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.

railvermont.org

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.

Then

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)

Now

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 #10

 

Today’s Headlines

• TIV Greenfield Event | Thur. Feb 1st

• 2018 State Rail Plan Draft Released

• New Hartford Line Website Launched

• Vermonter Extended to Montreal by 2020?

• CSX Considers Sale of Lines in Massachusetts (UPDATED)

• Transitdocs.com Train Status Data

• FRCOG | 20 Years of Working for Franklin County and You

 

Calendar

State Rail Plan Information Meeting
– Meeting organized by MassDOT –
Mo. January 29, 2018 | 6 pm – 7:30 pm

Worcester Regional Transit Authority
60 Forster St
Worcester, MA 01608

Further details
Massachusetts State Rail Plan (Mass.gov)

::

Lessons from the VERMONTER for
Northern New England Rail Passenger Service

– Event organized by Trains in the Valley –
Thurs. February 1, 2018 | 6 pm – 7:30 pm
(Snow Date Wed. February 7th)

Olver Transit Center
12 Olive Street
Greenfield, MA 01301

Registration link
https://trainsinthevalley.eventbrite.com

 


Trains In The Valley Event | Thur. Feb 1st

Please join us in Greenfield this Thursday, February 1st at 6 pm to hear about the past, present, and future of passenger rail service in our region.

 

Further details and registration information can be found on this link:
https://trainsinthevalley.eventbrite.com

Note that registration is requested but not required. Walk-ins are more than welcome.

— As of 6 pm on Friday, January 26th we have 29 people registered for this event.

UPDATE | We now have 38 people registered as of 9 pm on Wed. Jan. 31st. The room holds 60+ so we’ve got lots of space if anyone wants to just walk in at the last minute.

 


2018 State Rail Plan Draft Released

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) today released the 2018 State Rail Plan Draft for Public Comment.

2018 State Rail Plan Draft for Public Comment (PDF)
MassDOT | January 26, 2018

2018 State Rail Plan Draft for Public Comment (PDF)
MassDOT | January 26, 2018 | 129-pages

 

Of particular note

  • The draft plan says that MassDOT is working with Amtrak and Connecticut to assess the feasibility of a pilot service that would extend New Haven – Springfield passenger rail service to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield.
  • The draft proposes a “Western Massachusetts to Boston Passenger Rail Service Study.”

 

We encourage interested parties and stakeholders to attend the Information Meeting on the State Rail Plan Update to be held at 6 pm on Monday, January 29th.

The meeting will be held at Worcester Regional Transit Authority, 60 Foster Street, in Worcester.

The State Rail Plan is a federally required document that must be updated at least every five years. Future rail activities in each state are generally guided by this document, so if a desired initiative or program is not in a state’s rail plan, it makes it more difficult for the state to undertake it in the coming years.

Note that the 2018 State Rail Plan is an update to the 2010 State Rail Plan. The plan documents the state rail system and planned improvements, and outlines the Commonwealth’s 20-year vision and four-year plan for the statewide rail system.

We also encourage interested parties and stakeholders to submit written comments on the State Rail Plan during the three-week public comment period which we understand will open on or about January 29th.

We will have more to report on this once we’ve had a chance to review the draft document in detail.

Further details
Massachusetts State Rail Plan (Mass.gov)

 


New Hartford Line Website Launched

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has launched a new website for its upcoming passenger rail service, the CTrail Hartford Line.

Screenshot of the hartfordline.com website | January 25, 2018

Here’s the link to the new site:
http://hartfordline.com/

The new website provides future Hartford Line riders a taste of what to expect when the service launches in May 2018 with expanded rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield.

Over the next several months, the Hartford Line website will be enhanced with additional information and features, including detailed information on connections to other local transit options; interactive, 360-degree views of the train stations that will serve the line; and milestone events as the service approaches its launch date in May 2018.

This new website supplements the project website which can still be found on the link below.

