Rail News Roundup #11


Today’s Headlines

• Comment Period Ends for State Rail Plan

• Vermonter Service No Longer Under Threat of Suspension

• 2017 Vermonter Ridership Report

• Tree and Brush Clearing along the Line

• News Analysis | The Hartford Line

• Union Station Platform Work Delayed Again

• Westfield | Safety Improvements Planned for Rail Crossing

• CSX Line in Massachusetts Not for Sale

• Vermont Rail Action Network Launches New Website

• Then and Now


Comment Period Ends for State Rail Plan

The public comment period for the draft 2018 State Rail Plan closed on March 2, 2018.

We’d like to thank the many people across our region who actively participated in this process by submitting written comments to MassDOT, attended one of the Rail Plan Advocacy Pop-up meetings, reached out to friends to encourage others to submit their comments, or engaging in the advocacy process on-line using Facebook.

Here’s a selection of public comments that have crossed our desk:

Knowledge Corridor Partnership (PDF)

Mayor David Narkewicz | City of Northampton (PDF)

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PDF)

Plan for Progress (PDF)

Ben Heckscher | Trains In The Valley (PDF)

Transportation for Massachusetts (PDF)

The Train Campaign (PDF) | Berkshire County


We will report further on this topic after MassDOT releases the final version of the 2018 State Rail Plan.

Further reading

“Glimpses of East-West Rail, or a Position to Not Look Too Close…?”
Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight | February 5, 2018

“East-west passenger service urged among state rail priorities”
By Cyrus Moulton | Telegram & Gazette | January 29, 2018


Vermonter Service No Longer Under Threat of Suspension

Source: Vermont Business Magazine | March 6, 2018

“Amtrak backs off from Vermont service suspension threat, apologizes”
By CB Hall | Vermont Business Magazine | March 6, 2018

Amtrak backed away from its earlier implied threat of suspension of service on the Vermonter at the recent meeting of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council meeting in Montpelier.

Concern for the future of the Vermonter was raised among many interested parties soon after Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on February 15th.

During that hearing he said that Amtrak was “unlikely to operate on stretches [of track] that regulators have excluded from PTC [Positive Train Control] requirements” — which includes the route used by the Vermonter north of Springfield, Mass.

“I want to apologize to Vermont for all the angst caused,” he [an Amtrak spokesperson] addressed those on hand. In objecting to the prospect of a service suspension, he said, “You did the right thing. Looking ahead, he said that the company was now looking at mitigation of safety risks in more general terms, in cooperation with state partners.”

“Right now we have no plans to cease any service on any route,” Amtrak’s Bill Hollister told Vermont Business Magazine on February 28th.

Further Reading

Written Testimony of Richard Anderson, CEO of Amtrak (PDF)
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
February 15, 2018


2017 Vermonter Ridership Report

Amtrak has released Fiscal Year 2017 ridership numbers for the Vermonter — and we are happy to report that ridership at stations in our region looks good overall.

Here’s a chart that we prepared with a summary of the available data:

Source: Amtrak Vermonter FY2014-17 Ridership – 21 Feb 2018 (PDF)

Highlights from the data show that:

  • Approximately 29,000 passengers used the Vermonter in Western Mass. between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017 (Amtrak’s fiscal year 2017)
  • Ridership in Western Mass. increased 10% vs. FY 2016.
  • Northampton, with 19,588 passengers in FY 2017, is now the busiest Vermonter station north of Springfield.
  • Ridership from the four station stops in the Pioneer Valley account for about 1/3rd of the total ridership on the Vermonter.


Further reading

Amtrak Ridership – Greenfield | FY2017 (PDF)

Amtrak Ridership – Holyoke | FY2017 (PDF)

Amtrak Ridership – Northampton | FY2017 (PDF)

Amtrak Ridership – Springfield | FY2017 (PDF)


Tree and Brush Clearing along the Line

As many people have noticed, crews have been working through the winter to clear trees and brush from the rail line that is used by the Vermonter in the Pioneer Valley.

This rail line, which is now owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, is formally known as the Connecticut River Main Line.

Trees and branches are being cleared along the line to improve sight lines and to reduce the chance that a fallen tree will block the tracks.

The images below show some of the recent work.

Clearing Trees along the Connecticut River Main Line
along Route 5, Holyoke | looking east | March 2, 2018

In the image above a grapple crane is feeding brush into a wood chipper.

Look closely and you can see that both pieces of equipment are riding on the rails.


The Connecticut River Main Line | looking North
Chestnut Street crossing, Hatfield | March 4, 2018

This image shows a section of the recently cleared right-of-way in Hatfield.

Note the bundles of new railroad ties that have been dropped along the rail line. These ties will be used for a tie replacement project that we assume will start this spring.


News Analysis | The Hartford Line

Source: New Haven Independent | March 2, 2018

“Plan Flaws Mar New Train Line’s Promise”
By Sandy Johnston | New Haven Independent | March 2, 2018

An in-depth and detailed review of the CTrail Hartford Line project.

If you’re seriously interested in the planning details related to the Hartford Line then this article for you. The author covers everything — from the schedule, to the fares, to the infrastructure, to the costs, to the equipment — and more.

The author — Sandy Johnson — is a planner and program Manager for a regional transportation planning agency in Boston.


Union Station Platform Work Delayed Again

Source: MassLive | February 2, 2018

“Union Station platform work delayed again”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | February 2, 2018

The never ending story of the delayed high-level platform at Springfield Union Station.

The article says that bid specifications for the new platform will be released this month. When the platform will be completed is unclear at the moment.


Westfield | Safety Improvements Planned for Rail Crossing

Source: WWLP-22 News | January 31, 2018

“Key safety upgrades coming to Westfield rail crossings”
By Matt Caron | WWLP-22 News | January 31, 2018

WWLP-TV News 22 reports on plans to updated three railroad crossing in Westfield.

The crossings to be upgraded are at three locations on the Pioneer Valley Railroad line in Westfield — where the railroad line crosses Lockhouse Road, Summit Lock Road, and Service Star Industrial Way.

When the work is complete, each of these crossing will be protected by new active traffic control devices which will include flashing lights, gates, and bells. The work is scheduled to take place in the Spring.

Further Reading
Railroad Crossing Safety | Trains In The Valley


CSX Line in Massachusetts Not for Sale

In January we passed along a report from the Albany Times Union that said that CSX was considering a sale of its main line between Worcester, Springfield, and the New York State border.

Since then CSX has come forward to state clearly that, “… this line is not for sale.”

Further reading

“CSX rules out sale of former Boston & Albany line”
Times-Union | January 26, 2018


Vermont Rail Action Network Launches New Website

Source: Screenshot of Vermont Rail Action Network website | March 9, 2018

The Vermont Rail Action Network, our sister organization in Vermont, has just launched their newly redesigned website.


If you’re interested in being an advocate for rail service in Vermont we would encourage you to join their organization.


Then and Now

A new addition to the Rail News Roundup

Forbes Library recently posted this interesting image on on their Facebook page so we thought it would be sort of neat to see what the view from this location looks like today.


Three bridges over the Connecticut River | undated (ca. 1900)
Courtesy of Forbes Library, Northampton, Mass.

From left to right:
– the former bridge for the trolley line that once connected Northampton and Amherst
– the former highway bridge across the river
– The Massachusetts Central Railroad bridge (built in 1887)


On the Mass Central Rail Trail – Norwottuck Branch | looking west
Hadley, Mass. | March 4, 2018

On the left is the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Bridge (completed in 1939) and on the right is the bridge that is now known as the Mass Central Rail Trail’s Norwottuck Branch Bridge.