All Aboard!

Northampton | December 22, 2014

 

Welcome to TrainsInTheValley.org

TrainsInTheValley.org provides information about passenger and freight rail services in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts.

Our local newspapers — the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the Greenfield Recorder, and the Springfield Republican — have done a great job reporting on this topic, but we felt there was something missing. That “missing resource” is a place on the web where interested people can go to learn more about what is going on now and what is being planned for the future.

Actually, there is a lot of information available to the public already but it’s not that easy to find since there are so many organizations involved, e.g., Amtrak, MassDOT, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Federal Railroad Administration, and many others.

Our hope is that TrainsInTheValley.org increases overall transparency on local and regional rail issues.

We hope that you find this website interesting and useful. If you have comments or feedback please let us know by reaching out using the Contact section of the site.

Welcome aboard,

 

Ben Heckscher & Zane Lumelsky

 


Note!

As of today, the site has 32 web pages of information to view.

Additional Service
Amtrak Stations
Amtrak’s Vermonter
Boston – Springfield Service
Connecticut River Line
Contact a Transit Agency
Contact Elected Officials
Contact the Media
Contact Us
Donate
Freight Rail Customers
Freight Railroads
Hartford Line
Industrial Rail Access Program
Intro to Government and Rail
New Greenfield Station Platform
New Northampton Station Platform
News
Northampton Underpass
Passenger Rail History
Photography near Tracks and Trains
Purpose
Questions and Answers
Related Groups
Reports & Studies
Safety Tips
Springfield Union Station
Taxi Service
Travel Options
Vermonter Extension to Montreal
Vermonter Performance
Who We Are

Individual pages can be accessed by using the menu structure at the top of the page, or by accessing the website’s SiteMap.

Fleeting Summer

calendar_1990_gil-reid_montrealer-in-vt_wm

 

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 effected by the same slow orders on the NECR main line that have been effecting the southbound train.

 


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: August 26, 2016

FRA Approves Environmental Report for New England Rail Initiative

On July 19th the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI Study).

The finding clears the way for states and the federal government to invest in future passenger rail service in New England.

The NNEIRI Study proposes to restore service between Boston and New Haven through Springfield and Hartford and add new service between Boston and Montreal.

Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study

 

“Existing passenger rail service through New England is limited and already at capacity for a region that is growing,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With an approved blueprint in hand, New England can now move forward to connect people to key job centers and allow students to easily travel to and from New England’s numerous colleges.”

FRA awarded $942,775 to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) through FRA’s Next Generation High-Speed Rail Program to study potential service options and complete the Tier 1 Environmental Assessment, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

FRA found that no significant environmental impacts would result from adding more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service, in large part due to the use of existing operating rail lines within existing rights-of-way. The proposed infrastructure improvements also would be located within existing right-of-way along areas that were in the past double or triple tracked.

“More than two million people live within three miles of a station along this corridor,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. “For everyone to move safely and efficiently, the region needs a robust rail system, and this blueprint will help achieve that goal.”

 


See also

Proposed Boston–Springfield / New Haven / Montreal Service

 


Further reading

“Rail Advocates Praise Study Of Potential New England Expansion”
By Paul Tuttle | WAMC | July 25, 2016

Editorial: “Worthy rail idea remains on the siding”
Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 26, 2016

Governor Asks for Changes to Proposed Springfield – Boston Rail Study

On Friday July 8th, Governor Baker formally requested that Senator Lesser’s budget amendment requiring a study to review the feasibility of a high-speed rail connection between Springfield and Boston be amended.

In his letter to the legislature, which can be found below, the governor has requested that a much broader study be conducted.

In particular, the governor has requested that the study instead focus on,

(a) the potential expansion and enhancement of several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including

(b) automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

 

The proposed study working group would include, but not be limited to a designee from the
– Secretary of Housing and Economic Development,
– elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations,
– duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor,
– duly elected Mayors in the greater Springfield region,
– the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission,
– the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission,
– the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission,
– existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways.

 

On Friday, July 8th Senator Lesser provided this update on his Facebook page:
“Senator Lesser’s East/West Rail Feasibility Study Signed into Law by Governor Baker”

On Monday, July 11th, Senator Lesser said that he anticipates that the House and Senate will approve the new language before the state’s legislative session ends July 31.

 

We will update this posting as soon as we have any additional information.

 


Further Reading

“Gov. Baker widens scope of Springfield rail study; narrows time frame”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | July 12, 2016

 

Letter from Governor Baker to the Honorable House and Senate Representatives
Attachment Q – Amendment Letter Section 180
July 8, 2016

QUOTE

ATTACHMENT Q

July 8, 2016

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives:

Pursuant to Article LVI, as amended by Article XC, Section 3 of the Amendments to the Constitution, I am returning to you for amendment Section 180 of House Bill No. 4450, “An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2017 for the Maintenance of the Departments, Boards, Commissions, Institutions and Certain Activities of the Commonwealth, for Interest, Sinking Fund and Serial Bond Requirements and for Certain Permanent Improvements.”

