Why is the Southbound Vermonter always late?


Please note that this issue was resolved in February 2017


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 —

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 affected by the same slow orders on the NECR main line that have been affecting the southbound train.

 

Update | November 22, 2016

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has announced its intention to request a temporary timetable change for the Vermonter due to slow orders along the New England Central main line in Vermont. Once the schedule is adjusted it is anticipated that there will be a noticeable improvement in the on-time performance of the train at station stops along the Vermonter’s route, in particular in Massachusetts and Vermont.

As soon as the new schedule is posted it will be made available on this website.

 

Update | February 21, 2017

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.

Further details are available on this link –
New Vermonter Timetable – eff. Feb. 27th

 


See also

Vermonter Performance | a collection of performance metrics
Trains in the Valley

 


Further Reading

Minutes of Meeting
Vermont Rail Council
August 17, 2016

 

Post last updated: March 30, 2017