Rail News Roundup #26

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Today’s Headlines

• Amtrak Finally Moves into Springfield Union Station

• Hartford Line | the One Year Anniversary

• Northampton | Station Parking News

• Northampton | A Bridge to Low

• Senators Comerford and Lesser Speak about Rail service

• Draft Pioneer Valley 2020 Regional Transportation Plan Update

• Springfield | State St Crossing Closed by Amtrak

• Springfield | Clinton St Crossing gets Warning Lights

• A Rail Milestone in the Berkshires

 

CALENDAR

2020 Region Transportation Plan Update
Public Meetings

Springfield
Tues. June 25, 2019 | 7 pm
Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
60 Congress Street

Northampton
Wed. June 26, 2019 | 7 pm
City Hall, 201 Main Street
2nd Floor Hearing Room

Westfield
Thur. June 27, 2019 | 7 pm
City Hall, 59 Court Street

Further details below.

 

MassDOT East-West Passenger Rail Study
Advisory Committee Meeting #2
May 14, 2019 – POSTPONED

New Date | July 23, 2019 from 1 pm – 3 pm
Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel
Mahogany Room, Second Floor

 


Amtrak Finally Moves into Springfield Union Station

Amtrak moved its Springfield ticket office into the main hall at Union Station on June 6, 2019 — nearly two years after the historic station was re-opened to the public — and on the following day they closed their 1990s-era waiting room at track level.

Here are a few pictures that visually summarize “moving day” for Amtrak in Springfield.

Amtrak’s waiting room at track level on its last day
Springfield, Ma. | June 6, 2019

 

The soon-to-be opened Amtrak ticket office at Springfield Union Station | June 6, 2019

 

The existing stairway to Platform D
Springfield Union Station | June 6, 2019

 

The new Amtrak ticket office at Springfield Union Station | June 6, 2019

 

Not to bury the lede… but in related news, it has been announced that the new high-level platform at the station is expect to open in July.

Further reading

“Amtrak Moves Passenger Services To Springfield’s Union Station”
By Paul Tuthill | WAMC | June 11, 2019

 


Hartford Line | the One Year Anniversary

A southbound train out of Springfield rips through banner at Hartford Union Station, marking inaugural run for the Hartford Line
Photo by Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant

“Hartford Line beats expectations with 634,000 trips in first year”
By Russell Blair | Hartford Courant | June 17, 2019

 

Great news for the Hartford Line!

Ridership on the new rail service exceeded expectations, with an estimated 634,000 trips during the rail line’s first year of operation.

The busiest day of the year was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when 3,500 riders used the service.

Also included in the announcement was news that the Connecticut Department of Transportation intends to start construction of a new Hartford Line station in Windsor Locks in 2020. (Bids for the new station are scheduled to be advertised on May 13, 2020.)

Further information

Hartford Line One Year Report (PDF)
Connecticut Dept. of Transportation | June 17, 2019

Video | Hartford Line beats expectations with 634k passengers in first year (15:22)
Office of Gov. Ned Lamont | June 17, 2019

 


Northampton | Station Parking News

The extension of the train platform off Pleasant Street in Northampton continues
Carol Lollis / Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 10, 2019

“Train station expansion nearly finished in Northampton, parking management changes in works”
By Bera Dunau | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 12, 2019

 

A recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette provided an update on the evolving parking situation at the Union Station lots in Northampton.

As many people are aware, passengers wishing to take the train from Northampton unfortunately can’t park at the station today.

This parking situation is expected to change this summer when the owner of the lot at Union Station completes the installation of an an automated parking control system — with a new gate to be located at the Pleasant Street exit from the lot.

According to the article, parking will then cost $0.75/hour which works out to $18 for a 24-hour period. This hourly rate is that same rate that is currently charged by the city at E. J. Gare Municipal Garage in downtown Northampton.

Clearly these rates are high compare to the $10 weekday ($6 Sat or Sun) maximum rate at the Olver Street Parking Garage in Greenfield, or the $5 “daily commuter rate” at the Union Station Garage in Springfield.

 


Northampton | A Bridge to Low

Cars passing under the bridges above Bridge Street
Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 17, 2019

“Despite city’s best efforts, low bridge still taking hits”
By Bera Dunau | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 17, 2019

 

Early this month yet another tractor-trailer got stuck after attempting to pass under the railroad bridge that carries the Connecticut River Main Line over Main Street in Northampton. This bridge, which is only 11′ 0″ above the road surface, is too low for some vehicles.

The article, linked above, got us thinking. . . isn’t there a way that this could be solved with technology?

The short answer is yes, and last week we set the “maxheight” parameter for this bridge on the OpenStreetMap site to 11′ 0″.

