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.

Rail News Roundup #8


Today’s Headlines

• Trains In The Valley Event | Dec 13th

• Rail Advocacy Matters

• Survey Reveals Wide Support for East-West Rail

• Will Western Mass Ever Get High-Speed Rail

• Proposed Schedules for the Hartford Line

• Town Centers on the Hartford Line Reinvigorated

• Northampton Underpass Opens

• New “Vermont By Rail” Brochure

• MassDOT Applies for Grant to Upgrade NECR Line

• Visualizing Public Transit Data



The Hartford Line – Coming Soon (DETAILS BELOW)
with John E. Bernick, P.E., CTDOT
We. December 13, 2017 | 6 pm – 7:30 pm

Central Library Community Room
Springfield Central Library
220 State Street Springfield, MA

Registration link:


Trains In The Valley Event | Dec 13th

We are pleased to announce the first in a series of free rail related events that Trains In The Valley will be hosting in the Pioneer Valley.

Please join us in Springfield on December 13th, 2017 to hear John Bernick, Asst. Rail Administrator for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, talk in detail about the new CTrail Hartford line service which will launch in May 2018.

Source: https://pvraildotorg.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/tiv-dec-2017-event-flyer.pdf


You may register for this event on this link

The next event in this series will be in Greenfield on February 1, 2018. (details to follow)


Rail Advocacy Matters

East-West rail supporters in front of the State House with Senator Lesser
Dan Glaun | MassLive | October 24, 2017

On the morning of October 24th, 2017 a hearing was held before the Joint Committee on Transportation in Boston.

The agenda for this hearing included discussion related to Bill S.1935, An Act to study the feasibility of high-speed rail access between Springfield and Boston.

Attending this hearing was a group of citizens — pictured in the image above — who gave up their day to ride a charter bus from Springfield to Boston to testify in support of expanded rail service between Springfield in Boston.

These were people like you and me. People who want to be able to step on a train and travel across our state without dealing with traffic on the Mass Pike.

Senator Eric Lesser deserves a great deal of credit for sponsoring the bus that transported these citizens on this chilly October day.

But the real credit goes to the people who took the time to take the bus — who took the time to speak up in support of this issue and this cause.

For those citizens, we say THANK YOU.


Here is a listing of people and organizations (as of October 31, 2017) who testified in support of expanded passenger rail service between Springfield and Boston:

35 citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (pictured above)


Tom Ryan | A Better City
Peter Vi | Amherst Chamber of Commerce
Nathaniel Karns | Berkshire Regional Planning Commission
James Rooney | Boston Chamber of Commerce
Mayor Bronin | City of Hartford, CT
Mayor Sarno | City of Springfield
Governor Michael Dukakis
Representative Ashe
Representative Decker
Representative Farley-Bouvier
Representative Gonzalez
Representative Kocot
Representative Mark
Representative Pignatelli
Representative Smola
Representative Tosado
Representative Williams
Senator Barrett
Senator Chandler
Senator Cyr
Senator Fattman
Senator Friedman
Senator Gobi
Senator Hinds
Senator Humason
Senator Lewis
Senator O’Connor
Senator Welch
Ed Zemba | East of the River Chamber of Commerce
Ben Hellerstein | Environment Massachusetts
Thomas Lachiusa | Longmeadow Select Board
Marc Draisen | Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Clint Richmond | Massachusetts Sierra Club
Roger Crandall | MassMutual
Matt Casale | MassPIRG
Seth Stratton | MGM
Joe Aiello | National Association of Railroad Passengers
Tim Brennan | Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Kenneth Shea | Springfield City Council
Nancy Creed | Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce
Rebecca Townsend | Trains In The Valley
Charlie Ticotsky | Transportation for Massachusetts
Congressman Neal | US House of Representatives
Robin Wozniak | West of River Chamber of Commerca

Further reading

Testimony before the Joint Committee on Transportation (PDF)
Rebecca Townsend | Founding member of Trains In The Valley
October 24, 2017

“Sen. Eric Lesser busing constituents from Springfield to Boston for rail hearing”
By Shira Schoenberg | The Republican | October 18, 2017


University Survey Reveals Wide Support for East-West Rail

Source: http://www1.wne.edu/news/2017/11/highspeed-rail-tables.pdf (page 2)

From the Press Release linked below

Establishing high-speed rail service between Springfield and Boston has significant support across the state, according to a recent survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 468 adults, conducted Oct. 24 through Nov. 7, found that 74 percent supported the idea, while 10 percent were opposed, 15 percent were unsure, and 1 percent declined to answer. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Support was greatest in Western Massachusetts, where 87 percent of survey respondents endorsed the concept, but large majorities in other parts of the state also backed the proposal. Eighty percent of residents surveyed in Central Massachusetts supported the idea, as did 73 percent in Boston and surrounding suburbs, and 68 percent on the North and South Shores.

Backing for the idea also crossed party lines, with 80 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans expressing support, along with 68 percent of unenrolled voters.

The sample includes 437 residents who said they are registered to vote, and the margin of error for the sub-sample of registered voters is plus or minus five percentage points.

Survey respondents who expressed support for or opposition to high-speed rail had an opportunity to explain why in their own words. The most common reasons for supporting high-speed rail were the need to reduce traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike between Springfield and Boston, the environmental benefits of having fewer cars on the road, and improved access to jobs in Boston and affordable housing in Western Massachusetts.

Other respondents said that high–speed rail would create a greater sense of parity between Western and Eastern Massachusetts.

Further Reading

University Survey Finds Strong Support for Springfield-Boston High-Speed Rail Service
Press Release | Western New England University Polling Institute | November 13, 2017

Survey Results (PDF)


Will Western Mass Ever Get High-Speed Rail?

