Rail News Roundup #2

 

The latest regional rail news from Trains In The Valley

Today’s Reports

• Union Station is Open!

• Senator Eric Lesser’s “Rally4Rail” Whistle Stop Tour

• Democratic Party Platform Includes Support for East-West Rail

• Strong Vermonter Ridership in Northampton Reported

• Design for Expanded Northampton Station Platform Released

• Vermonter Extension to Montreal Takes Another Step Forward

• New Rail Dropped along the Conn River Line

• Track Washout in Vermont Affects Vermonter Service

 


Union Station is Open!

Springfield Union Station re-opened to the public on Sunday morning June 25th.

Main waiting room | Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

The first Amtrak passengers in over forty years to enter though the main waiting room — captured in the image above — were spotted in the building shortly after it was opened at 10 a.m.

 

Public Open House at Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

An open house was held from 10 a.m until 3 p.m. for the public and then at 4:30 p.m. the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority moved the hub for their bus operations in Springfield to the station.

(Yes, that is the Cat in the Hat in the middle of the picture.)

 

Trains In The Valley & Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop at the Open House
Union Station | Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

Trains In The Valley and the advocacy group Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop shared a table at the open house.

We talked with people all day long about the rail service in our region and we thank everyone who stopped by to say hello.

 

Union Station | view from the parking garage roof | looking East
Springfield, Ma. | June 26, 2017

 

Bronze rededication plaque at Union Station
Springfield, Ma. | June 25, 2017

Further Reading

“Union Station grand opening honors Springfield history”
By Elizabeth Roman | The Republican | June 25, 2017

Video | “Springfield’s restored Union Station filled with history”
By Kait Walsh | WWLP-22News | June 24, 2017

2017 Union Station Open House (48 images)
Flickr album | Spirit of Springfield | June 25, 2017

Infrastructure | Springfield Union Station
Trains in the Valley

 


Senator Eric Lesser’s “Rally4Rail” Whistle Stop Tour

On Monday, June 19, 2017, State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) embarked on a “whistle stop” tour across the state to make the case for expanded East-West passenger rail service.

Making stops in — Boston, Framingham, Worcester, Palmer, and Springfield — Lesser spoke of the benefits to all of making this rail connection.

Focus Springfield Community Television joined the senator and his staff for the tour and recorded each of the public events.

Credit:
Focus Springfield Community Television: Stephen Cary, Executive Producer | Brendon Holland, Producer | Josue Vazquez, Editor

Further Reading

“State Sen. Eric Lesser rallies for high-speed rail study at Springfield’s Union Station, last stop of day-long tour”
By Brian Steele | The Republican | June 19, 2017

 


Democratic Party Platform Includes Support for East-West Rail

The 2017 Massachusetts Democratic Party platform now includes support for East-West rail service between Springfield, Worcester, and Boston.

The new wording, quoted below, was adopted at the quadrennial platform convention that was held in Worcester on June 3, 2017.

“Investment in transportation infrastructure that links communities to each other and to jobs across the Commonwealth, including: increasing the expansion of capacity and reach of the MBTA, including the Green Line Expansion; the construction of the North-South Rail Link to unify north-side and south-side commuter rail systems and to extend the Northeast Corridor; building high speed rail along the East/West route between Springfield, Worcester, and Boston; and construction of the South Coast Rail Project.”

 


Strong Vermonter Ridership in Northampton Reported

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced on June 23, 2017 the follow news regarding passenger rail service in the city.

• Northampton station has become the 3rd leading station for passenger traffic on the Amtrak Vermonter line since rail service resumed in the city on December 29, 2014

• Northampton ridership has increased to over 18,000 people annually which is 20% of the Vermonter’s total rail ridership of 88,006.

• Travel between Northampton and New York’s Penn Station is the leading travel “pair” for passenger arrivals and departures.

• Unofficial ridership data for April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2017 shows that Northampton ridership is up 20% with 15,781 passengers in 2016 to 18,980 for 2017.

• The 2009 HDR Knowledge Corridor Study projected that realignment of the Vermonter to its original CT River corridor would result in 28 riders per day in Northampton. In 2015, Northampton station averaged 44 riders per day and in 2016 that increased to 50 riders a day.

