Rail News Roundup #43

Today’s Headlines

East–West Rail Updates

MassDOT Seeks $108 million for East-West Rail

MassDOT Funds Palmer and Pittsfield Rail Projects

Westfield Asks for East–West Rail Station Stop

Western Mass. Rail Commission Wraps Up Public Meetings

Northern Tier Rail Study Nears Completion

Vermonter Suspended Due to Flood Damage in VT

Valley Flyer Replaced With Buses, Again

Northampton – New Fees to Park at the Station

West Springfield – Front Street Crossing makes the NY Times

Windsor Locks – New Station, Coming Along

Rebecca Townsend Named to Healey Transition Committee


Soon | Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study
Release of the draft final report, which was due to be released in the Spring.

Soon | Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission
Release of the final report.

August/September 2023 | The period when the FRA is expected to announce its selections for the FY2022 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program, which could include funding for East-West Rail track work between Worcester and Springfield.

East–West Rail updates

MassDOT Seeks $108 million for East-West Rail

MassDOT, in partnership with Amtrak, and with support from CSX, has submitted grant applications seeking $108 million in funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in support of early action items for East-West Rail.

The application seeks more than $108 million which will go toward the planned total project cost of approximately $135 million.

MassDOT plans to contribute more than $18 million and Amtrak $9 million toward the cost of the project.

The planned project would include the following major elements:

  • Two new Amtrak “Inland Route” daily round trips between Boston, Springfield, and New Haven CT as a first phase of East-West corridor improvements.
  • Infrastructure improvements (as detailed in the map below) that will result in increased train speeds and additional corridor capacity along the 53-mile section of the CSX Boston & Albany Line between Worcester and Springfield.
  • The extension of existing passing siding capacity and other track improvements will increase the Maximum Authorized Speed for passenger trains to 80 mph (where track geometry allows) and minimize train delays along the 44-mile single-track segment.
  • Increased operational efficiency and flexibility by reducing passenger and freight train conflicts and reducing travel times along the remaining single-track segments on the CSX-owned segment between Worcester and Springfield.
MassDOT Early Actions for the Inland Route Grant Application, Figure 1 | December 2022

MassDOT has said that these improvements are, “a necessary first step for increasing train frequency and speed along the Inland Route Corridor and the corridor between Boston, MA and Albany, NY.”

The goal in this round of improvements is to get the trains from Springfield to South Station in about 2 hours time.

A footnote

The application was submitted in December 2022 under the FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program and in April 2023 under the FRA’s new Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program (Partnership Program). The goal is for the FRA to fund the project with one or the other grant program.

Further reading

MassDOT, Amtrak, CSX Seeking More Than $108 Million for Corridor Improvements Between Springfield and Worcester
Press Release | Massachusetts Department of Transportation | December 2, 2022

MassDOT Funds Palmer and Pittsfield Rail Projects

MassDOT has allocated funds that will allow for the study and design of a future station stop in Palmer and track work in and around the Pittsfield station.

The funding — $4 million for the Palmer station design and $8.5 million for the track work in Pittsfield — was originally proposed by Gov. Maura Healey in the state budget that was submitted to the legislature on March 1, 2023.

The legislature chose not to include this funding in the annual state budget even though House version of the budget included a $250 million allocation to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority from the Fair Share Amendment fund for education and transportation (the Senate version of the budget includes $190 million for this item.)

In early June the Western Mass Rail Coalition asked MassDOT, in the email below, that these two projects be included in MassDOT’s FY2024–2028 Capital Investment Plan (CIP).

The Coalition also reached out to Sen. Paul Mark (Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire) to seek his support for the Coalition’s proposal.

Staff in his office quickly organized a joint legislative letter of support for the proposal.

In the “eleventh hour,” as MassDOT was finalizing the CIP, the Palmer and Pittsfield Rail Project funding was added to the CIP.

The decision was made so late in the process that MassDOT didn’t even have a chance to add it to the presentation deck that was used at June 22nd meeting of the MassDOT Board of Directors.

The Palmer station design work is planned to take place over the next two years (in FY2024-FY2025) and the Pittsfield track work is planned for the next four years. (FY2024-FY2027).

This is an important step as the pieces and the funding to make East-West rail a reality are pulled together, step-by-step.

Further reading

“Palmer, Pittsfield rail money in state budget demonstrates Healey’s commitment to east-west rail”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | March 2, 2023

“MassDOT capital plan restores $12M east-west rail funding for Palmer, Pittsfield”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | June 23, 2023

Westfield Asks for East–West Rail Station Stop

The former railroad deport building in Westfield, Mass.
“Mayor pushing for East-West Rail stop in Westfield” | The Reminder | June 15, 2023

Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe has announced his support — and the support of the state legislators that represent Westfield — for a station stop along the East-West rail line between Boston, Springfield and Pittsfield.