 

Screenshot of the OpenStreetView site (in edit mode) | June 19, 2019

This is important because many navigation products (Garmin in particular) use the data from OpenStreetMap as a primary data source.

Will this solve the problem of trucks driving into this bridge? No, it won’t, but it should help.

Many drivers don’t use navigation devices and some use navigation apps (such as Waze) that do not use the bridge height data when navigating.

Time will tell whether or not this change reduces the number of bridge strikes on Main Street. We hope it does.

Further reading

“Tractor-trailer gets jammed under Northampton railroad bridge”
By Dusty Christensen | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 11, 2019

 


Senators Comerford and Lesser Speak about Rail service

 

In this interesting ten minute interview Senators Jo Comerford (D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester) and Eric Lesser (D-First Hampden and Hampshire) talk in depth with Carrie Saldo of WGBY about their efforts to secure funding to support marketing of the planned new Greenfield – New Haven passenger rail service.

 


Draft Pioneer Valley 2020 Regional Transportation Plan

Happening this week 

On Tuesday this week the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is expected to release its draft 2020 Pioneer Valley Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).

The RTP outlines the direction of transportation planning and improvements for the Pioneer Valley for the next twenty years, through to the year 2040. Importantly, it provides the basis for all state and federally funded transportation improvement projects and planning studies.

This plan is only updated every five years so its important for interested parties to speak up now, since the next chance to review this plan won’t occur again until 2024.

With that said, we would encourage you to —

  1. Attend one of the public meetings this week in Northampton, Springfield or Westfield; (meeting dates and locations can be found in the calendar section above)
  2. Review the draft RTP (on the link below) when it is released on Tuesday; and
  3. Provide written comments on the RTP as detailed in the link below.

Comments on the draft RTP are due by July 15, 2019.

Our experience suggests that pubic input to planning efforts like this one can and does make a make a difference.

We strongly encourage you to offer your input to the draft plan, in particular in support of expanded passenger rail service in our region.

For further information about the draft Pioneer Valley RTP — including links to the draft plan and details on how to provide comments — please click on the project link below:

Pioneer Valley Regional Transportation Plan

 


Springfield | State Street Crossing Closed by Amtrak

State Street crossing | looking west
Springfield, Ma. | June 10, 2019

The State Street crossing of the Amtrak rail line in Springfield is now blocked by locked gates (shown above) on both sides of the tracks.

We assume that this step was taken for safety reasons.

This crossing until last year provided a means for pedestrian to access the Connecticut River Walk, over a railroad crossing that was not protected by automatic warning signals (bells, lights and gates.)

 

New signs at the crossing instruct people who wish to cross the tracks to use either the underpass just to the north of this location or the overpass to the south, which is behind LA Fitness.

Amtrak’s future plans are for this crossing are not known to us at the moment.

Further reading

“Springfield’s Riverfront Park reopens after $3.1 million renovation project”
By Peter Goonan | The Republican | June 12, 2019

“Riverfront Park in Springfield is getting a facelift — but is a rail crossing a barrier to access?”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | October 16, 2018

 


Springfield | Clinton Street Crossing gets Warning Lights

Clinton Street crossing | looking east
Springfield, Ma. | June 10, 2019

Pan Am Railways recently completed the installation of new active warning lights at the Clinton Street crossing in Springfield.

This crossing until recently was only marked with passive crossbuck signs.

We assume that this work, which is funded by MassDOT, was done to increase the safety at this railroad crossings, which is a good thing for sure.

 


A Rail Milestone in the Berkshires

Earlier this month the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) released a draft copy of their 20-year Regional Transportation plan.

On page 33 of the 288-page document is this chart which lists transportation service projects that were ranked according to the BRPC’s scoring framework rating system.

What is particularly interesting about this table is the focus on expanding passenger rail service in the Berkshires and in particular the clear priority assigned to the re-establishment of passenger rail service along the Housatonic Line corridor.

The Housatonic Line, which runs generally south from Pittsfield to Danbury, would allow for intra-regional travel along the corridor and potentially could once again open a direct passenger rail connecting between the Berkshires and the New York City.

Is this going to happen tomorrow? No. But people should not underestimate the importance of what has happened here.

The regional planning organization for the region, the Berkshire Planning Commission has now said that re-establishing passenger rail service along this line is a priority transportation service project for the region in the long term transportation plan.

This is a big step for passenger rail in western Massachusetts. The goal has now been set by the BRPC and now we simply have to find a way to reach this goal, over time.

Further reading

The Train Campaign
A regional advocacy group in the Berkshire working for the restoration of passenger rail service on the Housatonic Line.