Further Reading

“Northampton’s popularity among rail riders boosts push for more service”
By Amandra Drane | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 26, 2017

Vermonter Performance | Ridership
Trains in the Valley

 


Design for Expanded Northampton Station Platform Released

It has been announced that the passenger station platform in Northampton will be be expanded to a length of 120-feet by the end of the year.

Architectural rendering of planned expanded rail platform
Northampton, Ma. | June 2017

The expanded station platform will allow for two pairs of passenger car doors to be opened on the platform, which would basically double the speed of boarding (and deboarding) passengers in Northampton.

The platform expansion project will go out to bid soon and if all goes well the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

Further Reading

Infrastructure | Northampton
Trains in the Valley

 


Vermonter Extension to Montreal Takes Another Step Forward

On June 21, 2017 the House of Commons of Canada adopted Bill C-23, the “Preclearance Act, 2016″, which among other things would allow for establishment of a preclearance facility in Central Station in Montreal. The passage of this bill is is one of the many things that must happen before Amtrak’s Vermonter service is extended to north to Montreal.

The bill has been sent to the Senate of Canada, where it will sit until the Senate returns to session on September 19, 2017.

Further Reading

Vermonter Extension to Montreal
Trains in the Valley

 


New Rail Dropped along the Conn River Line

New pieces of continuously welded rail have been laid along portions of the MassDOT owned Connecticut River Main Line over the past two weeks.

Connecticut River Main Line | looking North
Keets Road crossing | Deerfield, Ma. | June 26, 2017

In the image above, new rail has been dropped next to the so-called Deerfield Siding. Presumably this siding will be rebuilt, with new ballast, ties and new rail, in the near future.

 


Track Washout in Vermont Affects Vermonter Service

> Updated on July 5, 2017 at 4 p.m. <

Amtrak’s Vermonter was temporary replaced with bus service between stations north of Springfield, Ma. from Sunday, July 2nd through to the morning of Wednesday, July 5th.

WCAX in Burlington reported that about 800 feet of New England Central Railroad’s track in West Hartford, Vt. had been “compromised” after heavy rain on Saturday, July 1st caused an embankment to become unstable from the saturated ground.

Amtrak service was restored when the northbound Vermonter (Train 56) departed Springfield on Wednesday afternoon, July 5th. It is expected that the Vermonter will operate normally in both directions tomorrow.

Further Reading

“Vermont Amtrak passengers bussed, rail track unstable”
By WCAX News | July 2, 2017

“Amtrak Service Restored in Hartford”
By WCAX News | July 5, 2017

WWLP-22News Special Report: Springfield-Boston Rail Service

WWLP-22News Anchor/Reporter Katie Walsh’s amazing full hour-long special report on the potential for Springfield-Boston passenger rail service is now available on the this link:

“InFocus: Lawmakers considering rail service from Springfield to Boston”
By Kait Walsh | WWLP-22News | January 29, 2017

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.

FRA Approves Environmental Report for New England Rail Initiative

On July 19th the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI Study).

The finding clears the way for states and the federal government to invest in future passenger rail service in New England.

The NNEIRI Study proposes to restore service between Boston and New Haven through Springfield and Hartford and add new service between Boston and Montreal.

Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study

 

“Existing passenger rail service through New England is limited and already at capacity for a region that is growing,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With an approved blueprint in hand, New England can now move forward to connect people to key job centers and allow students to easily travel to and from New England’s numerous colleges.”

FRA awarded $942,775 to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) through FRA’s Next Generation High-Speed Rail Program to study potential service options and complete the Tier 1 Environmental Assessment, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

FRA found that no significant environmental impacts would result from adding more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service, in large part due to the use of existing operating rail lines within existing rights-of-way. The proposed infrastructure improvements also would be located within existing right-of-way along areas that were in the past double or triple tracked.

“More than two million people live within three miles of a station along this corridor,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. “For everyone to move safely and efficiently, the region needs a robust rail system, and this blueprint will help achieve that goal.”

