Rail News Roundup #24

Today’s Headlines

• Proposed Northern Tier Rail Study

• Vermonter Ridership Continues to Rise

• New Greenfield Service Pushed Back to Late Summer

• Working on the Railroad

• Springfield | Platform C Update

• Boston City Council Votes for East-West Rail

• New Website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop

• Holyoke | Cars in the Freight Yard

• WGBY video | Freight Rail in Western Mass


POSTPONED: Advisory Committee Meeting #2
MassDOT East-West Passenger Rail Study
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
1500 Main St
Springfield, Ma.

Proposed Northern Tier Rail Study

Joint Committee on Transportation hearing | May 14, 2019
Massachusetts State House | Boston, Ma.

On Tuesday May 14, 2019 Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester) and Rep. Mindy Domb (D-3rd Hampshire) appeared before the Joint Committee on Transportation to offer their testimony in support of Bill S.2054, “An Act to examine the feasibility of rail service between North Adams, Greenfield and Boston.”

Comerford presented her own testimony, and provided the committee with over 700 comments for constituents in her district.

The comments poured in after she reached out with this Facebook post last Friday afternoon.

Also offering testimony at the hearing, in support of the study, were Joseph Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator for the Rail Passengers Association, and Clint Richmond, Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee and Executive Committee member of the Massachusetts Sierra Club .

Clint Richmond offered the Sierra Club’s support for the proposed study and pointed out that proposed Northern Tier Route could create many more new destination pairs, such as Fitchburg–Springfield and importantly Boston to Vermont/Montreal via Greenfield.

He also made the strong point that such a service would connect numerous gateway cities in the commonwealth and that it will complement the proposed Boston-Springfield route.

In related news, Sen. Comerford and Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex) have introduced Amendment 30 to the Senate version of the draft 2020 Massachusetts State Budget.

If the amendment is approved as part of the budget process, which is not at all certain, a study of the feasibility of passenger rail service between North Adams and Boston would commence on June 1, 2020 and be completed no later than June 1, 2021.

See also

Northern Tier Rail Study
A new page on the Trains In The Valley website

Further reading

“Comerford files bill for east-west rail study”
By Anita Fritz | Greenfield Recorder | May 14, 2019

“Lawmakers pitch northern rail route to Western Mass”
By Colin A. Young | State House News Service | May 14, 2019

Vermonter Ridership Continues to Rise

The Amtrak Vermonter pulls into the station at the Olver Transit Center
Courtesy the Greenfield Recorder

“Passenger rail ridership continues to climb on the Valley line”
By Beru Dunau | Daily Hampshire Gazette | May 6, 2019

The good news just keeps on coming.

Ridership in the Pioneer Valley on the Vermonter for the last fiscal year exceeded 32,000 riders — with Northampton the busiest station, with almost 22,000 riders.

Further reading

Vermonter data
A page on the Trains In The Valley site with detailed ridership data for the Vermonter.

New Greenfield Service Pushed Back to Late Summer

Amtrak train at Springfield Union Station
Greenfield Recorder / Paul Franz

Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer
By Anita Fritz | Greenfield Recorder | May 2, 2019

The headline sounds like good news, but what actually is happening is that the start of the new Greenfield service is being pushed back from June to late summer.

Back in June of 2018 Governor Charlie Baker announced that the new service would start in the spring of 2019. Then immediately following his formal announcement MassDOT said that the service would start in June 2019.

Why the delay? The news article does not say, but it looks to us like some of the infrastructure projects along the corridor are taking a little longer than planned.

Yes, the delay is frustrating, but everyone should keep in mind that operating a passenger rail service is much more complicated than people imagine.

Simply put, the service will start when MassDOT, Amtrak and CTDOT are ready and not a moment sooner.

Further reading

Passenger Rail | Valley Flyer
A page on the Trains In The Valley website with information about the planned new new service.

Working on the Railroad

Maintenance of Way equipment parked for the weekend on a siding | Sat. May 4, 2019
just off of South Main St. in South Deerfield | looking north

The equipment in this image is being used for a large tie replacement project that is now underway along the MassDOT-owned rail corridor between Springfield and Greenfield.

