Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety

Earlier this week a Longmeadow DPW employee tragically lost his life at the Birnie Road rail crossing when the snow plow he was operating was hit by an Amtrak train that was clearing snow from the rail line.

This accident has been extensively covered by the media and is under investigation by local, state and federal authorities so this posting will not delve into the details of the accident.

Instead, this posting will at look at the topic of highway-rail grade crossing safety in general in our region, with a focus on the crossing at Birnie Rd in Longmeadow.

 


Highway-rail crossings in the Pioneer Valley

There are a total of 119 public highway-rail crossings in the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley. Each crossing is marked with passive signage. Most crossings are also protected by active warning devices such as bells, red flashing lights, and gates.

 

 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has for many years maintained a detailed inventory of all highway-rail crossings. From the FRA’s Office of Safety Accident/Prediction web site we were able to generate a report (shown below) of all highway-rail crossing in our region.

Public Highway-rail Crossings Ranked by Predicted Accidents (PDF)
Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties in Massachusetts | March 17, 2017
Source: FRA Office of Safety Accident Prediction System

 

In summary, the report shows that for the five-year period (January 1, 2011, – December 31, 2015) there were a total of five (5) reported accidents at highway-rail crossing in the Pioneer Valley — which thankfully is a very low number.

Three of the accidents occurring at a single location — the grade crossing that takes Bridge Street in West Springfield over the CSX rail line.

For reasons that we cannot explain, the Birnie Road crossing does not appear on the FRA’s list of active highway-rail crossings. Updated 3/28/2017: The Birnie Road crossing reverted to “open” status when Amtrak submitted a revised DOT Crossing Inventory form to the FRA on March 24, 2017.

 


The Birnie Road railroad crossing

This is an aerial view of the crossing courtesy of Google Maps.

 

And this is a Google Street View image of the crossing.

 

Birnie Road in Longmeadow crosses the Amtrak Springfield Line. Our understanding is that passenger trains are authorized to operate on the two tracks at this location at speeds up to 70 80 m.p.h.

The Amtrak Springfield Line is used by Amtrak trains that operate between Springfield and New Haven. The line is also used by a number of freight trains each day. In early 2018 this line will see additional rail traffic when the Hartford Line service launches, with the addition of 12 daily round-trip Hartford Line trains between New Haven and Springfield.

MassLive reported this week that there have been a total of five (5) fatalities at the Birnie Road crossing since 1975.

On Thursday, March 16th WWLP News22 reported that the Town of Longmeadow had set up barriers across the road at the Birnie Road crossing.

Birnie Road railroad crossing | Longmeadow, Ma. | March 23, 2017

 

Once the investigation is complete, the proper authorities — which we understand are the Town of Longmeadow, Amtrak, and the Department of Public Utilities — must decide what steps need to be taken to reduce the risk of future accidents at this dangerous rail crossing.

In our view, there are only two options — either upgrade the crossing at Birnie Road with active warning devices or close it permanently.

 


Further information

Railroad Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention
Federal Railroad Administration

“Longmeadow DPW plow driver’s death is fifth at Birnie Road rail crossing, records show”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | March 14, 2017

“Warning signs ignored for decades at Longmeadow railroad crossing”
By Ryan Walsh | WWLP 22News | March 16, 2017

“Decades before crash that killed DPW worker, Longmeadow officials sought to improve safety at railroad crossing”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | March 24, 2017

 

 

Post last updated: March 28, 2017

A Snow Day Activity

Here’s an activity for rail advocates looking for something new to do while it continues to snow outside.

As part of the process to update its five-year Capital Investment Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is seeking input from the public until the end of this week.

If you have comments or suggestions on current or future state transportation projects, programs, priorities, and/or concerns, now is the time to submit your ideas and thoughts to MassDOT as part of this process.

Station platforms and tracks | Springfield, Ma. | March 6, 2017

 

In particular, we would encourage you to submit your comments in support of the following rail priorities for our region:

1. Additional passenger rail service north of Springfield
– ideally, the extension of a few Hartford Line trains past Springfield to Greenfield

2. Expanded passenger rail service between Springfield and Boston
– e.g., an extension of the planned Hartford Line service from Springfield to Boston

3. A second high-level platform at Springfield Union Station
– only one high-level platform is currently funded

4. and any other ideas and suggestions that you wish MassDOT to consider, including those related to state highways, the MBTA and the Regional Transit Agencies (i.e. PVTA and the FRTA.)

