Rail News Roundup #12

 

Today’s Headlines

• Hartford Line Controversy

• CTDOT Test Trains Running

• Springfield Union Station Platform C

• Images from Springfield Union Station

• Great News for Passenger Rail!

• Conn River Line Bridge Work Planned

• Northampton | Rt. 5 – Collision with Freight Train

• Sen. Lesser Talks About East-West Rail

• Westfield | Proposed Industrial Park

• Berkshire Scenic Acquires Historic Mt Tom Locomotive

 

Calendar

“New Train Travel in Western MA”
with Senator Eric Lesser

Tues. April 17th | 6 – 7:30 PM
Sixteen Acres Branch | Springfield Public Library
1187 Parker St, Springfield, MA

Senator Lesser will speak on the topic of expanded passenger rail service for our region.

This event has been organized by Sixteen Acres Branch Library as part of a series of events related to Earth Week.

Further details
Earth Week at Sixteen Acres Branch Library (PDF)

 


Hartford Line Controversy

CTrail Coach No. 527 | in New Haven, Ct. | April 2018

“Department Of Transportation Tells Lawmakers Leasing Of 30-Year-Old Rail Cars A Good Deal For State”
By Gregory B. Hladky | Hartford Courant | April 12, 2018

In Connecticut a controversy is swirling between the Hartford Courant, the Connecticut DOT, and the legislature over CTDOT’s decision to lease 16 former MBTA coaches from the Massachusetts DOT for the planned Hartford Line service.

The Hartford Courant, through their news and editorial pages, contend that CTDOT made an ill-advised decision when it decided to lease 30-year old coaches from MassDOT.

CTDOT, according to reporting in the Courant, said “they had planned to electrify the Shore Line East route and shift M-8 cars from Metro North’s New Haven Line to CTDOT’s Shore Line East service. That would have allowed the DOT to use CTDOT’s Shore Line East locomotives and cars on the new Hartford Line. But those plans fell through when it became clear that all the M-8 cars were needed to handle surging ridership on the New Haven Line.”

The Connecticut legislature has held meetings with the DOT Commissioner to discuss this issue and is considering public hearings on the topic.

Its important to remember that the older coaches used by some passenger railroads in this country are perfectly safe to operate as long as they are properly maintained and inspected. As example, the Amfleet I coaches used by Amtrak for its service between New Haven and Springfield are all over 40 years old.

As of last week, according to the Courant’s reporting, CTDOT has received four of the rehabilitated coaches at its yard in New Haven. Four other coaches were at a Rhode Island facility for painting and rebranding. Eight of the coaches were still in Massachusetts.

It is expected that Governor Dannel Malloy will formally announce the official start date for Hartford Line service when he cuts the ribbon at the new Meriden station on April 19th. At this event it should become clear how the State of Connecticut plans to move forward with the launch of this new service in May 2018, or not.

Further reading

Recent stories on the Hartford Line | Hartford Courant

 


CTDOT Test Trains Running

CTDOT test train | Windsor Locks, Ct. | March 11, 2018

The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s contractor for the CTrail Hartford Line service, TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts, started running non-scheduled test trains between New Haven and Springfield in early March.

These trains serve as training for locomotive engineers and train conductors to learn the tracks and territory between New Haven and Springfield.

In a related development, CTDOT has indicated that an agreement is now in place so that Hartford Line tickets will be valid for travel on all Amtrak trains between Springfield and New Haven when the new service starts, with the exception of the Vermonter.

This means that with a Hartford Line ticket passengers will be able to board any Amtrak train on this line (except the Vermonter) without the need for a reserved Amtrak ticket.

 


Springfield Union Station Platform C

Earlier this month MassDOT released the long awaited bid solicitation for the project to construct a full-length high-level boarding platform at Springfield Union Station.

Site Logistics Plan excerpt | High Level Platform Project
Springfield Union Station | March 30, 2018

 

Platform C (on the left) – looking east
Springfield Union Station | March 6, 2017

The project will involve the removal of the existing low-level platform between tracks 4 and 6 (known as Platform C) at Springfield Union Station. In its place a full-length high-level platform will be constructed.

Passengers will access the new platform via a refurbished stairway (known as stairway 5) on the west side of the concourse level or via a new elevator from the center of the concourse level. The historic stairway on the east side of the concourse level (known as stairway 6) will not be reopened as part of this project.

 

Stairway 5 | Springfield Union Station | March 6, 2017

 

Bids for the project, which is valued at $6.5 million, are scheduled to be opened on April 18, 2018.

 


Images from Springfield Union Station

Here are two notable images from Union Station that we thought would be interesting to share.

