Rail News Roundup #42

The Rail News Roundup in back. Please join us as we catch you up on some of the news from the past few months.

Today’s Headlines

The Valley Flyer is Here to Stay!

East-West Rail Updates

   Aug. 10, 2022 | $275 million Approved for East-West Rail

   Aug. 23, 2022 | Baker Rides the Rails to Springfield

   Sept. 9, 2022 | Healey talks up East-West Rail 

   “East-West Rail in Massachusetts” Web page Launched

Springfield Track Reconfiguration Design Grant Awarded

Ongoing Vermonter Delays

New Station for Windsor Locks CT Underway

Deerfield Residents Want Train Horns Silenced

Pioneer Valley Railroad to Abandon 4.25 miles of Track


Calendar

December 9, 2020 | 11 am (NEW)
Public meeting of the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission
Venue: Berkshire Innovation Center
45 Woodlawn Avenue
Pittsfield, MA
WMPR Commission Hearing Notice (PDF)


Fall 2022
Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study public workshop to review the initial service plan alternatives.

December 2022
Next Meeting of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council

December 1, 2022 | Applications due date for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant funding. Available funding in this round is $1.4 billion. It is possible that MassDOT will submit a CRISI grant application for funding to move forward early action items related to the East-West Rail project.

March 31, 2023
The due date for the East-West Rail Commission to submit its final report.2

1 This is a placeholder name. The actual name of the commission has not yet been announced.

2 Per Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2022.


The Valley Flyer is Here to Stay!

Daily Hampshire Gazette | Page 1 | October 31, 2022

On Friday, October 28th it became official — the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that the Valley Flyer passenger rail service had become a permanent service!

The announcement was made in Northampton by Meredith Slesinger, the Administrator of the MassDOT Rail and Transit Division, who was in town for the dedication of the station platform in memory of former State Representative Peter Kocot who served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 2001-2018.

The Valley Flyer was launched — as a two-year pilot — on August 30, 2019 as a passenger rail service that would provide a means for people to travel to points south along the Northeast Corridor (New York City in particular) in the morning and return north in the evening.

The arrival of the first Valley Flyer in Northampton | 6:14 a.m. Fri. Aug. 30, 2019

The service got off to a good start, with the help of a marketing campaign that was funded by a FY2020 budget earmark negotiated by State Senator Jo Comerford and money that was provided by MassDOT.

But then the pandemic derailed all efforts to build ridership for the new service.

During the height of the pandemic the Valley Flyer was reduced to one train a day and the Vermonter service was suspended.

The Valley Flyer’s full schedule resumed in July of 2021 along with a renewed effort to build ridership.

Clearly those efforts have paid off, with the recent announcement by MassDOT that the service had passed the ridership test and that it will now continue as a permanent service.

Its important at this stage to point out here that all of this didn’t just happen by accident.

This service came about because of a concerted effort by elected officials and transportation planners in our region who worked tirelessly in 2018 and 2019 to convince MassDOT to start a new passenger rail service in our region.

The service succeeded because of the ongoing focus that was applied by a large group of elected officials — at the federal, state and local level — from across our region who worked together to make this service a success.

They did this by meeting on a monthly basis to wade through the many issues that had to be discussed and resolved to get and keep this service rolling, so to speak.

These meetings were led by staff from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, whose leadership and guidance over the past three years made this possible.

Trains In The Valley’s role in all of this was to advocate for the service through our connections regionally, build public awareness of the service, chase down and report issues, and provide assistance to anyone who asked.

But really, in the end, this service is a success because of the many people who have used the Valley Flyer, and the many others (we hope) who will used it in the future.

To those people, and all of the others, we sincerely thank you!

It’s also important to remember that few things in life are ever permanent. To keep this service running over the long term we need to build ridership and maintain the broad political support that exists today for passenger rail in our region.

So where do we go from here?

In our view, now is the time to start the process to plan for improvements to the service that exists today. We’ve got ideas and we’re sure that many others do too.

Sp please send your suggestions and ideas to us so we can add them to the list that we’re working on.

Suggestions for improving the Valley Flyer can be sent using our online comment form — on this link.