 


See also

Proposed Boston–Springfield / New Haven / Montreal Service

 


Further reading

“Rail Advocates Praise Study Of Potential New England Expansion”
By Paul Tuttle | WAMC | July 25, 2016

Editorial: “Worthy rail idea remains on the siding”
Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 26, 2016

Governor Asks for Changes to Proposed Springfield – Boston Rail Study

On Friday July 8th, Governor Baker formally requested that Senator Lesser’s budget amendment requiring a study to review the feasibility of a high-speed rail connection between Springfield and Boston be amended.

In his letter to the legislature, which can be found below, the governor has requested that a much broader study be conducted.

In particular, the governor has requested that the study instead focus on,

(a) the potential expansion and enhancement of several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including

(b) automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

 

The proposed study working group would include, but not be limited to a designee from the
– Secretary of Housing and Economic Development,
– elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations,
– duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor,
– duly elected Mayors in the greater Springfield region,
– the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission,
– the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission,
– the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission,
– existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways.

 

On Friday, July 8th Senator Lesser provided this update on his Facebook page:
“Senator Lesser’s East/West Rail Feasibility Study Signed into Law by Governor Baker”

On Monday, July 11th, Senator Lesser said that he anticipates that the House and Senate will approve the new language before the state’s legislative session ends July 31.

 

We will update this posting as soon as we have any additional information.

 


Further Reading

“Gov. Baker widens scope of Springfield rail study; narrows time frame”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | July 12, 2016

 

Letter from Governor Baker to the Honorable House and Senate Representatives
Attachment Q – Amendment Letter Section 180
July 8, 2016

QUOTE

ATTACHMENT Q

July 8, 2016

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives:

Pursuant to Article LVI, as amended by Article XC, Section 3 of the Amendments to the Constitution, I am returning to you for amendment Section 180 of House Bill No. 4450, “An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2017 for the Maintenance of the Departments, Boards, Commissions, Institutions and Certain Activities of the Commonwealth, for Interest, Sinking Fund and Serial Bond Requirements and for Certain Permanent Improvements.”

Section 180 would require the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of establishing high-speed rail service between Springfield and Boston.  While I support studying ways to improve transportation between Springfield and Boston, several aspects outlined in Section 180 are already the subject of ongoing studies.  Moreover the proposed study focuses exclusively on high-speed rail, ignoring the potential benefits of improving and coordinating other modes of transportation including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.

Accordingly, I believe that we would be better served by convening a working group to identify and evaluate whether improvements to these various modes of transportation between Springfield and Boston would result in significant economic and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

For this reason, I recommend that Section 180 be amended by striking out the text and inserting in place thereof the following text:-

SECTION 180.  The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall convene a working group, not later than October 1, 2016, for the purposes of identifying and evaluating the economic and cultural benefits and challenges to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole, through the potential expansion and enhancement several modes of transportation between the “Knowledge Corridor” and Springfield and Boston, including automobile, bus, passenger rail, freight rail, and other common carrier services.  The working group shall include, but not be limited to a designee from the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, elected officials from the state and federal legislative delegations and duly elected Mayors along the Knowledge Corridor and in the greater Springfield region, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, existing rail service stakeholders, including Amtrak, PanAm, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, private bus carriers and CSX Railways. The Secretary & CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall designate a qualified individual to chair the working group.  The working group shall draw upon the findings and conclusions of the Transforming the Rail Network for Economic and Community Development Report (September 2012) and the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative Study to guide its evaluation and analysis. The working group shall submit its findings to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than March 3, 2017.

Respectfully submitted,

UNQUOTE

 

Massachusetts House Bill 4450
Section 180
as originally proposed by Senator Lesser (D-Longmeadow)

QUOTE

SECTION 180. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall conduct a feasibility study relative to high-speed rail access between the cities of Springfield and Boston.

The study shall examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing high-speed rail service between the cities of Springfield and Boston including, but not limited to: (i) the projected capital costs; (ii) the projected operating costs and revenue estimates; (iii) the projected ridership levels; (iv) the prospect of operating high-speed rail service on existing rights of way and other operational issues, including upgrades to the at-grade crossings in the towns of Ashland and Framingham; (v) the environmental and community impact estimates; (vi) the availability of federal, state, local and private sector funding sources; and (vii) the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the greater Springfield region and the commonwealth as a whole.

The department shall file a report with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives, the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means and the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on transportation not later than March 1, 2017.

UNQUOTE