Construction of Northampton Underpass Starts

Work on the much talked about, and long-delayed, bike/pedestrian underpass in Northampton finally got underway when the contractor, Northern Construction Service of Palmer, mobilized its forces and equipment at the site last week.

Here are a few images from the area of the underpass work site from last Saturday —


First, a little history —

On the south of the Walgreens property on King Street there is a concrete path (shown above) that runs perpendicular to railroad tracks.

This path — which at the moment dead-ends at the edge of the property — was designed as a bike path back in 2007 when the Walgreens was built.

The original plan (shown below) even called for the installation of a “bike path ends” sign near the tracks, since it was apparently clear even then that it would be some time before the railroad underpass was built.


Walgreens Site Plan w/bike path shown | July 6, 2007
(Source: Public File Cabinet | City of Northampton)

Note that all of the existing bike paths in the area of the underpass, including the Walgreens path, will be connected once the underpass project is complete in 2017.


Northampton, Ma. | behind Walgreens | looking south

Fast forward nine years.

Here we have a view of the site where the long-delayed underpass will finally be built.

Note the markers that have been placed in the ground by surveyors working on the project.



This image shows markings on the ground (in orange) that would appear to indicate the location of where the actual underpass will be sited.



Shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon a set of triangular color light signals along the rail line lite up. The signal indication gives the hint that the northbound Vermonter was approaching Northampton.

The next signal was the sound of two short blasts from the engine’s horn as the train pulled out of the station.



At about 4:05 p.m. Amtrak’s Vermonter came around the curve to the  south and posed for this nice image.

Actually, the train was traveling at its maximum authorized speed of 30 m.p.h. — for this section of track — when it passed the work site.

Part of the reason the speed is limited to 30 m.p.h. here is because the jointed rail on this stretch of track has not yet been replaced with newer rail.

The jointed rail at this location will be replaced with new continuous welded rail (which can be seen laying in the weeds in this image) once the underpass is constructed.



On the rear of the train was a surprise guest — a private rail car.

This car — known as the Yerba Buena — is owned and operated by the firm Rail Ventures. It is one of about 200 private rail cars in operation in the U.S., many of which are available for private excursions.


Further reading

Northampton Underpass

The American Association of Private Rail Car Owners

Privately-Owned Rail Cars (Amtrak)

Amtrak Launches New Carry-on Bike Service for the Vermonter

Amtrak launches new carry-on bike service for the Vermonter — just in time for Bay State Bike Week 2016.

The service, which is a two-year pilot project, provides passengers on the Vermonter with the opportunity to travel with their bikes for the first time in over a decade.

Vermonter Bike Rack Demonstration Courtesy of Adventure Cycling Association | May 2016
Vermonter Bike Rack Demonstration
Courtesy of Adventure Cycling Association | May 2016


The pilot service was spurred by Amtrak’s work with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Vermont Department of Tourism, Adventure Cycling Association, and the Vermont Rail Action Network, a state-wide rail advocacy group.  And while initial space for bikes is a bit limited (3 bikes per train at the moment, with space for a 4th bike to be added in June), it is expected that additional space for bikes may be added if the demand is there.

You can reserve space for your bicycle on the Vermonter by selecting “Add bike to trip” when you book train travel on, by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL, or by visiting a staffed Amtrak ticket office.

The cost is $10/bike for travel between St. Albans, Vt, and New Haven, Conn., and $20/bike if you trip involves a station south of New Haven.

Here are the basic guidelines:

• Only standard size bicycles are permitted at this time.

• Each passenger may bring one bicycle.

• You must be physically capable of lifting your bicycle up to shoulder height.

• You must have a travel document (ticket) for your bike


Traveling with your bike on the Vermonter

Look for the “bike-friendly” sticker on the coach when your train pulls in to the station.

Once on the train, bicycles will be stored in a special luggage compartment which has been designed to convert into a bike rack.

After boarding, you will be required to remove the front wheel of your bicycle before hanging it by the back wheel and securing it using the provided strap. Loading instructions will be available in the bike rack area and Amtrak crew members will be available to assist if necessary.

If equipped with panniers, a large seat or saddle bags, the items must be removed from the bicycle before hanging it on the bike rack.


A little history

Longtime passengers on the Vermonter may recall that the train had its own baggage car up until about 2004. Since then it hasn’t, until now, been possible to bring a bike with you on the Vermonter unless it could be folded up and loaded as carry on luggage.

Groups in Vermont, notably the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Vermont Rail Action Network, have been in discussions to get bikes back on the Vermonter for the past five years.

A better long-term solution, if the demand is there and the economics work, would be to add one of Amtrak’s new bicycle friendly baggage cars (shown below) to the Vermonter during the cycling season. These cars are in service today on many of Amtrak’s long distance routes.

Interior of Amtrak Viewliner II baggage car
Courtesy of Amtrak | 2014


Further reading

Walk-On Bike Service on the Vermonter (Amtrak)

Bring Your Bicycle Onboard (Amtrak)

“Amtrak Launches Roll-on Bicycle Service on the Vermonter May 1st”
Adventure Cycling Association | May 3, 2016

“The Vermonter to offer carry-on bike service”
By Judy Simpson | WCAX-TV Burlington, Vt. | April 29, 2016
(includes video that demonstrates the process for taking a bike on the train.)



Last updated: May 4, 2016