Further reading

“Valley Flyer rail service to become permanent”
By Julian Mendoza | The Daily Hampshire Gazette | October 31, 2022


East-West Rail Updates

Aug. 10, 2022 | $275 million Approved for East-West Rail

On August 10th Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an $11.4 billion infrastructure bond bill known as the Act Relative to Massachusetts’s Transportation Resources and Climate (MassTRAC) .

Among many other things, the bill includes $275 million in bonding authorization (to be supplemented with federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill dollars) that could be used for the East-West passenger rail project.

The bill also establishes a commission to investigate what the governance structure should be for passenger rail in western Mass.

This also didn’t just happen by accident. We would encourage you to take a moment to thank your state representative and senator for supporting the passage of this important bill and the money that it makes available for the East-West Rail project.

Contact details for your state representative and senator can be found on this link —Find your State Senator and State Representative.

Further reading

An Act Relative to Massacusetts’s Transportation Resources and Climate
Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2022 | Approved, August 10, 2022

Aug. 23, 2022 | Baker Rides the Rails to Springfield

Amtrak inspection car with Gov. Baker | Amtrak train 449 | August 23, 2022
Photo credit: Massachusetts Sierra Club

Governor Baker and Congressman Richard Neal meet with Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner on August 23rd to discuss the future of east-west passenger rail in Massachusetts.

The meeting was held in Amtrak’s ultimate meeting room — its inspection car “American View” — which was attached to the rear of train 449, Amtrak’s daily westbound service from Boston South Station to Amtrak’s Albany–Rensselaer station.

Our friends at the Massachusetts Sierra Club — who happened to be at the right place at the right time — captured the image above as the train was departing Back Bay Station, with the meeting clearly in progress.

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner narrating the trip to Springfield | August 23, 2022 (via Twitter)

Between Boston South Station and Springfield Gov. Baker said the group discussed “what it would take to do the work that would be required to get it to the point where it can really deliver the two-hour ride that we’ve talked about for the past several years.”

The train with Gov. Baker and Stephen Gardner arrived in Springfield at 3:27 pm (2 hours and 37 minutes after leaving Boston) where they hosted a press briefing with Congressman Richard Neal —

East-West Rail press briefing (23:24) | Springfield Union Station | August 23, 2022

During the briefing Gov. Baker pledged to use his remaining time in office to put the long-discussed East-West Rail expansion project in position to benefit from funding that will soon be available under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (IIJA)

Baker said,

“While my time here is short, I can promise you that over the course of the next few months, we will continue to build on the work that’s been done over the past several years to position this as one of the major opportunities that we will have here in the commonwealth and throughout the Northeast to do something very special with Amtrak to take full advantage of the bipartisan infrastructure law and the resources that it makes available.”

“What I would really like to do with our team is make sure that by the time we get to the end of this year, we have teed up and either written and submitted a number of the applications that would be most pertinent to a lot of the track work and some of the other work that needs to be done between here and Boston.

And in addition to that, tee up whatever … other sorts of things we should be putting into the pipeline to ensure that we get what I would describe as Massachusetts’s fair share with respect to the resources that are available.”

Read into this what you wish, but from what we saw and heard, Governor Baker is “all in” on east-west rail.

Now all we need is the cooperation of CSX (the owner of the rail corridor west of Worcester), the award of IIJA funding grants from the Federal Railroad Administration, and a sense of urgency within the new administration to move this project forward.

Further reading

“Baker vows full-court press for East-West rail”
By Colin A. Young | Statehouse News Service | August 23, 2022

Sept. 9, 2022 | Healey talks up East-West Rail

Springfield Union Station | September 9, 2022 | By Paul Tuthill/WAMC

Attorney General (now Governor-elect) Martha Healey made a campaign stop at Union Station in Springfield on September 9th to talk about moving East-West Rail forward and her vision for transportation in the state.

The key take-away from her unscripted speech were the words — “we’ll get this done and that is my promise to you” — during the portion of her speech that focused on east-west rail.

AG Healey’s visit came shortly after her campaign released her Transportation Plan which included these paragraphs —

“There are a number of major capital projects that are worthy of investment and are essential to building a transportation system for the future.

