Rail News Roundup #15

 

Today’s Headlines

• All Aboard for the Hartford Line!

• Final 2018 State Rail Plan Released

• Supporters Hope Hartford Line Will Help Upend Car Culture

• Springfield | New Parking Rates at Union Station Garage

• Northampton | Expanded Station Platform to Move Ahead?

• Northampton | Ceremonial Ribbon Cutting

• Greenfield | Parking Garage Update

• Freight railroads’ key role Western Mass

• WMassPI | Briefings: Baker Climbs aboard Rail Study…

 

Calendar

June 16/17, 2018
Opening Weekend for the Hartford Line
All Hartford Line passenger rail service (CTrail and Amtrak) will be FREE this weekend.

For further information visit
TrainsInTheValley.org/ctrail-hartford-line

 

Wed. June 20, 2018 | 6 pm – 8 pm
Exploring Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities
Theodore’s BBQ | 201 Worthington St, Springfield
[information/registration link]

Free BBQ, a cash bar, networking with fellow smart growth advocates, and a chance to hear directly from the researchers on the possibilities of Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) near Springfield Union Station

 

July 27–28, 2018
Northampton | Golden Spike 2018
The largest rails-to-trails conference of the year in New England.

 


All Aboard for the Hartford Line!

Ride for free from Union Station to Union Station this weekend!

Free service on the Hartford Line (CTrail and Amtrak trains) all weekend long.

 

And — there will be FREE parking at the Union Station Parking Garage (1755 Main St, Springfield) this weekend.

 

Making plans to ride the Hartford Line from Springfield?

Check out our new Hartford Line page
TrainsInTheValley.org/ctrail-hartford-line

 

For those of you using the new Hartford Line, please keep in mind that this service is unique in many ways. In particular, the service is being provide by two distinct operators — CTrail and Amtrak — which as far as we know, is a first in this country.

All of the details have yet to be totally worked out, in particular a few issues related Hartford Line ticketing (CTrail vs. Amtrak).

Our Advice to You — if you are traveling between Springfield and New Haven on the Hartford Lineif possible, purchase your ticket from a CTrail ticket vending machine — not the Amtrak website.

Why? Because there are still a few open questions related to the use of Amtrak tickets on Hartford Line trains. In a nutshell — Amtrak-issued tickets are for a “reserved coach seat” on a specific Amtrak train on the Hartford Line, which implies that the ticket is valid only for a specific train.

The Hartford Line website does say that “valid” Amtrak tickets can be used on any CTrail train but we have yet to find out what the term “valid” means in this context.

 

If you have comments about the new service please let CTDOT know.
HartfordLine.com/customer-service

 


Final State Rail Plan Released

The final version of the 2018 Massachusetts State Rail Plan was released today.

The document can viewed by clicking on this link
2018 Massachusetts State Rail Plan (PDF)

The final plan includes a new chapter, Chapter 6, which details MassDOT’s public engagement effort and summarizes the updates to the plan from the draft version.

We note in particular MassDOT’s comment (in Chapter 6) that they received nearly 300 emails and letters during the public comment period, including an open letter signed by 667 high school students in Western Massachusetts on their support of a feasibility study for East-West rail.

We will have further comment on the Final version of the State Rail Plan in a future edition of the Rail News Update.

 


Supporters Hope Hartford Line Will Help Upend Car Culture

“Supporters Hope Hartford Line Will Help Upend Connecticut’s Car Culture”
By Rebecca Lurye | Hartford Courant | June 10, 2018

An insightful look at what the coming Hartford Line might mean for the Springfield–Hartford–New Haven corridor.

“Some commuters say the new, $700 million rail line is their way out of a congested car culture that weighs heavily on their wallets, time cards and nerves. The state [Connecticut] Department of Transportation expects thousands of people to trade in driving for the convenience of the Hartford Line, which promises to make the 62-mile trip from Springfield to New Haven in about 80 minutes, and for less than traditional Amtrak tickets.”

 


Springfield | New Parking Rates at Union Station Garage

“Springfield Union Station offers commuter parking rate as CTrail service begins”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | June 14, 2018

At long last, the City of Springfield offers a Commuter Rate for parking at the Union Station Garage.

Effective Mon. June 18, 2018 the commuter rate for parking in the garage will be $5.

Effective for July 2018 the monthy parking rate will be $65.

This is really significant news because until now the parking rate had been $20/day — which is a level which was simply not attractive to people in this area.

Thanks go out to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno the executive leadership of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority for making this happen.

 


Northampton | Expanded Station Platform to Move Ahead?

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

Late today we received word that the delayed project to expand the station platform in Northampton may finally be ready to move forward.

We don’t have the details yet, but as soon as we do we’ll be sure to let you know.

Further Reading
Infrastructure | Northampton | Trains in the Valley

 


Northampton | Ceremonial Ribbon Cutting

Northampton Underpass Ribbon Cutting
Mary C. Serreze | Special to The Republican | June 8, 2018

“Northampton celebrates completion of rail trail underpass”
By Hannah Nelson | Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 8, 2018

One June 8th MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack joined Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, MassDOT staff, local leaders, and members of the public to celebrate the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the new bicycle/pedestrian underpass beneath the MassDOT owned Connecticut River Line in Northampton.

This new $4.4 million underpass in the area of Woodmont Road and King Street connects the Mass Central Rail Trail – on the east side of the railroad tracks – with the Northampton Bike Trail on the west side of the railroad tracks.

It was a 43 years ago (i.e., in 1975) that the idea of a bicycle tunnel under the Connecticut River Rail Line was first floated, said Mayor David Narkewicz.

Specifications were first developed 25 years ago, and construction finally starting in 2016.

Further reading
Northampton Underpass | Trains In The Valley

 


Greenfield | Parking Garage Update

Pre-cast Traffic Route | Olive St Parking Garage | Greenfield, Ma.

The parking garage across from the Olver Transit Center is coming together.

Concrete pours for the footings and foundations have been completed. The crane (300-ton lift capacity) arrived on Mon. June 11th and the contractor began installing precast concrete panels on the site on Wed, June 13th.

The garage should be completed before the end of 2018.

Further Details on this link
greenfield-ma.gov/index.cfm?p=p.330

 


Freight railroads’ key role Western Mass economy

CSX GE-ES44AC Locomotive #0948 on the headend of a Freight | Springfield, Ma.
By CORNELIUSSEON | Wikimedia Commons | License: Attribution 3.0 Unported

Freight railroads’ key role in moving the Western Mass economy
Opinion | By Tim Brennan | via MassLive | May 30, 2018

Tim Brennan, the Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, makes a strong case for moving more freight over an improved and modernized rail network in Western Mass.

 


WMassPI | Briefings: Baker Climbs aboard Rail Study…

Western Mass Politics and Insight | June 13, 2018

“Briefings: Baker Climbs aboard Rail Study…at Yorktown…”
Western Mass Politics & Insight | June 13, 2018

Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight this week took a fresh look at Senator Lesser’s four-year effort to get the state to study East-West rail. Their work is a masterful piece of political analysis.

As always, a must-read for people in the Valley who are following the ins and outs of this long running story of political intrigue.

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.