Rail News Roundup #34

Today’s Headlines

• COVID-19 Update

• MassDOT’s 2021 Capital Investment Plan

• Sen. Markey Introduces Passenger Rail Legislation

• Hartford Line News

• Amtrak News

• 1967 | The End of Local Service North of Springfield

• Remembering Tim Brennan

 

CALENDAR

East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee Meeting #5
Wed. June 10, 2020 | 1 PM – 2:30 PM
This meeting will be hosted online using Zoom

Further details on this MassDOT link
East-West Rail Advisory Committee Meeting

 

EDITORS NOTE

Our apologies for the relative silence over the past weeks. Like many of you, we also have been focused on other pressing matters.

As you read this issue, please know that we are acutely aware that there are many things at the moment that are more important than rail service.

If nothing else, we hope you find this report useful, interesting and maybe — just for a moment — a distraction from the heavy issues that we all face at this time.

 


COVID-19 Update

No trains, but one skateboarder | Northampton station | May 18, 2020

Where do we start.

As most people are aware, the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has had a serious impact on transportation in our region, across our country, and around the world.

All forms of public transportation — air, bus, trains, shared ride, and others — have been severely impacted by the pandemic. In mid-April the Washington Post reported that Amtrak ridership overall was down 95%; with many routes suspended, or operating with reduced service.

In our region, all service on the Vermonter north of New Haven, CT was suspended on March 26, 2020.

The Valley Flyer continues to operate, but now only once a day on the schedule shown below.


 
The Hartford Line went through a stepped reduction in service as ridership dropped over the past few months. Their current schedule has eight round trips between Springfield and New Haven daily.

Even Peter Pan Bus Lines suspended their services, which is something they have never done in their 87 years of operation.

The good news is that as of this hour steps are being taken to start the process to restore some of the service that was lost over the past two months.

Although there has been no formal announcement, it would appear that service on the Vermonter will resume on or about July 1, 2020. (This is based on the observation that tickets can once again be purchased for travel to and from points north of New Haven starting on this date.)

When the 2nd Valley Flyer run will be restored is unknown at the moment, but it could be that MassDOT is waiting to see what ridership on the Vermonter looks like before adding more service on the line.

In related news —

A facial covering is now required in all Amtrak stations and on all Amtrak trains.

You will not be required to wear the facial covering when seated alone or with a travel companion in your own pair of seats — but you will need to be wearing one when you board and move around the train or the station.

A facial covering is required for travel on Metro-North and is recommended for travel on CTRail-operated Hartford Line trains.

 

Further reading

“With ridership down 95 percent and losses of $700 million, Amtrak looks to pandemic’s recovery phase”
By Luz Lazo | The Washington Post | April 23, 2020

Amtrak Cornovirus | Latest News & Updates

How coronavirus is disrupting public transit
Transit App

 
A footnote

No, we did not Photoshop an image of a skateboarder into the photo above. This skateboarder just happened to hanging around the station when we stopped to take a picture of the empty station.

 


MassDOT’s 2021 Capital Investment Plan

On May 11, 2020 the MassDOT Board of Directors and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board approved a draft one-year Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for state fiscal year 2021.

The draft CIP continues investments already underway, moves forward those investments for Fiscal Year 2021 which were previously planned, and puts most funds into the reliability of the transportation system.

A one-year CIP has been drafted, rather than a five-year plan as is usually done, since MassDOT deemed it to be unrealistic to plan several years out due to uncertainties of revenue because of the pandemic.

MassDOT has said that a “reset” of the CIP for a several year period will be done when there is a clearer understanding of the status of the economy, including when Federal reauthorization is confirmed. The future CIP will take into consideration the cost of new construction safety rules, new revenue realities and Commonwealth funding, including the status of the Administration’s proposed $18 billion Transportation Bond Bill.

We have extracted all of key information for the rail projects in our region from the draft CIP, as we have done in past years, and summarized the key data in this two-page worksheet.

 

Further reading

Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
MassDOT

 


Sen. Markey Introduces Passenger Rail Legislation

Senator Ed Markey | Courtesy of The Republican

Sen. Ed Markey calls for a $5 billion Annual Investment in Passenger Rail

On May 29, 2020, U.S. Senator Ed Markey announced that he has introduced legislation authorizing $5 billion annually, for a total of $25 billion over five years, to invest in “high-performance” intercity passenger rail service.

“High-performance” rail, in this context, means passenger rail service that will enhance transportation capacity, travel times, reliability, and efficiency.

Congressman Richard Neal will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The federal grants that would be created if this bill passes could provide an important source of federal funds for East-West Rail and any number of other intercity rail projects in Massachusetts.