Some of those projects are critical for safety, such as the rehabilitation of the Cape Cod bridges; others open new possibilities for growth, such as the Allston Multi-Modal project, the Red-Blue Connector, Northern Tier, Inland Route, the “Environmental Justice Corridor”; and some have the potential to truly transform, none more so that the West-East Rail, which Maura believes should be a priority.

To that end, Maura will appoint a West-East Rail Director in MassDOT to be laser-focused on achieving this complex project. Maura is committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure these projects go from ideas to reality.”

With these words and actions it seems clear that the new Healey-Driscoll administration will make East-West Rail a priority.

Further reading

“Maura Healey on East-West Rail: ‘We’ll get this done’ “
By Paul Tuthill | WMAC | September 9, 2022

“East-West Rail in Massachusetts” Webpage Launched

On June 22nd Trains In The Valley launched a new page on its site titled — “East-West Rail in Massachusetts”

The page provides, for the first time, a single place on the web where people can find what’s going on with east-west rail — past, present, and future.


Springfield Track Reconfiguration Design Grant Awarded

Rail infrastructure in and around Springfield Union Station | OpenRailwayMap

On June 6, 2020 the Federal Railroad Administration announced that it had awarded MassDOT a $1.75 million federal grant to support preliminary design, engineering and environmental work related to the proposed Springfield Area Track Reconfiguration Project.

The federal grant represents 50 percent of the total cost of $3.5 million, with MassDOT providing the other 50 percent of the cost.

According to the grant application, the operational problems at the station that this project seeks to address include —

  • conflicting movements between passenger trains and freight trains in the Springfield area,
  • back up movements for passenger trains in and out of Springfield Union Station,
  • capacity restrictions within the layover facilities used for passenger rail operations,
  • the limited ability for concurrent movements of passenger and freight trains through the area,
  • limited connections between tracks, and
  • accessibility issues related to the low-level platforms.

Again, according to the grant application, possible solutions to these problems could include —

  • a seventh track and a new platform through the station,
  • a third track to the east of the Springfield Union Station terminal tracks that would allow for short-term storage of freight trains east of the CSX/Connecticut River Line diamond,
  • a wye track connecting the platform tracks to the Connecticut River Line,
  • additional crossover tracks between the CSX and Amtrak station tracks,
  • additional track and crossovers to increase capacity and connections between the Amtrak Springfield Line and CSX freight corridor,
  • improved accessibility at Springfield Union Station with the construction of one or more new high-level passenger platforms, and/or
  • a layover facility in Springfield for the storage and servicing of passenger trains.

This design work will lay the groundwork for a future project to improve operational efficiency, reduce travel times, improve passenger accessibility for intercity passenger rail services, and reduce freight and passenger rail conflicts on the rail corridors in the Springfield area.

At one time — before Amtrak came into being in 1971 — Springfield Union Station had a great many more tracks than it has today, as can be seen in the track chart below.

Historic track chart | Springfield Union Station | undated, but likely from the 1950s

The interlocking plant at the station at the time this chart was drawn, was sized to handle over 130 daily passenger trains as well as over 100 trains carrying U.S. mail.

As the private railroads cut back on their passenger service there was no longer a need for so many tracks and platforms at the station so most of them were ripped out as time went by.

Exactly what the final design for the new track work in Springfield will look like remains to be seen, but it’s is all but certain that it will be sized for the future — when Springfield Union Station assumes its place once again as a major passenger rail hub in Massachusetts and New England.


Ongoing Vermonter Delays

A red flag (stop) marker just south of the West River | Brattleboro, VT | October 27, 2022

A multitude of slow orders on New England Central Railroad’s tracks in Vermont over the past year have caused significant departure delays at stations used by the southbound Vermonter in western Massachusetts.

Most of the slow orders on the line are due to substandard track conditions and extensive track work that got under way in earnest in mid-September.

In an effort to quantify the problem we created this chart that we think clearly shows the problem with the late operation of the southbound train through Vermont.

Southbound Vermonter Delays @ NHT
Data source: Amtrak Status Maps Archive Database

The chart shows two sets of data.

