Planned Start of Service
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) intends to add additional passenger rail service in the Pioneer Valley, with direct service operating between Greenfield and New Haven, starting in June 2019.
The so-called Knowledge Corridor 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. These trains will have scheduled connections with both Amtrak and Metro-North trains at New Haven Union Station.
Station stops in the Pioneer Valley will include Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield.
This service is designed for people in our region who wish to travel to New York City, as example, in the morning and return the same day in the evening.
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 north to Greenfield.
If the service is not successful, then MassDOT has said that the added service will be discontinued.
MassDOT continues to work with Amtrak and CTDOT to prepare for the new rail service between Greenfield, Springfield and New Haven.
Amtrak has started crew training and is currently finalizing the schedule so that it can be submitted to Federal Railroad Administration for review.
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and 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 longer-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
A recent news report [“Springfield-Holyoke-Northampton-Greenfield passenger trains a go for summer” | February 1, 2019] reports that the fares for the new Greenfield–New Haven service will be based on the fare structure used for Amtrak’s Vermonter service.
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.
We would encourage you to contact your elected state representatives and ask that they encourage MassDOT to establish fixed-fares set at reasonable price levels for the planned Knowledge Corridor Pilot passenger rail 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 (the cost) to NOT use the new passenger rail service — in particular for travel to New Haven to connect with Metro-North’s service onward to New York City.
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.
The analysis below looks at the current fares between Greenfield and New Haven. 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 such as the day of the week, and the expected and actual demand for seats on any particular train — just like most airlines set their prices.
Here’s an example
The Hartford Line adult fare for travel from Springfield to New Haven is fixed at $12.75.
The Vermonter fare for travel from Holyoke (which is just 8 miles beyond Springfield) to New Haven as of February 5th are 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, and this fare is almost three times higher then 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:
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.
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.
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.
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 people in the region know, there is no long-term parking at or near the station platform in Northampton at the moment.
Although MassDOT owns the station platform itself, the surface parking lots near the platform are owned by a private entity.
Long term parking is available at the city-owned 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 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 Greenfield-New Haven service to be successful someone needs to find a solution to the parking problem at the station in Northampton before June.
OPEN ISSUE | Infrastructure projects along the line
MassDOT is managing a number of significant infrastructure projects along the rail corridor between Springfield and Greenfield that must, we’re told, be completed before the new service can start.
The projects include
- Extensions to the station platforms in Northampton and Greenfield
- Construction of a new high-level platform at Springfield Union Station
- A major tie replacement project along the line
- Bridge repairs at 6 locations along the line
- Culvert repairs at 7 locations along the line
There’s a lot of work to do, but all indications that we have suggest that these projects will be completed by June 2019.
Further details can be found on this link
Infrastructure | Current Projects
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: March 18, 2019
Page last reviewed: February 18, 2019