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.

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

Vermonter Ridership | FY 2016

Amtrak has released Fiscal Year 2016 ridership totals 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:


Highlights from the data show that:

Approximately 28,000 passengers used the Vermonter in Western Mass. between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016 (Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016)

Ridership in Western Mass. increased 12% vs. FY 2015 — which is quite good considering that total Vermonter ridership was down 4% during the same period.

Ridership in Western Mass. has increased 57% vs. FY 2014 — when the train was using the longer route via Amherst.

Northampton, with 17,322 passengers in FY 2016, is now the 2nd busiest Vermonter station north of Springfield. (The busiest station is Essex Jct., Vt.)

Ridership from the four station stops in the Pioneer Valley now accounts for about 1/3rd of the total ridership on the Vermonter.

It important note, when looking at the station totals in FY 2016 to FY 2015, that the FY 2015 numbers do not include a full year of ridership from most stations — so you can’t directly compare the change in station ridership year-over-year.

One way to compare the station totals is to compare the FY 2016 totals with annualized totals for FY 2015.

If you do that then we see the following changes in ridership from last year to this year:

Greenfield was down 16%
Holyoke was up 20%
Northampton was up 10%

From other data, we know that the FY 2015 total for Greenfield included an unusually high number of passengers who traveled between Greenfield and Northampton or Springfield. We believe that most of these riders were just taking the train to try out the new routing of the Vermonter over the Connecticut River Line. Based on the available data, we believe that this is the only reason why the Greenfield ridership dropped from last year to this year.

It would also be fair to say that the Holyoke increase of 20% may not be totally accurate since the number of days in FY 2015 with ridership in Holyoke was very small (just 35 days). To calculate an annualized number based on just 35 days of data may not yield a very accurate annualized total.

Next year, when we have two full years of data to compare, it will be much easier to compare the changes in ridership at stations in the valley.

Why is the Southbound Vermonter always late?

In this posting, we’ll look at the number one issue on Trains in the Valley’s list of short-term advocacy issues —

the simple fact that the southbound Vermonter is departing late virtually every day from every station in the Pioneer Valley.


Passengers waiting for the late Southbound Vermonter Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2015
Passengers waiting for the late southbound Vermonter (Train 55)
Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2016 | 2.36 p.m.


No one likes to wait for a late train, especially when they have to wait on an open platform — like we have in Greenfield, Holyoke, and Northampton — when it is hot or cold outside.

Many of the passengers standing on the platform shown above have probably been waiting for almost an hour for their train to arrive. (The Vermonter was reported to be already 35 minutes late when this image was taken last Friday.)


So what’s going on?

The late departure from stops in the Pioneer Valley is caused, for the most part, by a whole set of slow orders that has been issued for sections of the track on the New England Central Railroad’s main line in Vermont.

This essentially means that the train is being severely delayed — in Vermont.

As just one example of a slow order, we understand that there are currently three slow orders in place that require the Vermonter to reduce its speed to just 10 m.p.h. due to rocky outcrops near the tracks. These orders were issued soon after a fallen piece of rock caused a derailment in October 2015.

Generally speaking, temporary slow orders are also often issued after maintenance is performed on the tracks as well as during periods of high temperatures.


So what is being done to resolve this problem?

Last week, out of concern that the problem was getting worse rather than better, I drove to Montpelier, Vt. to attend the quarterly meeting of the Vermont Rail Council.

During the Public Comments section of the meeting, I made a brief presentation during which I provided the Council with this chart illustrating the extent of the problem —

A twenty-minute discussion ensued.

It was suggested during the meeting that if the slow orders cannot be resolved in the short term then consideration may be given towards adjusting the Vermonter’s schedule — possibly when the timetable is changed in October 2016.

The chairman of the Rail Council — who happens to be the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) — requested that Amtrak, NECR, and VTrans meet to review all of the slow orders on the NECR line and agree to a plan of action to resolve this ongoing problem. He also requested that NECR and Amtrak present to the Rail Council at the next meeting on what has been achieved to eliminate slow orders of the line.

It was a long drive up and back to Montpelier to attend the meeting. However, I left there with the impression that the Vermont Rail Council and VTrans are indeed concerned about this problem — and that the Vermont Agency of Transportation is going to work hard with Amtrak and NECR to resolve it. Let’s wait and see.


Ben Heckscher
Co-founder, Trains in the Valley


Amtrak Train 55 — now 42 minutes late — ready for departure Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2015
Amtrak Train 55 — now 42 minutes late — ready for departure
Northampton, Mass. | August 19, 2016 | 2.43 p.m.


Update | August 26, 2016

We’ve been asked, “what about the northbound train? Isn’t it also late?”

