Expanded Knowledge Corridor Service

Status | In Planning
Planned Start of Service | June 2019

The Amtrak Vermonter arrives in Holyoke, Ma. | Courtesy of WAMC

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) intends to add additional passenger rail service on the Knowledge Corridor, with direct service operating between Greenfield and New Haven.

The pilot service will be operated by Amtrak — with two trains from Greenfield to New Haven in the morning and two trains north from New Haven to Greenfield in the evening.

The primary target market for this service is people in our region who need to travel to New York City, as example, in the morning and return the same day in the evening.

Station stops in the Pioneer Valley will include Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield.

The service will be scheduled so that riders can easily connect with both Amtrak and Metro-North trains at New Haven Union Station.

The pilot service will start after necessary infrastructure projects along the Knowledge Corridor are completed. These projects include construction of a high-level boarding platform at Springfield Union Station, expanded boarding platforms in Greenfield and Northampton, as well as track and bridge work along the rail line.

If the 2 1/2 year pilot service proves to be successful, added intercity rail service from Springfield to Greenfield could be considered. Permanent passenger rail service could be achieved as an extension of the CTrail Hartford Line service. If the service is not successful, then MassDOT has said that the service will be discontinued.

 


Background

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) and many elected officials in the region have been advocating for additional passenger rail service north of Springfield for many years.

The existing Vermonter service, while greatly preferable to no service at all, has drawbacks that are not easily overcome. Simply stated, the Vermonter service only operates once a day in each direction, is scheduled and priced for long-distance travel, and departs at a time of day that makes it impossible to travel south past Springfield and return in the same day.

Efforts to expand service north of Springfield stem from the completion of the PVPC’s Knowledge Corridor Passenger Rail Feasibility Study in 2009. The study assessed the feasibility of future passenger rail improvements intended to reduce travel time, maximize accessibility, and provide viable transportation alternatives within the Knowledge Corridor.

 


OPEN ISSUE | Fares for the new service

In preparation for the start of this new service we decided to have a look at the current fares that are available today along the Knowledge Corridor.

The sheet below shows the fares (as of 2/5/2019) for travel during the 30-day period between February 6th and March 7, 2017.

The Vermonter fares north of Springfield vary because Amtrak sets fares on this train using a concept that they call “revenue managed pricing.” This means that Amtrak varies the fares for each train based on factors as day of the week, and the expected and actual demand for seats on any particular train — just like most airlines set their prices.

While MassDOT has said that the fare structure for the new service has not been set, there was a recent news report [“Springfield-Holyoke-Northampton-Greenfield passenger trains a go for summer” | February 1, 2019] that said the fares for the new service would be based on the fare structure used for the Vermonter.

If this is true, this is a problem.

We believe that MassDOT should establish fixed fares for the Knowledge Corridor Pilot that are set at levels that will encourage people to use the service, and that these fares should be set at reasonable and logical steps above the fares that both MassDOT and CTDOT agreed to when the Hartford Line service was established in 2018.

IF YOU AGREE — then we ask you to please contact your elected state representatives and ask that they contact MassDOT to request fixed-fares set at reasonable price levels for the Knowledge Corridor Pilot service.

Support for “the Ask”

We believe that if MassDOT uses the Vermonter fare structure for the Knowledge Corridor Pilot service they will give people in our region a strong reason NOT to use the new service for travel on points between Greenfield and New Haven.

Simply stated, the current Vermonter fares for travel between Greenfield and New Haven are set at levels that are not attractive for people wishing to travel by rail along this corridor.

Why is that, you might ask . . . because the Vermonter’s target market is longer distance travel to/from points along the Northeast corridor, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

 

Here’s an example
The Hartford Line adult fare for travel from Springfield to New Haven is fixed at $12.75.

The current Vermonter fare for travel from Holyoke (which is just 8 miles beyond Springfield) to New Haven  is currently $25, $33, $39, or $49 — depending on the date of travel.

Notably, all travel on any date in the next two weeks is priced at $33. The $33 fare is almost three times higher the Hartford Line fare from Springfield.

Many people in our region will not use the new service if fares are set at the levels used on the Vermonter today. Instead they would simply drive to Springfield and use the Hartford Line service or they will not travel by rail at all.

 

A fixed-fare structure is much more conducive to growing ridership for the following reasons:

Fairness
The Knowledge Corridor Pilot will be viewed by many people in our region as a defacto extension of the original CTrail Hartford Line Service, which started in in June 2018. As a matter of fairness, most riders who live north of Springfield and use the Hartford Line service today from Springfield will naturally expect that a fixed-rate fare structure will apply when the the same Amtrak-operated train originates from a station north of Springfield.

Simplicity
Riders need only be familiar with one set of fares, not a confusing set of 2 or 3 or 4 sets of fares, when making a decision to ride the train.

Certainty
Individuals (students in particular), families, and businesses need certainty in budgeting their transportation expenses. A fixed-rate fare structure will give potential riders budgeting certainty and be an additional reason to ride. In contrast, a variable rate fare structure will force those same potential riders to deal with constantly changing fares, a situation that will lead many potential riders to continue to take their cars.

Success
The launch of the Hartford Line, with a fixed-rate fare structure, has been a success from the beginning and has exceeded expectations, even from supporters. Adopting this proven type of fare rate structure will greatly increase the likelihood that the Knowledge Corridor pilot will also experience success.

Again, if you agree — then we ask that you to please contact your elected state representatives and ask them to support fixed-fares set at reasonable levels for the Knowledge Corridor Pilot service.

 


OPEN ISSUE | Parking at the station in Northampton

As many local people know, there is no long-term parking near/at the station platform in Northampton at the moment.

Although MassDOT owns the station platform itself, the surface parking lots near the platform is privately owned  entity.

Long term parking is available at the E. J. Gare Parking Garage on Hampton Avenue, but this is not ideal since its a  6–10 minute walk to/from the station.

Why is this important? Because we’ve have heard from many people in Northampton who have said that they would use the train except that there is no place to park.

How and when this problem will be solved we do not know. What we do know is that if we want the new Knowledge Corridor service to be successful someone needs to find a solution to the parking problem at the station in Northampton before the summer.

 


See also

East-West Passenger Rail Study

 


Further reading

Expansion of Passenger Rail along Knowledge Corridor (PDF)
Tim Brennan, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission | October 2018

“Expanded North-South Rail Service in June 2019”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | June 12, 2018

“Northampton mayor sees busy train station getting busier with planned north-south Knowledge Corridor service expansion”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | June 13, 2018

 

Page last updated: February 7, 2019
Page last reviewed: February 6, 2019