Further Reading

CTDOT Launches hartfordline.com website In Preparation for May 2017 Service
Press Release | Connecticut Dept. of Transportation | January 11, 2018

New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (official project website)

 


Vermonter Extended to Montreal by 2020?

“Restored train service to Montreal chugs closer to reality”
By Kyle Midura | Gray Washington News Bureau | January 15, 2018

“Restored train service to Montreal chugs closer to reality”
By Kyle Midura | Gray Washington News Bureau | January 15, 2018

“It took acts of Congress and Canadian parliament, but an effort to reconnect DC to Montreal — with stops in Vermont — is back on-track. ‘I would think no later than 2020,’ said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) when he expects the service to return.”

The Canadian Parliament passes new customs preclearance language into law [in December 2017] that will make possible improved rail travel between the U.S. and Canada.

The passage of the bill in Canada removes all legislative hurdles to the creation of a preclearance facility at Montreal’s Central Station, for reestablishing passenger train service between Vermont and Montreal.

Further Reading

Vermonter Extension to Montreal (Trains In The Valley)

 


CSX Considers Sale of Lines in Massachusetts

> > Updated January 30, 2018 < <

Screenshot | CSX – Massachusetts Operations (csx.com) | January 26, 2018

Trains magazine, an industry publication, reported on January 28th that CSX Transportation (CSX) is reviewing 8,000 miles of its rail lines for potential sale — including the former Boston & Albany main [between Schodack, New York (near Albany) and Worcester] as well as related branch lines in Massachusetts.

CSX operates nearly 700-miles of track within the Commonwealth and handles over 344,000 carloads (as of 2015).

If CSX puts its lines out to bid, any number of regional railroads could step forward to purchase some or all of CSX’s assets in the state. Some have speculated that MassDOT may be interested in some of the assets, in particular the lines near Boston and the 54 miles of track between Worcester and Springfield Union stations.

> > Updated January 30, 2018 < <

“CSX rules out sale of former Boston & Albany line”
Times-Union | January 26, 2018
A CSX spokesman told the Times-Union last Friday, “… this line is not for sale.”

 

Further Reading

“CSX considers sale of former Boston & Albany line”
By Eric Anderson | Times Union | January 24, 2018

“CSX reviewing 8,000 miles of rail lines for potential sale”
By Bill Stephens | Trains Newswire | January 22, 2018

CSX | Operations in Massachusetts (csx.com)

 


Transitdocs.com Train Data

We’ve  recently been alerted to a useful website that allows you to track the progress of each Amtrak (and Via Rail) train in much more detail that is currently available on the Amtrak.com site.

Screenshot transitdocs.com | Amtrak Train 56 (01/24)

In the example shown above, you can review the progress of Amtrak Train 56 (the northbound Vermonter) on January 24, 2018.

At the top of the page you see a detailed timetable of the train for that date. The timetable also shows the actual arrival and departure time for each station along the route – which allows you to see the dwell time at each station, if you’re interested.

On the lower part of the page is a route-trace of the train’s journey along with breadcrumbs showing the location, date, time and speed of the train along the route.

So how do you find these maps?

The easiest way is to from unofficial Amtrak Status Maps page. Just select your train and then click on the “Details” link at the top of the page.

This is a great examples of what can be done with open data.

 


FRCOG | 20 Years of Working for Franklin County and You

We try hard to remain very selective with what we report here in the Rail News Roundup, since some would say that we live in the “too much information age” today.

The Rail News Roundup simply tries to provide news and information on topics that are relevant to passenger and freight rail service in the Pioneer Valley region of Western Massachusetts.

With that said, we sometimes come across things that we can’t let pass by without a mention.

This story map — from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) — is one such item.

Screenshot of Discover the FRCOG Story Map | January 25, 2018

Discover the FRCOG | 20 Years of Working for Franklin County and You
Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) | 2018

This particular story map walks the reader through the FRCOG’s accomplishments over the past twenty years using an interesting and interactive mix of images, maps and text.

 

 

Last updated: January 30, 2018