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.
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.
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 New Haven. (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’s 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.
In the last few weeks, crews have installed flashing light signals on Mount Tom Road on both sides of this track. Additionally, a large cantilevered flashing light signal has been set up to warn vehicular traffic exiting the PCA site.
On December 16, 2016 President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 6431, the “Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act of 2016” – a law that will help to facilitate the establishment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance at Central Station in Montréal, and the planned extension of Amtrak’s Vermonter service north into Canada.
Now we wait for both Chambers of the Canadian Parliament to pass Bill C-23, “An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States,” a bill that enables the Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport Preclearance between the governments’ of Canada and the United States that was signed on March 16, 2015. Various sources suggest that this should happen early in the new year.
Once Bill C-23 becomes law in Canada it will probably take about three years (one year of planning and two years of construction) to build the new joint customs and immigration facility in Central Station that will be used by both Canada Border Security Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
All parties with an interest in the future plans for passenger and freight rail service in our region are encouraged to attend this meeting and offer their comments and input to the State Rail Plan Update.
This is the only planned public meeting in Western Mass. before the updated plan is finalized, and the next update to the rail plan will likely not occur before 2021.
The Draft 2016 State Rail Plan Update has not been yet been posted on MassDOT’s website. As soon as this document becomes available we will share a link to it.
Note also that we expect that there will be an opportunity for written comment to be submitted as part of the outreach effort. As soon as these details are available they will be shared.
From what we’ve been told, the meeting will probably end at about 8:30 p.m.
On Monday October 24th we took a tour of the soon-to-reopen Union Station building in Springfield to have a look at the progress to date.
The historic building, which has been vacant for many years, will start to return to service in January 2017 — as an intermodal rail and bus station.
As the images below show, a lot of progress has been made — but clearly, a lot of detail work still has to take place over the next few months before the historic station building can re-open to the public.
Due to the limited amount of time that was available for this tour we were unable to spend any time reviewing the current platform situation at track level. We will review this topic in a future posting.
Work on the much talked about, and long-delayed, bike/pedestrian underpass in Northampton finally got underway when the contractor, Northern Construction Service of Palmer, mobilized its forces and equipment at the site last week.
Here are a few images from the area of the underpass work site from last Saturday —
First, a little history —
On the south of the Walgreens property on King Street there is a concrete path (shown above) that runs perpendicular to railroad tracks.
This path — which at the moment dead-ends at the edge of the property — was designed as a bike path back in 2007 when the Walgreens was built.
The original plan (shown below) even called for the installation of a “bike path ends” sign near the tracks, since it was apparently clear even then that it would be some time before the railroad underpass was built.
Note that all of the existing bike paths in the area of the underpass, including the Walgreens path, will be connected once the underpass project is complete in 2017.
Fast forward nine years.
Here we have a view of the site where the long-delayed underpass will finally be built.
Note the markers that have been placed in the ground by surveyors working on the project.
This image shows markings on the ground (in orange) that would appear to indicate the location of where the actual underpass will be sited.
Shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon a set of triangular color light signals along the rail line lite up. The signal indication gives the hint that the northbound Vermonter was approaching Northampton.
The next signal was the sound of two short blasts from the engine’s horn as the train pulled out of the station.
At about 4:05 p.m. Amtrak’s Vermonter came around the curve to the south and posed for this nice image.
Actually, the train was traveling at its maximum authorized speed of 30 m.p.h. — for this section of track — when it passed the work site.
Part of the reason the speed is limited to 30 m.p.h. here is because the jointed rail on this stretch of track has not yet been replaced with newer rail.
The jointed rail at this location will be replaced with new continuous welded rail (which can be seen laying in the weeds in this image) once the underpass is constructed.
On the rear of the train was a surprise guest — a private rail car.
This car — known as the Yerba Buena — is owned and operated by the firm Rail Ventures. It is one of about 200 private rail cars in operation in the U.S., many of which are available for private excursions.