“Will Western Mass Ever Get High-Speed Rail?”
By Chris Goudreaue | Valley Advocate | October 23, 2017
Source: http://valleyadvocate.com/2017/10/23/will-western-mass-ever-get-high-speed-rail/

“Will Western Mass Ever Get High-Speed Rail?”
By Chris Goudreaue | Valley Advocate | October 23, 2017

Those interested in the topic of expanded rail service on the Boston – Springfield – New Haven Corridor should read this article by Chris Goudreau.

It’s a nice piece, with a lot of great reporting on the topic — including details of Peter Pan’s 3-hour run to Boston, which departs at 5.15 am from Springfield Union Station.


Proposed Schedules for the Hartford Line

Last week the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) released a preliminary set of schedule for the CTrail Hartford Line service.

Keep in mind that these schedules are subject to change.

Source: http://www.ct.gov/dot/lib/dot/CTrail_Hartford_Line_Proposed_Weekday_Schedule_Poster.pdf
Source: http://www.ct.gov/dot/lib/dot/CTrail_Hartford_Line_Proposed_Weekend_Schedule_Poster.pdf

The proposed schedules appear very comprehensive, but there is a significant omission.

The weekday schedule does not include any service that would allow someone in Connecticut to commute to Springfield and start work between 8 am and 9 am (the normal start time for many businesses.) The only northbound weekday train to Springfield (in the proposed schedule) arrives at 6.20 am which is simply too early for most people.

Also of note — the proposed schedule removes about 20 minutes of time in the Vermonter’s scheduled run between Springfield and New Haven. (this is a good news.)


CTDOT hosted Fare Hearings in New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield last week. The hearing in New Haven was the subject of an interesting and detailed news report which is linked below.

Please note that there is still time to submit comments to CTDOT regarding the proposed fares and service for the Hartford Line.

To provide a comment follow the instructions on this link http://www.ct.gov/dot/hartfordlinecomments

Note that public comments on the proposed fares and service must be received by November 27, 2017.

Further Reading

“Next Stop: Springfield! 12 Times A Day”
By Thomas Breen / The New Haven Independent | November 14, 2017


Town Centers on the Hartford Line Being Reinvigorated

Cloe Poisson | Hartford Magazine

“Communities On The Line:
Town Centers With Hartford Rail Stops Are Being Reinvigorated”
By Leonard Felson | Hartford Courant | November 6, 2017

The writer looks at the economic development impacts that are already being felt in towns and cities along the CTrail Hartford line, even before its planned opening in May 2018.

It also speaks to a fundamental problem Michael Gallis, a Charlotte, N.C.-based consultant, identified in a 1999 report on how the state can compete in a global economy.

Without improved and frequent rail service, the capital region is effectively rendered a transportation cul-de-sac, cut off from New York, the most powerful economic engine in the Northeast, if not the U.S.

That changes with the Hartford Line, something Gallis applauds, though he says high-speed rail would be an even greater game-changer.


Please note that the statement in the article about future rail service from Hartford to Boston is not totally correct.

The draft State Rail Plan Update for Massachusetts has not yet been released and we would be surprised if the soon-to-be-released draft plan did not outline some sort of path forward for connecting the New Haven–Hartford–Springfield passenger rail corridor to Boston.


Northampton Underpass Opens

The long talked about bike/pedestrian underpass in Northampton — under the Connecticut River Main Line — was officially opened November 9, 2017.

Amtrak train 57 — the southbound Vermonter — passing over the new underpass
Northampton, Ma. | November 12, 2017

MassDOT opened the underpass to the public after declaring that the project was substantially complete.

Additional images can be found on the link below.

See Also

Infrastructure > Current Projects > Northampton Underpass


New “Vermont By Rail” Brochure

The Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing has published a new 3-page brochure [ Vermont By Rail (PDF) ] to highlight travel to the Green Mountain State.

You can find this brochure at the Olver Transit Center in Greenfield and on the platform in Northampton. We are also in the process of distributing copies of the brochure to local Chambers of Commerce in the Pioneer Valley.


MassDOT Applies for Grant to Upgrade NECR Freight Line

NECR 722

New England Central Railroad at Palmer, Mass. | Derek S/Flickr

MassDOT has recently applied for a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to upgrade the Massachusetts portion of the New England Central Railroad (NECR) rail line.

This project would upgrade more than 31 miles of track and twenty bridge structures on the NECR route. The work in Massachusetts would close a “gap” in the “286k-lb. rail network” that is being built in Vermont and Connecticut. The current industry-standard for heavy axle rail freight cars is 286,000 gross lbs. and these cars cannot be handled on many parts NECR’s rail line in Massachusetts at the moment.

Presumably this federal money, if granted, would be used along with the $9 million allocated for this project in the 2018-2022 MassDOT Capital Investment Plan and funds provided by NECR’s parent company Genesee & Wyoming Inc.

Further Reading
MassDOT seeks federal grant for New England Central Railroad project
Progressing Railroading | November 13, 2017


Visualizing Public Transit Data

TRAVIC | Transit Visualization Client (screen shot)
Massachusetts | November 16, 2017 } 4:32 pm EST

Every now and then we come across something really neat that is a little off-topic. This is one of those cases.

If you click on the map above you will find your way to a TRAVIC, a Data Visualization Client that provides movement visualization for public transit data.

The map shows the movement of trains, trams, buses, subways, and other transit vehicles based on combination of static schedule data and real-time data. The data is sourced from 673 data feeds, 62 of which show real-time information.

Things to try —

  • Zoom in on the Springfield and look at the movement of the PVTA bus fleet.
  • Zoom in to New York City and see what a dense network of subways, buses and commuter trains looks like.
  • Zoom in on Germany and see what a rail network with nearly 15 million departure events a day looks like.

Yes, its amazing.