The red section charts the average departure delay (in minutes) from Northampton MA for the southbound Vermonter over a 12 month period.

The green section charts the number of times (in days) that the train departed on time (at 2.01 pm) from Northampton each month.

Notably, the southbound Vermonter departed on-time from Northampton just three (3) times over the past 12 months — on December 4 & 10, 2021, and January 7, 2022.

And, the train departed 10–50 minutes late on average over the same period.

This is clearly a problem in our view.

The track work for this year (we are told) is finally wrapping up, with winter now right around the corner.

As the work ends speed restrictions in the work zones along the line will be removed and on time performance will improve. How much, remains to be seen.

It’s important to note that the southbound Valley Flyer — which originates in Greenfield, not Vermont — departs on time most days with minimal if any delay.

People who do not want to wait out on an open platform for a potentially late southbound Vermonter should consider trying the Valley Flyer, if they have not done so already.

Further reading

Southbound Vermonter delays
A section on our Data page where we analyze and track the delays.


New Station for Windsor Locks CT Underway

Ground breaking for the new Windsor Locks CT station | September 14, 2022 | Courtesy CTDOT

On September 14, 2022, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont joined state and local officials to officially break ground for the Windsor Locks station project, which includes a new train station and roadway safety and track improvements in the Town of Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

The new station, which will be located just to the north of the historic Windsor Locks station building, is expected to open in 2024.

See also

Windsor Locks station project

Further reading

“Governor Lamont Breaks Ground on New Train Station in Windsor Locks”
CTDOT News Release | September 14, 2022


Deerfield Residents Want Train Horns Silenced

Railroad crossing on Elm Street in South Deerfield | The Recorder | August 26, 2022

Two residents of Deerfield appeared before the Selectboard on August 24, 2022 to request that the town investigate the possibility of creating a “No horn zone” (also called a “Quiet Zone”) at the railroad crossings in town.

The residents who appeared before the board described their experience living with the train horns along the MassDOT-owned rail line which sees both Amtrak passenger trains (the Valley Flyer and the Vermonter) as well as freight trains.

There are five public crossings in Deerfield — at Elm St, Pleasant St, North Highside Rd, Pleasant Ave and Keets Rd. There are also four private crossings.

Train horns are not normally sounded at private crossings along this rail corridor, but this may have changed with CSX’s acquisition of Pan Am Railways.

It’s important to note that it’s a complicated and lengthy process to create a Quiet Zone, and that such zones do not totally prohibit the sounding of the train’s horn.

There are 29 approved Quiet Zones in Massachusetts, all of which are located on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) tracks in the eastern part of the state, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The select board agreed to prepare a letter that will be sent to MassDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration to initiate the process.

Further reading

“Deerfield residents request railroad quiet zones”
By Chris Larabee | The Recorder | August 26, 2022

The Train Horn Rule and Quiet Zones
Federal Railroad Administration

A video of the Quiet Zone discussion at the Selectboard meeting is included below —

“Quite zone” discussion | Deerfield Selectboard | August 24, 2022 (via YouTube)

Pioneer Valley Railroad to Abandon 4.25 miles of Track

On October 28, 2022 the Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVRR) filed paperwork with the federal Surface Transportation Board to legally abandon an out-of-service railroad corridor known as Florence Secondary line in the Town of Southampton.

PVRR Florence Secondary line over the Manhan River

The 4.25 mile rail line — which has not seen a train for decades — runs from its northern terminus at Coleman Road south to a point at Brickyard Road, near its intersection with Valley Road in Southampton.

The line was conveyed by Consolidated Rail Corporation to PVRR in 1982. PVRR used the line to carry freight until the 1990s, when it ceased operations on the line.

Following the abandonment, PVRR plans to transfer the right of way to the Town of Southampton so that it can be railbanked pursuant to the National Trail Systems Act.

The corridor in time will become part of the Manhan railtrail.

Further reading

Pioneer Valley Railroad Company Abandonment Exemption (PDF)
Surface Transportation Board Docket No -AB 531 | October 28, 2022

“Southampton secures $300K to design 3.5-mile rail trail extension”
By Emily Thurlow | Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 24, 2022

Post last updated: November 21, 2022