The northbound Vermonter has been departing late from stops in the Pioneer Valley on a fairly consistent basis for the past few months. Some of the departure delays are due to the ongoing construction on Amtrak’s tracks between New Haven and Springfield  — and some of the delays are due to the late southbound Vermonter. (The northbound train normally cannot depart Springfield until the southbound train has arrived in Springfield since the Connecticut River Line is, for the most part, a single track.)

The timekeeping of the northbound train while traveling through Vermont has been affected by the same slow orders on the NECR main line that have been affecting the southbound train.


Update | November 22, 2016

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has announced its intention to request a temporary timetable change for the Vermonter due to slow orders along the New England Central main line in Vermont. Once the schedule is adjusted it is anticipated that there will be a noticeable improvement in the on-time performance of the train at station stops along the Vermonter’s route, in particular in Massachusetts and Vermont.

As soon as the new schedule is posted it will be made available on this website.


Update | February 21, 2017

The timetable for Amtrak’s Vermonter service will change on February 27, 2017 when a temporary schedule adjustment is put into effect.

The schedule adjustment, which includes minor changes to the departure times from stations in Vermont, is being implemented in an effort to improve the on-time performance of the Vermonter.


Update | June 24, 2017

The timetable for the Amtrak’s Vermonter was changed on June 1, 2017. With the new timetable the southbound train is unfortunatly once again departing late from all station stops in the Massachussetts.


See also

Vermonter Performance | a collection of performance metrics
Trains in the Valley


Further Reading

Minutes of Meeting
Vermont Rail Council
August 17, 2016


Post last updated: June 24, 2017

Amtrak Launches New Carry-on Bike Service for the Vermonter

Amtrak launches new carry-on bike service for the Vermonter — just in time for Bay State Bike Week 2016.

The service, which is a two-year pilot project, provides passengers on the Vermonter with the opportunity to travel with their bikes for the first time in over a decade.

Vermonter Bike Rack Demonstration Courtesy of Adventure Cycling Association | May 2016
Vermonter Bike Rack Demonstration
Courtesy of Adventure Cycling Association | May 2016


The pilot service was spurred by Amtrak’s work with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Vermont Department of Tourism, Adventure Cycling Association, and the Vermont Rail Action Network, a state-wide rail advocacy group.  And while initial space for bikes is a bit limited (3 bikes per train at the moment, with space for a 4th bike to be added in June), it is expected that additional space for bikes may be added if the demand is there.

You can reserve space for your bicycle on the Vermonter by selecting “Add bike to trip” when you book train travel on Amtrak.com, by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL, or by visiting a staffed Amtrak ticket office.

The cost is $10/bike for travel between St. Albans, Vt, and New Haven, Conn., and $20/bike if you trip involves a station south of New Haven.

Here are the basic guidelines:

• Only standard size bicycles are permitted at this time.

• Each passenger may bring one bicycle.

• You must be physically capable of lifting your bicycle up to shoulder height.

• You must have a travel document (ticket) for your bike


Traveling with your bike on the Vermonter

Look for the “bike-friendly” sticker on the coach when your train pulls in to the station.

Once on the train, bicycles will be stored in a special luggage compartment which has been designed to convert into a bike rack.

After boarding, you will be required to remove the front wheel of your bicycle before hanging it by the back wheel and securing it using the provided strap. Loading instructions will be available in the bike rack area and Amtrak crew members will be available to assist if necessary.

If equipped with panniers, a large seat or saddle bags, the items must be removed from the bicycle before hanging it on the bike rack.


A little history

Longtime passengers on the Vermonter may recall that the train had its own baggage car up until about 2004. Since then it hasn’t, until now, been possible to bring a bike with you on the Vermonter unless it could be folded up and loaded as carry on luggage.

Groups in Vermont, notably the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Vermont Rail Action Network, have been in discussions to get bikes back on the Vermonter for the past five years.

A better long-term solution, if the demand is there and the economics work, would be to add one of Amtrak’s new bicycle friendly baggage cars (shown below) to the Vermonter during the cycling season. These cars are in service today on many of Amtrak’s long distance routes.

Interior of Amtrak Viewliner II baggage car
Courtesy of Amtrak | 2014


Further reading

Walk-On Bike Service on the Vermonter (Amtrak)

Bring Your Bicycle Onboard (Amtrak)

“Amtrak Launches Roll-on Bicycle Service on the Vermonter May 1st”
Adventure Cycling Association | May 3, 2016

“The Vermonter to offer carry-on bike service”
By Judy Simpson | WCAX-TV Burlington, Vt. | April 29, 2016
(includes video that demonstrates the process for taking a bike on the train.)



Last updated: May 4, 2016