 

Further reading

“Sen. Ed Markey calls for $5 billion annual investment in passenger rail”
By Benjamin Kail | The Republican | May 29, 2020

Senator Markey Introduces “BRAIN TRAIN” Act to Significantly Expand Intercity Passenger Rail Across Western Massachusetts, New England, and the Country
Press Release | The Office of Senator Ed Markey | May 29, 2020

Building Rail Across Intercity Networks To Ride Around Interior of the Nation Act (PDF)
Current draft of the legislation | May 29, 2020

# # #

Sen. Ed Markey Introduces a Bill to Fund Safety Improvements at Railroad Crossings

Sen. Ed Markey, center, cut a ribbon with other state and local officials marking the completion of safety upgrades at the Birnie Road crossing in Longmeadow
By Greg Saulmon / The Republican

On May 23, 2020, Senator Ed Markey announced the Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act.

This legislation is named in honor of Warren P. Cowles, a dedicated public servant who was tragically struck by an Amtrak train on March 14, 2017 at the Tina Lane and Birnie Road grade crossing in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

Grade crossings are significant danger zones, such that 33 percent of rail-related fatalities occur at these locations nationwide.

Senator Markey’s legislation modifies an existing rail-safety grant program to increase the funding for grade crossing improvement projects to $250 million each year, adjusted for inflation. This significantly increased funding will prevent unnecessary deaths by allowing for the installation of grade separations, railroad crossing signals, gates, lights, and other barriers or cautionary signage at grade crossings nationwide.

 

Further reading

“Federal bill named for Longmeadow DPW worker Warren Cowles would boost funding for railroad crossing safety”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | May 23, 2020

Senator Markey Introduces “Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act” to Reduce Rail-Related Fatalities Nationwide
Press Release | The Office of Senator Ed Markey | May 23, 2020

Warren Cowles Grade Crossing Safety Act
Current draft of the legislation | May 23, 2020

 


Hartford Line News

CTrail eTix app Launched

An image of the CTrail eTix app
Image courtesy of CTDOT

On February 11, 2020, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) launched a smartphone-based mobile ticketing application for its Hartford Line and Shore Line East service.

With the new app, which is called CTrail eTix, passengers can purchase Hartford Line tickets, with optional connecting service on New Haven Line (Metro-North) trains, using a single device in one transaction with a credit or debit card.

Once purchased, CTrail mobile tickets are then stored electronically in a secure CTrail eTix account.

When ready to use a mobile ticket, the passenger simply opens the application and presses a button to activate the ticket. After the ticket is activated, passengers then show it to the train conductor from their smartphone.

Note that mobile tickets purchased from this app are valid on both CTrail and Amtrak operated Hartford Line trains.

The free CTrail eTix app is available from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store:

Apple App Store — Download here

Google Play Store — Download here

 

Further reading

CTrail eTix FAQs

# # #

New Windsor Locks Station Fully Funded

Artists rendering of the planned new station in Windsor Locks, CT | CTDOT

All funding would now appear to be in place for the construction of a new Hartford Line station in Windsor Locks, CT.

On April 16, 2020 the Connecticut State Bond Commission approved $45 million towards the cost of the new Windsor Locks station.

These funds are in addition to a $17.49 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program grant by the Federal Railroad Administration that was awarded on March 12, 2020.

These funds will allow for the construction of a new accessible and ADA-compliant intercity passenger rail station in a more central in-town location in Windsor Locks with a 510-foot long level boarding platform.

The project will also make improvements to adjacent tracks, roadways and sidewalks, and upgrade the railroad crossing at Route 140 to a four-quadrant gate.

Near the end of the project the current Windsor Locks station platform location will be converted to a maintenance-of-way facility for the rail line.

The project is currently scheduled to be advertised for bidding in April 2021 with the new station opening about two years after construction starts.
 
Further reading
“Windsor Locks to get $17.4M fed grant for train station”
By Joe Chaisson | Journal Inquirer | February 29, 2020

# # #

FRA Awards 4.4 million to CTDOT for Hartford Line Service Improvements

On May 5, 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that it had awarded $4.4 million in grant funding to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) for enhancements to the CTrail Hartford Line.

The funded project will provide two additional weekday trains between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, on the CTrail service.

These additional frequencies will provide an early northbound departure from New Haven at 7:35 a.m. and a mid-morning departure from Springfield at 9:55 a.m.

Of particular note is the planned new early morning northbound train that will arrive in Springfield at about 9 a.m.

This new train will allow someone living in Connecticut to commute to a job in Springfield that starts at 9 a.m. — something that has not been possible on the Hartford Line until now.

# # #

CTDOT Issues RFP for New Rail Cars

CTrail Hartford Line train set | Wallingford CT
Courtesy of CTDOT

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the design, manufacture, testing, delivery and commissioning of sixty (60) single-level push-pull rail cars for use in CTrail Shore Line East and Hartford Line passenger rail services, with options for additional cars and services.

In a nutshell, the 544-pages of technical specifications call for the following —

  • A base order of rail cars that includes (41) trailer cars and (19) cab cars
  • Rail cars capable of operating at speeds up to 125 mph
  • Rail cars capable of operating in push‐pull intercity and commuter passenger service

Delivery of the new rail cars is to proceed on the follow schedule after the Notice to Proceed has been issued:

  • Delivery of Pilot Cars (3 Trailer Cars & 1 Cab Car) within 791 days (~26 months)
  • Delivery of First Production Rail Car 973 days (~32 months)
  • Delivery of Last Rail Car of base order 1,392 days (~46 months)

Responses to the RFP are due to be delivered to CTDOT by October 16, 2020.