According to reporting from the Reminder, the mayor has proposed that the former railroad depot building at 16 North Elm Street be use for the proposed new station stop in the city.

The historic building, which current houses the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, was built by the former New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in 1879.

Westfield, a city of roughly 41,000 people, is also the home of Westfield State University.

Notably, a station stop in Westfield was not included in MassDOT East-West Passenger Rail study that was finalized in January 2021.

Further reading

“Mayor pushing for East-West Rail stop in Westfield”
By Cliff Clark | The Reminder | June 15, 2023

Further reading — East–West rail

East-West Rail in Massachusetts
Trains In The Valley

“West of Worcester Under Way”
By David Peter Alan | Railway Age | June 5, 2023

Railway Age, a trade magazine for the rail industry, took a deep dive into the East-West rail topic and the Northern Tier Rail Study with this article. What they found was that there’s a lot going on (no surprise to us) and plenty of optimism that East-West rail is actually going to happen.

“At pivotal moment for East-West rail, are there lessons to learn from Downeaster?” (5:36)
By Alden Bourne | New England Public Media | April 21, 2023

A nice radio piece from New England Public Media on East-West rail.

Western Mass. Rail Commission Wraps Up Public Meetings

The Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission has hosted six public meetings over the past seven months as it works to hone in on recommendations for a governance structure for passenger rail in western Massachusetts.

Western Mass Passenger Rail Commission Meeting in Greenfield | January 24, 2023

The 19-member commission — which was established by the legislature in August 2022 — hosted hybrid meetings in Pittsfield, Greenfield, Northampton, Springfield, Worcester, and Natick.

At the meetings in Pittsfield and Greenfield people spoke about the importance of East-West rail to western Mass and the need for local oversight of the existing and future rail service in our region. Other’s spoke about the need for affordable fares and local transit connections at the stations.

Western Mass Passenger Rail Commission Meeting in Northampton | March 21, 2023

Trains In The Valley went the extra mile to turn people out for the Northampton and Springfield meetings with its “This is our 1Chance” campaign.

At the Northampton meeting Ben Heckscher presented the Western Mass Rail Coalition’s testimony to the commission.

The Coalition’s testimony attempted to answer five basic questions for the commission,

  • Who should design, permit, and construct the necessary infrastructure?
  • Who should provide the passenger rail service?
  • Who should oversee the passenger rail service?
  • Who should fund the ongoing provision of service?
  • How should Massachusetts promote and develop intercity passenger rail service with neighboring states?

The Commission is now working to prepare its final report, which will be submitted to the secretary of transportation, the joint committee on transportation and the clerks of the senate and house of representatives.

What the legislature does with the recommendations in the final report remains to be seen.

Further reading

Western Mass Rail Commission Overview
Trains In The Valley

Written Testimony provided to the Western MA Rail Commission (PDF)
Western Mass Rail Coalition | March 19, 2023

Northern Tier Rail Study Nears Completion

MassDOT hosted a virtual Public Workshop for the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study on January 11, 2023, with a reported 182 members of the public in attendance.

During the meeting the study team presented its work and its preliminary conclusions using a comprehensive and lengthy 76-page presentation deck.

The proposed Phase 1 Service alternatives (summarized above) include five trains per day with a one-seat ride between North Adams, Greenfield and North Station in Boston.

With the higher investment option — which the study team estimated would cost upwards of $2 billion (in 2026 dollars) — a ride from Greenfield to Boston would take two hours, with a ride from North Adams would take about three hours.

After the meeting the Western Mass Rail Coalition submitted a set of written comments that took issue with the ridership estimates and the proposed infrastructure investments costs, among other concerns.

The Coalition also asked for the study team to consider station stops in Athol-Orange area and Porter Square in Cambridge.

The study team is expected to issue the draft final report shortly. The release of the draft final report will start a formal 30-day public comment period before the report is finalized.

Further reading

Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study

Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study Overview
Trains In The Valley

Vermonter Suspended Due to Flood Damage in VT

Drone video of Montpelier VT | Vermont Agency of Agriculture | July 11, 2023

Updated 7/19/2023 – Vermonter service has been restored

Amtrak’s Vermonter service (Trains 54, 55, 56, and 57) was suspended effective Mon. July 10, 2023 between St. Albans VT and New Haven, CT due to the flood related damage to the New England Central rail corridor (NECR) in Vermont.

When, and where possible, Amtrak has been providing limited alternate transportation in place of the train.

Unconfirmed but reliable sources say that many miles of the NECR mainline were under moving water at the peak of the flooding.

Erosion caused by moving water could easily have removed significant portions of the track structure, which will take time to restore.

There are also reports of a few large washouts along the NECR line.

At this time it is not known when Amtrak’s Vermonter will return to service north of New Haven.

Amtrak’s Valley Flyer service between Greenfield / Northampton / Holyoke and points south is operating normally.