Concourse level | Springfield Union Station | March 26, 2018

Some have asked, “what inside the gray boxes down at Union Station?” The answer — the ticket machines for the CTrail Hartford Line service. The machines are in place and wired up but will remain covered until the service launches.

The screen on the left will eventually show departure information for Amtrak trains (and we hope CTrail Hartford Line trains too) from this station.

 

Inside Springfield Union Station | looking North | February 23, 2018

We don’t have any information on what the arrangement was that allowed this Peter Pan Bus promotion to be placed on the back side of the information board in the main waiting hall. One would assume that Peter Pan is paying quite a lot of money for signage in such a prominent location.

 


 Great News for Passenger Rail!

Source: Rail Passengers Association Blog | March 22, 2018

“Great News for Rail Passengers in Fiscal Year 2018 Budget!”
Blog post | Rail Passengers Association | March 22, 2018

To make a long story short — the recently approved Federal Fiscal Year 2018 budget includes historic increases in funding for Amtrak, passenger rail, and transit at the federal level.

 


Conn River Line Bridge Work Planned

MassDOT has issued a bid solicitation for tie replacement and the installation of a second main line track on two bridges on the Connecticut River Main Line (CRML).

The first bridge (known as Bridge 34.82)¹ carries the CRML high above the Deerfield River and the second bridge (known as Bridge 34.95)¹ carries the CRML over the Pan Am Southern’s Fitchburg Main Line and the so-called Greenfield Running Track.

Both bridges are shown on the map and in the image below.

Locus map – CRML Bridge Project | Greenfield & Deerfield, Ma. | MassDOT

 

Connecticut River Main Line Bridges 34.82 and 34.95
Viewed from Hope St – looking south | Greenfield, Ma. | April 2018

The project calls for the installation of 1,650 new wood bridge timbers, structural modifications on each of the two bridges, installation of a retaining wall, construction of new track, and the installation of 1,500 track feet of continuously welded running rail and 3,600 linear feet of bridge guard rail over bridges 34.82 and 34.95.

Work will also include spot ditching, maintenance crossing installation, track surfacing and aligning, as well as removal and disposal of debris.

Bids for the project, which is valued at $3.1 million, were scheduled to be opened on March 29, 2018.

The project is expected to take 320 calendars days to complete once MassDOT issues a Notice to Proceed to the contractor.

 

¹These numbers indicate the milepost (a distance measured in miles) along the rail line. On The Connecticut River Main Line this distance is measured from Springfield.

 


Northampton | Rt. 5 – Collision with Freight Train

Vehicle collision with freight train | Northampton Ma.
Northampton Police image | March 16, 2018

“Holyoke man injured in Rt. 5 collision with train in Northampton; cited for drunken driving”
By Patrick Johnson | The Republican | March 16, 2018

The crossing is for a railroad siding that leads from the MassDOT-owned Connecticut River Mainline to the Packaging Corporation of America facility on Route 5 in Northampton.

Apparently the driver of the vehicle did not notice the flashing red warning lights at the crossing.

Active signals were installed at this crossing just over a year ago, after a similar accident.

Further reading

New Grade Crossing Signals go up in Northampton
Trains In The Valley | January 12, 2017

 


Sen. Lesser Talks About East-West Rail

Senator Eric Lesser spoke on WGBY-57’s program Connecting Point on March 14, 2018 on the topic of the future of East-West passenger rail service in our state.

Anyone interested in the idea of connecting eastern Mass. with western Mass. by rail should be encouraged by the political leadership on this issue that Sen. Lesser continues to offer to all of us.

 


Westfield | Proposed Industrial Park

Westfield MEPA Plan | Page 10
Source: https://ma-westfield2.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/5833

The City of Westfield is moving forward with plans to develope a 66-acre industrial park on city-owned land between Turnpike Industrial Road and Cabot Road.

It has been reported that the design will include provisions for possible rail access into the property. If this were to happen the site would be served by the Pioneer Valley Railroad which already serves a number of freight rail customers in the vicinity of the proposed industrial park.

Further reading

“Westfield submits state paperwork to create industrial park”
By Hope Tremblay | The Republican | April 4, 2018

Westfield MEPA Plan presentation (PDF)
January 10, 2018

 


Berkshire Scenic Acquires Historic Mt Tom Locomotive

Boston & Maine SW-1 diesel locomotive
Former Mt Tom power plant, Holyoke, Ma.

“Scenic railway museum acquires historic locomotive”
By Tony Dobrowolski | The Berkshire Eagle | April 4, 2018

The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum (Lenox, Ma.) has acquired a rare 1941 Electro-Motive Division locomotive from the now dormant Mt. Tom power plant located in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

The 77-year old locomotive (shown above) was picked up from the power plant site by Pan Am Railways in late February and is now resting at its new home in the Berkshire Scenic’s rail yard.

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.