With some luck the first new set of rail cars will enter service in early 2024.

 


Amtrak News

Amtrak Celebrates its 49th Anniversary

On May 1, 2020 Amtrak celebrated its 49th anniversary.

To mark the occasion Amtrak produced an interesting short video featuring Amtrak’s new President and CEO Bill Flynn.

# # #

Amtrak Tests New High Speed train Sets

Here’s nice video that shows what true high-speed rail looks like.

The video shows the first next-generation Amtrak Acela trainset traveling at 165 mph on a test track at the Transportation Technology Center near Pueblo, Colorado,

The first new Acela trainset is expected to enter service on the Northeast Corridor in 2021.

# # #

Amtrak Seeks an additional $1.475 billion in Funding

On May 26, 2020 Amtrak submitted a letter to Congress outlining its need for an additional $1.475 billion in fiscal year 2021 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its business.

Amtrak, like all other modes, has seen a dramatic decline in demand for service during the pandemic, and is expecting ridership to only return to approximately 50% in fiscal year 2021.

The $1.475 billion is in addition to Amtrak’s $2.040 billion annual grant request submitted to Congress earlier this year.

Amtrak said that this additional funding is necessary for Amtrak to operate minimum service levels across the passenger rail network and continue capital investments for the future. Amtrak has proposed that some of the funds be used to support Amtrak’s 17 state partners on the National Network and nine commuter and state partners on the Northeast Corridor.

A copy of the letter can be found here —
Letter to Congress by Amtrak CEO and President Bill Flynn (PDF) | May 25, 2020

 


1967 | The End of Local Service North of Springfield

Now for a little history —

By 1966 there wasn’t much local Boston & Maine Railroad passenger service left operating on the Connecticut River Line north of Springfield.

The scheduled service that did exist, detailed in the employee timetable below, consisted of a handful of oddly timed trains that operated only on Friday and Sunday.

The service that was operated with a single Budd Rail Diesel Car.

Time Table No. 14 | Boston and Maine Railroad | October 30,1966 | page 23
(a=arrival time / f=flag stop / s=regular stop)

Earlier in 1967 the Boston and Maine Corporation filed a petition with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities requesting “authorization to abandon facilities in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, and to discontinue certain passenger service.”

The DPU hosted public hearings regarding the request in Boston on November 3, 1966 and in Northampton on November 21, 1966.

At the hearings the railroad produced an exhibit which showed that ridership on the route, which in 1963 carried 129.7 passengers on an average day, had deteriorated to 41.8 passengers per day in 1966.

The DPU approved the petition, with an effective date not later than March 1, 1967.

A PDF copy of the DPU’s final order is shown below  —

Hampshire County Registry of Deeds
Book 1503, Page 269 (4 pages)

 


Remembering Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan standing near the new Northampton station platform in late 2014
Jeffery Roberts/Daily Hampshire Gazette

For those who don’t know already — Tim Brennan, the longtime Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), passed away peacefully surrounded by loved ones on Thursday March 12th at home after a brief illness.

Brennan served the Commission for nearly 50 years — 40 at the helm as its Executive Director.

Among his many professional accomplishments, he will be remembered for fighting tirelessly for the cleanup of the Connecticut River and its tributaries; public transportation such as helping establish the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority; championing passenger rail service; and, in general, pursuing policies and programs that improved Valley residents’ quality of life.

A short list of significant rail issues that Tim had his hands on during his tenure at the PVPC includes,

  • The Commonwealth’s purchase of the Ware–Palmer–Barre freight rail line. (1976)
  • Early push-back against Conrail’s plans to remove miles of double-track on the Boston and Albany line, out of concern that such a step would make it much more difficult to increase passenger rail service on the line. (1983)
  • Conversion of Amtrak’s overnight Montrealer service into a daytime train through the Pioneer Valley (1985)
  • Completion of the Knowledge Corridor Feasibility Study which ultimately lead to the return of passenger rail service to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. (2009)
  • The Northern New England Intercity Passenger Initiative study which recommended more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service along the Inland Route (New Haven–Springfield–Boston) and the Boston–Springfield–Montreal Route. (2014)
  • The expansion of the passenger rail service north of Springfield along the Knowledge Corridor. (on-going)

We will greatly miss the wisdom, insight and direction that Tim happily and eagerly provided to our organization over the past five years.

We wish to express our condolences to his family and friends, and the many people who were lucky enough to have worked with Tim, in one way or another, during his tenure at PVPC.

A memorial service will be organized at a later date due to the ongoing and evolving circumstances of the novel coronavirus.

Further reading

Timothy W. Brennan Obituary

“Retired Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Director Timothy Brennan, ‘face and voice for the region,’ dies”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | March 13, 2020