While this work is taking place travelers should expect that the Vermonter may be slightly delayed (10-15 minutes) at stations in the region until they are finished with the work.

The delays occur because of one or more temporary “slow orders” that are put in place in the work zone where the ties are being replaced. A slow order then remains in effect for a period of time after the work is completed while they wait for the track to fully settle.

As of today (May 17, 2019) the tie crew was reported to be working in Hatfield. The crew is working their way south and should arrive in Northampton sometime next week.

Some of you may wonder what we are looking at in this image. The machine at the head of the line is a Harsco Rail Mark IV Production/Switch Tamper. It is used to pack (or tamp) the ballast in and around the ties and to set the proper level for each rail of the track.

Further reading

Infrastructure | Current Projects
A page on the Trains In The Valley website with information on the many infrastructure projects that are in progress in our region.

Springfield | Platform C Update

A lot has happened at the high-level platform work site at Springfield Union Station in the past few weeks.

By late April the contractor had the site ready for the installation of the precast concrete sections for the new high-level platform at the station.

A large mobile crane was then setup on Lyman St for about a week so that the precast concrete sections could be lifted from flatbed trucks at street level and then carefully placed onto the new foundations at track level.

Crane in position on Lyman St | April 23, 2019
By Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican

If you’re wondering, this crane would appear to be a Liebherr LTM 1500 crane. Its maximum load capacity is 550 tons.

Springfield Union Station as viewed from the top of the garage | looking east | April 29, 2019
Platform C (now under construction) | looking east
Springfield Union Station | May 9, 2019

Here you can see the high-level platform, in its current form, with all of precast concert sections now installed.

You can also see that the newly installed structural members for the canopy, which was fabricated using steel from the historic canopy at the station.

When complete the platform will be accessed from the concourse level of the station via a new elevator and new set of stairs.

Further reading

“Crane lifts Platform C into place at Springfield Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | April 24, 2019

Boston City Council Votes for East-West Rail

On May 1, 2019 the Boston City Council adopted a resolution supporting East-West rail service between Boston and Springfield.

The resolution, which is shown below, was adopted by unanimous vote of the council.

Resolution Adopted by the Boston City Council | May 1, 2019

Further reading

Boston City Council votes to support Springfield-to-Boston high-speed passenger rail
By Shira Shoenberg | The Republican | May 1, 2019

New Website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop

We are happy to report that the new website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop is now live.


Interested parties may also wish to visit the Facebook group for this organization.

Holyoke | Cars in the Freight Yard

Holyoke rail yard as viewed from South Canal St | looking north | May 9, 2019

This seemingly nondescript image shows something that until recently has not been seen in Holyoke for quite a few years.

What you are looking at are five freight cars on the interchange track in Holyoke. This track is used to transfer cars between the Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVRR) and Pan Am Railways.

The reopening of the interchange track was made possible by a MassDOT Industrial Rail Access Grant (IRAP) to the PVRR. The IRAP funds along with funds provide by the railroad were used to repair of the bridge that carries the PVRR tracks over the Second Level Canal near Lyman Street.

We have been told that the three northernmost cars are center-beam flatcars that are used for hauling building and lumber materials. These flatcars were unloaded at the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Westfield and are now headed back empty.

The first two cars are gondolas which are normally used for hauling scrap material. Its unclear what they were doing on the PVRR system, but it could be that they were at Rescar Industries in Westfield being repaired.

WGBY video | Freight Rail in Western Mass.

The video below, which was produced by WGBY in Springfield, provides a nice overview of the freight rail system in western Massachusetts.

Here is the caption on YouTube that goes with this video:

When the Pinsley Rail Company purchased the railroad formerly operated by Conrail in 1982 and turned it into what is now known as the Pioneer Valley Railroad, it ushered in a new era for the short line rail industry in Western Massachusetts.

Since that time, Pinsley’s client list, warehouses, and distribution services have continues to grow along with rail service.

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan chased trains around several 413 towns to get a look at the state of rail freight transport in Western Mass.