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

Union Station to Reopen June 26th

On Monday, March 6th, Congressman Richard E. Neal hosted a “Media Day” event at Union Station to celebrate the rebirth of Union Station in Springfield. During the event, it was announced that Union Station will reopen to the public on Monday, June 26th, 2017.

At that time Amtrak’s passenger waiting room and ticket offices will move into the newly renovated station. It is expected that Peter Pan Bus Lines, Greyhound, and the bus operations of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will then follow as quickly as practical.

The images that follow highlight today’s media event and the station as it looks today — as final preparations for the re-opening are put in motion.

 


Images from Today’s Event

Waiting for the event to start
(the screen hanging from the ceiling is the future train status display board)

 

Congressman Neal speaking to invited guests and dignitaries

 

A view from one of the station alcoves

 

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno offering his remarks for the occasion
(Note the new murals on the wall)

 

Construction workers observing the event from the upper floors

 

Congressman Neal and Mayor Sarno are presented with copies of the Certificate of Occupancy for the “new” Union Station

 

Congressman Neal being interviewed by WWLP 22 News

 


Images from Inside the Station

Looking south from the main concourse — towards the passageway under the tracks

 

The east side of the main concourse

 

A highlight of the new station is the wonderful set of large graphic displays (murals) that were developed by Design & Advertising Associates LLC of Springfield and the Museum of Springfield History.

 

 

 

The corridor leading to the intercity bus waiting area

 

A view of the waiting area for bus passengers

 


Train Platforms

At track-level, you will unfortunately not find much that is new or improved at the moment. The current MassDOT Capital Improvement Plan includes funding for the construction of one high-level platform at the station. The new platform will replace the existing low level “Platform C”, which is shown in the image below.

We are hopeful that the planned high-level platform will be completed before the new Hartford Line service starts in early 2018.

Platform C (on the left) – looking east

 

Behind a door in the passageway under the tracks is the framing of the new elevator shaft and a set of original stairs that once led to Platform C — clearly a work in progress.

 

An original — and future — stairway to “Platform C”

 

In the meantime —  until the new high-level platform is built — train passengers will continue to access the boarding platforms using the existing stairway and elevator at the south end of the passageway.

 


Images from Outside the Station

From the top of the new parking garage – Looking east, towards Boston

 

A view of the new six-story elevated parking garage

 


Further reading

“After 4 decades and $95 million renovation, grand opening date set for Springfield’s Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Springfield Union Station: What’s next, rental spaces, platforms, Lyman Street and more”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Amid ongoing negotiations, Peter Picknelly confirms plan to move Peter Pan into Springfield’s Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Union Station to reopen in a few months” (1:59)
By Kait Walsh | WWLP 22 News | March 6, 2017

 

Recent website updates and additions

Infrastructure > Current projects > Northampton Underpass
This page has been updated with new images.

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

New Vermonter Timetable – eff. Feb. 27th

The timetable for Amtrak’s Vermonter service will change on Mo. February 27, 2017 when a temporary schedule adjustment is put into effect.

The schedule adjustment, which includes minor changes to the departure times from stations in Vermont, is being implemented in an effort to improve the on-time performance of the Vermonter.

 

vermonter-schedule-022717-page-3
Effective 2/27/2017 – 5/29/2017

 

Note that there are no planned changes to the timetable for stations in western Massachusetts.

This timetable adjustment will improve the performance of the southbound train at station stops in western Massachusetts. In particular, we are hopeful that the southbound train will depart on-time from Greenfield, most of the time, once the adjustment to the timetable is made.

 


See Also

Amtrak’s Vermonter

 

Recent website updates and additions

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