Earlier this week a Longmeadow DPW employee tragically lost his life at the Birnie Road rail crossing when the snow plow he was operating was hit by an Amtrak train that was clearing snow from the rail line.
This accident has been extensively covered by the media and is under investigation by local, state and federal authorities so this posting will not delve into the details of the accident.
Instead, this posting will at look at the topic of highway-rail grade crossing safety in general in our region, with a focus on the crossing at Birnie Rd in Longmeadow.
Highway-rail crossings in the Pioneer Valley
There are a total of 119 public highway-rail crossings in the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley. Each crossing is marked with passive signage. Most crossings are also protected by active warning devices such as bells, red flashing lights, and gates.
In summary, the report shows that for the five-year period (January 1, 2011, – December 31, 2015) there were a total of five (5) reported accidents at highway-rail crossing in the Pioneer Valley — which thankfully is a very low number.
Three of the accidents occurring at a single location — the grade crossing that takes Bridge Street in West Springfield over the CSX rail line.
For reasons that we cannot explain, the Birnie Road crossing does not appear on the FRA’s list of active highway-rail crossings. Updated 3/28/2017: The Birnie Road crossing reverted to “open” status when Amtrak submitted a revised DOT Crossing Inventory form to the FRA on March 24, 2017.
The Birnie Road railroad crossing
This is an aerial view of the crossing courtesy of Google Maps.
And this is a Google Street View image of the crossing.
Birnie Road in Longmeadow crosses the Amtrak Springfield Line. Our understanding is that passenger trains are authorized to operate on the two tracks at this location at speeds up to 70 80 m.p.h.
The Amtrak Springfield Line is used by Amtrak trains that operate between Springfield and New Haven. The line is also used by a number of freight trains each day. In early 2018 this line will see additional rail traffic when the Hartford Line service launches, with the addition of 12 daily round-trip Hartford Line trains between New Haven and Springfield.
MassLive reported this week that there have been a total of five (5) fatalities at the Birnie Road crossing since 1975.
On Thursday, March 16th WWLP News22 reported that the Town of Longmeadow had set up barriers across the road at the Birnie Road crossing.
Once the investigation is complete, the proper authorities — which we understand are the Town of Longmeadow, Amtrak, and the Department of Public Utilities — must decide what steps need to be taken to reduce the risk of future accidents at this dangerous rail crossing.
In our view, there are only two options — either upgrade the crossing at Birnie Road with active warning devices or close it permanently.
Here’s an activity for rail advocates looking for something new to do while it continues to snow outside.
As part of the process to update its five-year Capital Investment Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is seeking input from the public until the end of this week.
If you have comments or suggestions on current or future state transportation projects, programs, priorities, and/or concerns, now is the time to submit your ideas and thoughts to MassDOT as part of this process.
In particular, we would encourage you to submit your comments in support of the following rail priorities for our region:
1. Additional passenger rail service north of Springfield
– ideally, the extension of a few Hartford Line trains past Springfield to Greenfield
2. Expanded passenger rail service between Springfield and Boston
– e.g., an extension of the planned Hartford Line service from Springfield to Boston
3. A second high-level platform at Springfield Union Station
– only one high-level platform is currently funded
4. and any other ideas and suggestions that you wish MassDOT to consider, including those related to state highways, the MBTA and the Regional Transit Agencies (i.e. PVTA and the FRTA.)
Your ideas and comments may be submitted one of two ways:
On Monday, March 6th, Congressman Richard E. Neal hosted a “Media Day” event at Union Station to celebrate the rebirth of Union Station in Springfield. During the event, it was announced that Union Station will reopen to the public on Monday, June 26th, 2017.
At that time Amtrak’s passenger waiting room and ticket offices will move into the newly renovated station. It is expected that Peter Pan Bus Lines, Greyhound, and the bus operations of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will then follow as quickly as practical.
The images that follow highlight today’s media event and the station as it looks today — as final preparations for the re-opening are put in motion.
Images from Today’s Event
Images from Inside the Station
A highlight of the new station is the wonderful set of large graphic displays (murals) that were developed by Design & Advertising Associates LLC of Springfield and the Museum of Springfield History.
At track-level, you will unfortunately not find much that is new or improved at the moment. The current MassDOT Capital Improvement Plan includes funding for the construction of one high-level platform at the station. The new platform will replace the existing low level “Platform C”, which is shown in the image below.
We are hopeful that the planned high-level platform will be completed before the new Hartford Line service starts in early 2018.
Behind a door in the passageway under the tracks is the framing of the new elevator shaft and a set of original stairs that once led to Platform C — clearly a work in progress.
In the meantime — until the new high-level platform is built — train passengers will continue to access the boarding platforms using the existing stairway and elevator at the south end of the passageway.
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.
Note that there are no planned changes to the timetable for stations in western Massachusetts.
This timetable adjustment will improve the performance of the southbound train at station stops in western Massachusetts. In particular, we are hopeful that the southbound train will depart on-time from Greenfield, most of the time, once the adjustment to the timetable is made.
Gov. Malloy’s letter follows a letter of support — for both expanded service on the Knowledge Corridor and East-West rail — sent by Congressman Jim McGovern and Congressman Richard Neal back in November 2016.
Returning passenger service on the route between Boston and New Haven via Springfield, a service that was recommended in the recently completed Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI) study, is not a small project.
Moving this project forward requires the support of Gov. Baker, who until now has been reluctant to say much of anything on this topic. Additionally, state and federal funding for the required planning and engineering work would need to be identified and secured.
About > Filing Cabinet
This new page is a place where we will maintain a listing of resources that are only indirectly related to the primary topic of this website. As example, this page now includes a link to a nice chart (prepared by MassBudget) that shows the funding sources for transportation in Massachussets and where the funds go.
Get Involved > Rail Bills | Mass. Legislature
This new page contains a listing of bills filed in the Massachusetts General Court (the legislature) that affect passenger and/or freight rail service in our region of the state.
Infrastructure > Greenfield
This page has been updated with further information (and images) about the newly expanded short-term parking lot at the Olver Transit Center and the planned new parking garage.
Passenger Rail > Vermonter Performance
The On-time Performance & Departure Delay spreadsheet for the Vermonter has been updated with data through to the end of January 2017. The OT performance of the southbound Vermonter continues to be a problem.
And last but not least, we are very pleased to announce that Rebecca Townsend has joined Trains in the Valley.
Rebecca is a communication professor who has studied transportation and public engagement, for which the White House named her a “Champion of Change for Transportation Innovation” in 2012. The International Association of Public Participation lauded her work with students to increase engagement in transportation planning, and her scholarship earned her the inaugural State of Connecticut Scholarly Excellence Award. Originally from Rhode Island, she saw how greater access to rail can improve economic activity.
This is by far the most comprehensive report on this topic by any media outlet in the Pioneer Valley to date.
WWLP’s report, which was 6 weeks in the making, includes interviews with all the key players, including
Tim Brennan | Exec. Director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Governor Charlie Baker
Astrid Glynn | Rail & Transit Administrator, MassDOT
State Senator Eric Lesser | First Hampden and Hampshire
Mary Macinnes | Administrator, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
Guy McLean | Wood Museum of Springfield History
Tim Murray | President & CEO, Worcester Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Representative Richard Neal | 1st District of Mass.
Peter Picknelly | Owner, Peter Pan Bus Lines
Rick Sullivan |President, Economic Dev. Council of Western Mass.
Trains in the Valley was interviewed for the piece in the historic Union Station building in Northampton.
The report is balanced and comprehensive. We would encourage everyone with an interest in this topic to take the time to view this report, from start to finish.