 

Your ideas and comments may be submitted one of two ways:

1. using MassDOT’s online comment tool, or

2. by sending an email to masscip@state.ma.us

Your comments do not have to be long or perfect to be heard by MassDOT and to have an impact.

Note that MassDOT will be accepting comments until Friday, March 17th at 5 pm.

 

The Draft 2018-2022 Capital Investment Plan will be released in late March or early April.

Once the draft has been released, MassDOT will schedule a series of public meetings to seek public input on the draft plan.

 


See also

MassDOT Capital Investment Plan | 2017-2021

 


Further information

Capital Investment Plan | Official web page (MassDOT)

2018-2022 CIP update: Joint Board Presentation (PDF)
January 23, 2017

Union Station to Reopen June 26th

On Monday, March 6th, Congressman Richard E. Neal hosted a “Media Day” event at Union Station to celebrate the rebirth of Union Station in Springfield. During the event, it was announced that Union Station will reopen to the public on Monday, June 26th, 2017.

At that time Amtrak’s passenger waiting room and ticket offices will move into the newly renovated station. It is expected that Peter Pan Bus Lines, Greyhound, and the bus operations of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will then follow as quickly as practical.

The images that follow highlight today’s media event and the station as it looks today — as final preparations for the re-opening are put in motion.

 


Images from Today’s Event

Waiting for the event to start
(the screen hanging from the ceiling is the future train status display board)

 

Congressman Neal speaking to invited guests and dignitaries

 

A view from one of the station alcoves

 

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno offering his remarks for the occasion
(Note the new murals on the wall)

 

Construction workers observing the event from the upper floors

 

Congressman Neal and Mayor Sarno are presented with copies of the Certificate of Occupancy for the “new” Union Station

 

Congressman Neal being interviewed by WWLP 22 News

 


Images from Inside the Station

Looking south from the main concourse — towards the passageway under the tracks

 

The east side of the main concourse

 

A highlight of the new station is the wonderful set of large graphic displays (murals) that were developed by Design & Advertising Associates LLC of Springfield and the Museum of Springfield History.

 

 

 

The corridor leading to the intercity bus waiting area

 

A view of the waiting area for bus passengers

 


Train Platforms

At track-level, you will unfortunately not find much that is new or improved at the moment. The current MassDOT Capital Improvement Plan includes funding for the construction of one high-level platform at the station. The new platform will replace the existing low level “Platform C”, which is shown in the image below.

We are hopeful that the planned high-level platform will be completed before the new Hartford Line service starts in early 2018.

Platform C (on the left) – looking east

 

Behind a door in the passageway under the tracks is the framing of the new elevator shaft and a set of original stairs that once led to Platform C — clearly a work in progress.

 

An original — and future — stairway to “Platform C”

 

In the meantime —  until the new high-level platform is built — train passengers will continue to access the boarding platforms using the existing stairway and elevator at the south end of the passageway.

 


Images from Outside the Station

From the top of the new parking garage – Looking east, towards Boston

 

A view of the new six-story elevated parking garage

 


Further reading

“After 4 decades and $95 million renovation, grand opening date set for Springfield’s Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Springfield Union Station: What’s next, rental spaces, platforms, Lyman Street and more”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Amid ongoing negotiations, Peter Picknelly confirms plan to move Peter Pan into Springfield’s Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | MassLive | March 6, 2017

“Union Station to reopen in a few months” (1:59)
By Kait Walsh | WWLP 22 News | March 6, 2017

 

Recent website updates and additions

Infrastructure > Current projects > Northampton Underpass
This page has been updated with new images.

Passenger Rail > Vermonter Performance
The On-time Performance & Departure Delay spreadsheet for the Vermonter has been updated with data through to the end of February 2017.

Gov. Malloy Pushes for Inland Route

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pens strong letter of support for the establishment of New Haven—Springfield—Boston passenger service on the Inland Route.

inland-route-nneiri-study

In his letter, Malloy asks that Gov. Baker advance the necessary planning and engineering work that would be required to establish the service.

He also asks for the project to be added to the updated Massachusetts State Rail Plan, which is current being prepared by MassDOT.

east-west-rail-malloy-letter-30-jan-2017

 

Gov. Malloy’s letter follows a letter of support — for both expanded service on the Knowledge Corridor and East-West rail — sent by Congressman Jim McGovern and Congressman Richard Neal back in November 2016.

neal-mcgovern-ma-state-rail-plan-letter-9-nov-2016_page_1

 

In a related development, the Worcester City Council on Tuesday evening called for a regional transportation summit to look at improved passenger rail service from Worcester to Boston, and to Springfield, eastern Connecticut, and New York City.

