles to roll.

• Make & Take: Union Station Themed Buttons – Color a train, bus or Union Station Grand Opening logo then have it made into a wearable button.

• Appearance by the Cat in the Hat – Meet and greet with the Cat from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

• Appearance by Springfield Thunderbirds “Boomer”

• WMAS FM

• Cupcakes and other sweets for sale

• Springfield Water Department Hydration Station

And yes, Trains in the Valley will be at this event with its own table. Please stop by and say hello!

 

Sunday – June 25th | 4:30 pm

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) shifts its regional bus hub to Springfield Union Station.

Details can be found on this link to the PVTA website.

 

Please follow our page on Facebook for the latest news and information | Facebook: Trains in the Valley

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Construction of the bike/pedestrian underpass in Northampton is moving forward, after a pause during the winter months.

During the past few weeks, MassDOT’s contractors have constructed a new section of rail line above the completed portion of the underpass. The new section of track was then cut in to the main line and the temporary shoofly track, that had been in place since late 2016, was removed.

The prime contractor, Northern Construction Services, has now commenced excavation work on the west side of rail line.

A few recent images of the active work site are shown below.

 

The eastern entrance to the new bicycle/pedestrian underpass
Northampton, Ma. | Woodmont Rd – looking West | May 14, 2017

 

The western entrance to the new bicycle/pedestrian underpass
Northampton, Ma. | Woodmont Rd – looking East | May 16, 2017

The image above shows the area that has recently been excavated on the west side of the active rail line. Newly constructed concrete forms (near the entrance to the underpass) can be seen.

Note the steel I-beam that runs through the center of the image. Apparently, the sole purpose of this I-beam is to support the fiber optic cable that runs along the railroad right of way.

 

Northampton, Ma. | Behind Walgreens – looking South | May 14, 2017

 


See also

Northampton Underpass

 

Recent website updates and additions

Safety > Railroad Crossing Safety (NEW PAGE)
A new page on the website which covers the issue of highway-rail crossing safety in the Pioneer Valley.

Passenger Rail > Vermonter Performance
The On-time Performance & Departure Delay spreadsheet for the Vermonter has now been updated with data through to the end of April 2017.

Infrastructure > Current Projects > Springfield Underpass
The page has recently been updated. In particular, the page now includes a link to this recent article from The Republican, “Cost up $2.4 million on planned underpass in Springfield’s North End”.

MassMoves Workshop | Tu. March 28th

Important Meeting in Springfield next Tuesday

Your chance to help design a 21st-Century Transportation System for Massachusetts.

Tuesday | March 28, 2017
12:00 pm – 2:30 pm (the meeting includes lunch)

UMass Center at Springfield
1500 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01115

Please come to the meeting and let our local state senators (who will be attending the meeting) know that we need more passenger rail service in Western Mass.

 

To register for the MassMoves event click on this link:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/massmoves-western-massachusetts-tickets-31459110045

Note that tickets for this event are limited

 

If you cannot attend the MassMoves event please consider attending the Tuesday evening Town Hall meeting in Amherst and speaking out for expanded passenger rail service.

The Town Hall meeting is being hosted by Senator Don Humason, Senator Adam Hinds, Senator Eric Lesser, Senator Jim Welch, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

Tuesday | March 28, 2017
6:15 pm – 8:15 PM

UMass Amherst
Student Union Ballroom
280 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003

 

 


Further information

MassMoves

Commonwealth Conversations | Western Mass.

 

 

Post last updated: March 24, 2017

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety

Earlier this week a Longmeadow DPW employee tragically lost his life at the Birnie Road rail crossing when the snow plow he was operating was hit by an Amtrak train that was clearing snow from the rail line.

This accident has been extensively covered by the media and is under investigation by local, state and federal authorities so this posting will not delve into the details of the accident.

Instead, this posting will at look at the topic of highway-rail grade crossing safety in general in our region, with a focus on the crossing at Birnie Rd in Longmeadow.

 


Highway-rail crossings in the Pioneer Valley

There are a total of 119 public highway-rail crossings in the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley. Each crossing is marked with passive signage. Most crossings are also protected by active warning devices such as bells, red flashing lights, and gates.

 

 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has for many years maintained a detailed inventory of all highway-rail crossings. From the FRA’s Office of Safety Accident/Prediction web site we were able to generate a report (shown below) of all highway-rail crossing in our region.