Section 180 would require the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of establishing high-speed rail service between Springfield and Boston.  While I support studying ways to improve transportation between Springfield and Boston, several aspects outlined in Section 180 are already the subject of ongoing studies.  Moreover the proposed study focuses exclusively on high-speed rail, ignoring the potential benefits of improving and coordinating other modes of transportation including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

Accordingly, I believe that we would be better served by convening a working group to identify and evaluate whether improvements to these various modes of transportation between Springfield and Boston would result in significant economic and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

For this reason, I recommend that Section 180 be amended by striking out the text and inserting in place thereof the following text:-

SECTION 180.  The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall convene a working group, not later than October 1, 2016, for the purposes of identifying and evaluating the economic and cultural benefits and challenges to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole, through the potential expansion and enhancement several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.  The working group shall include, but not be limited to a designee from the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations and duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor and in the greater Springfield region, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways. The Secretary & CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall designate a qualified individual to chair the working group.  The working group shall draw upon the findings and conclusions of the Transforming the Rail Network for Economic and Community Development Report (September 2012) and the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study to guide its evaluation and analysis. The working group shall submit its findings to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than March 3, 2017.

Respectfully submitted,

UNQUOTE

 

Massachusetts House Bill 4450
Section 180
as originally proposed by Senator Lesser (D-Longmeadow)

QUOTE

SECTION 180. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall conduct a feasibility study relative to high-speed rail access between the cities of Springfield and Boston.

The study shall examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing high-speed rail service between the cities of Springfield and Boston including, but not limited to: (i) the projected capital costs; (ii) the projected operating costs and revenue estimates; (iii) the projected ridership levels; (iv) the prospect of operating high-speed rail service on existing rights of way and other operational issues, including upgrades to the at-grade crossings in the towns of Ashland and Framingham; (v) the environmental and community impact estimates; (vi) the availability of federal, state, local and private sector funding sources; and (vii) the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

The department shall file a report with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives, the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means and the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on transportation not later than March 1, 2017.

UNQUOTE

Hartford Line on Target to Open in 2018

Connecticut Governor Malloy held a press conference today at the site of the new station that is being built in Wallingford, Ct. as part of the Hartford Line project.

Highlights from the press conference include:

  • The Hartford Line is still on target to open in January 2018.
  • More than 50% of the track work has been completed.
  • Eighty percent of train station foundations and platforms are in place and 100 percent of the steel beams and pedestrian bridges have been installed.
  • In September, Amtrak’s Track Laying Machine (TLM) will be brought in to lay down 10 miles of new track between North Haven and Meriden.
  • Ridership on the line, between Springfield and New Haven, is expected to more than double — from 300,000 to 750,000 passengers a year.

The Hartford Line will offer 17 daily round trips between New Haven and Hartford, and a dozen between Hartford and Springfield. Currently, Amtrak operates just six round trips on the route.

 


Further Reading

“Malloy: Hartford Line Trains Ready To Roll In 2018”
By Don Stacom | Hartford Courant | July 7, 2016

“Hartford Line Press Conference” (1:04)
Video | Hartford Courant | July 7, 2016

New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (Official website)

Solari Arrival Boards

NHT Solari Board - sample

Want to check to see if your train is running on time? Just click on one of these new buttons on TrainsInTheValley.org.

 GREENFIELD 

 HOLYOKE 

 NORTHAMPTON 

 SPRINGFIELD 

 

Each link will take you to a simulated Solari board display (a.k.a. split-flap display) for your station .

Italian-made Solari boards were once commonly used at major railway stations and airports around the world — including South Station and Union Station in New Haven.

The simulated Solari board website is provided by Dixieland Software, the provider of the website Amtrak Status Maps.


A couple of notes, for those interested in the details:

The display will update automatically every few minutes.

About every hour the board will be reinitialized, automatically.

The board can be customized to some extent by clicking on the link “Select New Station or Change Options” at the bottom of the display web page.

In particular, you can select whether on not you want the Solaria or static version of the board; times to be shown in 12-hour or 24-hour format; and whether you want a short or long form of the column format. There is even an option to control the speed of the flipping action — Normal or Faster (for those who are in a hurry).

Use your browser’s “Control +” and “Control -” keys to scale the size of the display up or down.

If you change any of the options listed above the website will remember your selection.

Also to keep in mind — a train only appears on the board once it is within 8 hours of its scheduled arrival time at the station, and once a train has departed the station it is removed from the board after about 10 minutes. This all means that at certain times of the day a station board may display no train information.

 


Further reading

“Amtrak to replace 30th Street Station’s iconic flipping departures sign”
By Mark Dent | Bill Penn | August 25, 2016

 

 

Post last updated: August 25, 2016

State Rail Plan Update Meeting

A public meeting has been scheduled for next week to kick-off the process of updating the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s State Rail Plan, which was last issued in 2010.

MA Rail Plan Flyer - 06_14_16

Note that there is an option to participate via webinar (web conference) as detailed above.

 

A copy of the 2010 MassDOT State Rail Plan can be found on this link
https://www.massdot.state.ma.us/transit/RailPlan.aspx