 

Returning passenger service on the route between Boston and New Haven via Springfield, a service that was recommended in the recently completed Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI) study, is not a small project.

Moving this project forward requires the support of Gov. Baker, who until now has been reluctant to say much of anything on this topic. Additionally, state and federal funding for the required planning and engineering work would need to be identified and secured.

 


See Also

Boston–Springfield–New Haven / Montreal Service

 

Recent website updates and additions

About > Transparency & Accountability
On this page, you will now find links to the 4Q2016 and FY2016 financial reports for Trains in the Valley.

About > Filing Cabinet
This new page is a place where we will maintain a listing of resources that are only indirectly related to the primary topic of this website. As example, this page now includes a link to a nice chart (prepared by MassBudget) that shows the funding sources for transportation in Massachussets and where the funds go.

Get Involved > Rail Bills | Mass. Legislature
This new page contains a listing of bills filed in the Massachusetts General Court (the legislature) that affect passenger and/or freight rail service in our region of the state.

Infrastructure > Greenfield
This page has been updated with further information (and images) about the newly expanded short-term parking lot at the Olver Transit Center and the planned new parking garage.

Passenger Rail > Vermonter Performance
The On-time Performance & Departure Delay spreadsheet for the Vermonter has been updated with data through to the end of January 2017. The OT performance of the southbound Vermonter continues to be a problem.

::

And last but not least, we are very pleased to announce that Rebecca Townsend has joined Trains in the Valley.

Rebecca is a communication professor who has studied transportation and public engagement, for which the White House named her a “Champion of Change for Transportation Innovation” in 2012. The International Association of Public Participation lauded her work with students to increase engagement in transportation planning, and her scholarship earned her the inaugural State of Connecticut Scholarly Excellence Award. Originally from Rhode Island, she saw how greater access to rail can improve economic activity.

She founded the Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail (2006-2010) with fellow residents of the Greater Springfield region to garner support for rail in our region of Massachusetts.

 


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WWLP-22News Special Report: Springfield-Boston Rail Service

WWLP-22News Anchor/Reporter Katie Walsh’s amazing full hour-long special report on the potential for Springfield-Boston passenger rail service is now available on the this link:

“InFocus: Lawmakers considering rail service from Springfield to Boston”
By Kait Walsh | WWLP-22News | January 29, 2017

This is by far the most comprehensive report on this topic by any media outlet in the Pioneer Valley to date.

WWLP’s report, which was 6 weeks in the making, includes interviews with all the key players, including

Tim Brennan | Exec. Director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Governor Charlie Baker
Astrid Glynn | Rail & Transit Administrator, MassDOT
State Senator Eric Lesser | First Hampden and Hampshire
Mary Macinnes | Administrator, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
Guy McLean | Wood Museum of Springfield History
Tim Murray | President & CEO, Worcester Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Representative Richard Neal | 1st District of Mass.
Peter Picknelly | Owner, Peter Pan Bus Lines
Rick Sullivan |President, Economic Dev. Council of Western Mass.

Trains in the Valley was interviewed for the piece in the historic Union Station building in Northampton.

The report is balanced and comprehensive. We would encourage everyone with an interest in this topic to take the time to view this report, from start to finish.

NEC FUTURE | Springfield Meeting

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has scheduled an Open House in Springfield for the purpose of providing information on the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The Open House will be held on Wednesday, January 25th from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the offices of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, 60 Congress St, Springfield, Ma.

Members of the public are welcome to come at any time during this session to view informational displays and talk with the NEC FUTURE team. Please note this is not a public hearing; rather it is a chance for the FRA to share information and answer questions in an informal setting. The open house will not include a formal presentation or an opportunity for public testimony.

nec-future-preferred-alternative-map

The NEC FUTURE plan is designed to create a framework for the future investments needed to improve passenger rail capacity and service on the Northeast Corridor through 2040.

The proposed alternatives in the Final EIS include significant upgrades to the route between New Haven and Springfield, above and beyond what is currently planned for the Hartford Line service which starts in early 2018.


Further Reading

NEC FUTURE
Federal Railroad Administration

Our Future on Track (PDF)
Highlights of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement
December 2016

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:

vermonter-annual-ridership-11-jan-2017

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.