Public Highway-rail Crossings Ranked by Predicted Accidents (PDF)
Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties in Massachusetts | March 17, 2017
Source: FRA Office of Safety Accident Prediction System

 

In summary, the report shows that for the five-year period (January 1, 2011, – December 31, 2015) there were a total of five (5) reported accidents at highway-rail crossing in the Pioneer Valley — which thankfully is a very low number.

Three of the accidents occurring at a single location — the grade crossing that takes Bridge Street in West Springfield over the CSX rail line.

For reasons that we cannot explain, the Birnie Road crossing does not appear on the FRA’s list of active highway-rail crossings. Updated 3/28/2017: The Birnie Road crossing reverted to “open” status when Amtrak submitted a revised DOT Crossing Inventory form to the FRA on March 24, 2017.

 


The Birnie Road railroad crossing

This is an aerial view of the crossing courtesy of Google Maps.

 

And this is a Google Street View image of the crossing.

 

Birnie Road in Longmeadow crosses the Amtrak Springfield Line. Our understanding is that passenger trains are authorized to operate on the two tracks at this location at speeds up to 70 80 m.p.h.

The Amtrak Springfield Line is used by Amtrak trains that operate between Springfield and New Haven. The line is also used by a number of freight trains each day. In early 2018 this line will see additional rail traffic when the Hartford Line service launches, with the addition of 12 daily round-trip Hartford Line trains between New Haven and Springfield.

MassLive reported this week that there have been a total of five (5) fatalities at the Birnie Road crossing since 1975.

On Thursday, March 16th WWLP News22 reported that the Town of Longmeadow had set up barriers across the road at the Birnie Road crossing.

Birnie Road railroad crossing | Longmeadow, Ma. | March 23, 2017

 

Once the investigation is complete, the proper authorities — which we understand are the Town of Longmeadow, Amtrak, and the Department of Public Utilities — must decide what steps need to be taken to reduce the risk of future accidents at this dangerous rail crossing.

In our view, there are only two options — either upgrade the crossing at Birnie Road with active warning devices or close it permanently.

 


Further information

Railroad Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention
Federal Railroad Administration

“Longmeadow DPW plow driver’s death is fifth at Birnie Road rail crossing, records show”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | March 14, 2017

“Warning signs ignored for decades at Longmeadow railroad crossing”
By Ryan Walsh | WWLP 22News | March 16, 2017

“Decades before crash that killed DPW worker, Longmeadow officials sought to improve safety at railroad crossing”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | March 24, 2017

 

 

Post last updated: March 28, 2017

A Snow Day Activity

Here’s an activity for rail advocates looking for something new to do while it continues to snow outside.

As part of the process to update its five-year Capital Investment Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is seeking input from the public until the end of this week.

If you have comments or suggestions on current or future state transportation projects, programs, priorities, and/or concerns, now is the time to submit your ideas and thoughts to MassDOT as part of this process.

Station platforms and tracks | Springfield, Ma. | March 6, 2017

 

In particular, we would encourage you to submit your comments in support of the following rail priorities for our region:

1. Additional passenger rail service north of Springfield
– ideally, the extension of a few Hartford Line trains past Springfield to Greenfield

2. Expanded passenger rail service between Springfield and Boston
– e.g., an extension of the planned Hartford Line service from Springfield to Boston

3. A second high-level platform at Springfield Union Station
– only one high-level platform is currently funded

4. and any other ideas and suggestions that you wish MassDOT to consider, including those related to state highways, the MBTA and the Regional Transit Agencies (i.e. PVTA and the FRTA.)

 

Your ideas and comments may be submitted one of two ways:

1. using MassDOT’s online comment tool, or

2. by sending an email to masscip@state.ma.us

Your comments do not have to be long or perfect to be heard by MassDOT and to have an impact.

Note that MassDOT will be accepting comments until Friday, March 17th at 5 pm.

 

The Draft 2018-2022 Capital Investment Plan will be released in late March or early April.

Once the draft has been released, MassDOT will schedule a series of public meetings to seek public input on the draft plan.

 


See also

MassDOT Capital Investment Plan | 2017-2021

 


Further information

Capital Investment Plan | Official web page (MassDOT)

2018-2022 CIP update: Joint Board Presentation (PDF)
January 23, 2017