Valley Flyer Replaced With Buses, Again

As some people have noticed, Amtrak has had an increasing difficult time providing working trains to operate the southbound Valley Flyer over the past few weeks.

A sample Amtrak Tweet about the Valley Flyer | June 18, 2023

As example, on Wed. June 28th, a southbound Valley Flyer Valley train was replaced with “alternate transportation” (a chartered bus operated by DATCO) with stops in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield.

Alternate transportation for Train 471 | Northampton, MA | June 28, 2023

A review of the available online data shows that Amtrak has replaced the Valley Flyer with buses eleven (11) times between May 1 and July 13, 2023.

We know that both MassDOT and Amtrak are aware of this issue and that they are working to find a way to resolve the problem.

In the meantime we’ve started keeping a list of the cancelled trains on our Data page — under Valley Flyer trains replaced with Buses — so that we and others can track this issue.

Northampton – New Fees to Park at the Station

170 Pleasant St | Northampton MA | July 10, 2023

Heads up Northampton! The parking control gates at the Union Station parking lot are back in service.

The new cost to enter the lot with a vehicle has been set at $2 for the first hour and $1 for each additional hour — with a $15 daily maximum rate.

The first 15 minutes though are free.

The entire Union Station parking lot (including the area directly in front of the station platform) is privately owned by the entity that owns the historic Union Station building.

People looking to park and take the train from Northampton should consider parking at the near-by Hampton Avenue Lot. The cost to park in this lot is just $0.25/hour between 10am and 7pm, Monday thru Saturday — which works out to $2.25/day, except Sunday when it is free.

Also, to avoid paying $2 to exit the parking lot when you are picking someone up at the train station, we recommend that you arrive just before the train arrives. You can do this by checking on the status of the train using the Amtrak App or the Amtrak website.

Of course, the best way to avoid paying for parking is to walk to the station or get a ride from someone else, as many people do today.

Further information

Parking at the Train Station in Northampton
Trains In The Valley

Parking Administration
City of Northampton

West Springfield – Front Street Crossing makes the NY Times

“When trains block a Road, Local Officials Have View Options” | The New York Times | July 11, 2023

The Front Street railroad crossing in West Springfield had its 15-minutes of fame on July 11th when it was featured in an article in the New York Times.

The article, “When Trains Block a Road, Local Officials Have Few Options,” addresses the many reasons why local officials have few options when it comes to keeping freight trains from blocking railroad crossings.

This has been particular problem for years at the Front Street crossing where CSX, the owner and operator of the freight rail corridor that runs through West Springfield, often blocks this crossing with its trains.

The town of West Springfield applied for a Railroad Crossing Elimination Program grant last year from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The application, which called for the crossing to be replaced with an overpass, was not selected in the first round of grants.

It is our understanding that the town will resubmit their grant application in the fall when the FRA opens the next round of funding.

Further reading

Front Street Crossing (West Springfield)
Trains In The Valley’s webpage on this topic

“Blocked Rail Crossings Snarl Towns, but Congress Won’t Act”
The New York Times | July 11, 2023

Windsor Locks CT – New Station, Coming Along

And here — thanks to Adam Sullivan — we have a two hi-def drone images of the site where the new train station in Windsor Locks CT is being built.

The images were taken in the early evening of Sunday, June 25th during a period when the rail line had been shut down for the weekend so that Amtrak’s crews could work on the tracks.

An image of the work site for the new Windosr Locks station
Site of the new Windsor Locks CT station | looking North | June 25, 2023 | Photo by Adam Sullivan

The image above is a view looking north. The track shown is the Amtrak-owned “Springfield Line” which extends from New Haven CT to Springfield MA.

The new cement railroad ties on both sides of the existing rail line will be used for a second track that will installed this summer.

Site of the new Windsor Locks CT station | looking South | June 25, 2023 | Photo by Adam Sullivan

The image above is a view looking south. At the very top of the image and just to the right of the track is the historic New Haven Railroad station building which was built in 1875.

Further reading

Current Projects | Windsor Locks station
Trains In The Valley

Rebecca Townsend Named to Healey Transition Committee

We are thrilled to pass along the news that Dr. Rebecca Townsend — a founding member of Trains In The Valley — was appointed to and served on the Healey-Driscoll transition committee focusing on public transportation.

The committee, which was referred to as “How We Get Around — How we make sure our public transportation infrastructure is safe, reliable, affordable and connects our entire state” is linked on the transition webpage below.

Rebecca is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Hartford and the moderator for the town of Longmeadow.

Her rail advocacy experience began in 2006 when she founded Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail, with fellow residents of the Greater Springfield region, to garner support for passenger rail in our region of Massachusetts.

In 2012 President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change for Transportation Innovation for her scholarship on public engagement in transportation.

Further Reading

“Townsend named to Healey’s transportation transition team”
By Sarah Heinpnen | The Reminder | January 18, 2023

Post last updated: July 19, 2023