Rail News Roundup #40

Today’s Headlines

Infrastructure Bill Signed into Law

MassDOT Intercity Passenger Rail White Paper Released

The Return of the Vermonter

Service to Bradley Airport has Arrived

PVTA Launches Amherst–Worcester Intercity Bus Service`

PVTA Springfield–Northampton Express Bus Pilot

Chester Depot National Landmark Ceremony

Wanted: Books for the Book Exchange

Western Mass Live Rail Cams

Calendar

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Meeting (NEW)
Meeting Topic: Presentation and status update on East-West Rail
Thur. December 9, 2021 | 5:30 pm
Online meeting
Agenda – Regular Meeting of the PVPC – 9 Dec 2021 (PDF)

Click here to join the meeting (via Zoom)

Vermont Rail Advisory Council (NEW)
Tues. December 16, 2021 | 1 – 3 pm
Hybrid-live meeting
2178 Airport Rd (Dill Building), Barre, VT, and online

Click here to join the meeting (via Microsoft Teams)


Infrastructure Bill Signed into Law

President Biden signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act | November 15, 2021
Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law what many would say is the most important piece of legislation in Amtrak’s history — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The legislation provides an unprecedented $66 billion in funding for intercity passenger rail.

In our area we can expect to see a number of developments over the next few years, thanks to the new law.

As example, Amtrak will replace most of its aging fleet over the next decade.

This means that the trains operated by Amtrak on the Hartford Line — well as the Valley Flyer and the Vermonter — will see totally new equipment in the coming years. (see “Amtrak to Transform Rail Travel with $7.3 Billion Investment in State-of-the-Art Equipment”| Amtrak.)

The new “multi-powered” train sets on order will eliminate the need for the Amtrak’s Vermonter train to pause in New Haven while the engine is changed.

We should expect that CTDOT will apply for federal funds to a complete the double-tracking of the Amtrak-owned Springfield–New Haven rail corridor.

The bill requires Amtrak to submit a report to Congress, by November 15, 2022, regarding “enhanced Amtrak passenger rail service between the United States and Canada.”

Basically, Congress wants to understand the challenges that Amtrak has operating in Canada and what can be done to improve Amtrak service to Canada. (see Vermonter Extension to Montreal)

The Act also creates new grant programs that would allow for new and expanded passenger rail corridors, such as East-West passenger rail in Massachusetts.

Further reading

“What’s in the Infrastructure Package for Passenger Rail?”
By David Peter Alan | Railway Age | November 15, 2021

Stephen Gardner on the Future of Amtrak (Video: 31m)
Amtrak President Stephen Gardner talks about rail infrastructure and the future of Amtrak.
Washington Journal via C-SPAN | November 24, 2021

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
Public Law 117-58 | U.S. Congress


MassDOT Intercity Passenger Rail White Paper Released

MassDOT recommends Amtrak as the operator for East-West Rail and creation of a “Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority”

On Friday, November 12th the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) released it’s long awaited, Massachusetts Intercity Passenger Rail Governance White Paper.

The paper lays down two important building blocks for East-West Passenger Rail, asserting that:

  • the service should be operated by Amtrak (and not the MBTA); and that
  • the state legislature should establish a Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority to manage the East-West Passenger Rail project and service.

The choice of wording in the 29-page paper is worth noting.

In particular, this section —

“MassDOT officials believe the recommendations in this white paper will help position the Commonwealth to take advantage of the federal funding opportunities and is the most logical course to develop an East-West rail corridor and grow other rail services in Western Massachusetts.”

This wording seems to express some level optimism that East-West Rail could actually become a reality.

The Western Mass Rail Coalition (WMRC) — a group that Trains In The Valley belongs to — quickly endorsed MassDOT’s recommendation that Amtrak be the operator of choice for East-West Rail.

The group also came out with support for MassDOT’s recommendation that the legislature establish a Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority — an entity that would develop, manage, and oversee the East-West Rail service.

The WMRC noted that the model for such an intercity rail authority can be found in other states where similar entities exist today — in particular the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages and oversees the Amtrak Downeaster service between Boston,  and Portland and Brunswick, Maine.

The WMRC asked the legislature to consider a number of specific points as it reviews MassDOT’s proposal for the governance of East-West Passenger Rail:

  • The WMRC noted that MassDOT’s white paper is silent on the topic of how the Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority would be funded. They thought that this was a notable omission that needed to be addressed in detail.
  • The WMRC questioned why MassDOT had assumed that the Board of Directors for the new authority will be appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts — noting that there are other models that could be used to determine the composition of the board. For example, the board members of the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority are appointed solely by local elected officials in the region.
  • The WMRC supported having the proposed Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority oversee and manage the Commonwealth’s existing “state-supported” Amtrak services (the Vermonter, the Hartford Line, and the Valley Flyer) since these make up a significant portion of this region’s network of passenger rail services.
  • The WRMC believes that the Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority should ultimately be empowered to oversee and manage any future passenger rail service in western Massachusetts, as example service along the Northern Tier Corridor (Boston–Greenfield–North Adams) and service along the Berkshire Line.
  • Considering Connecticut’s desire for direct service between Hartford and Boston via Springfield — and Amtrak’s proposal to provide additional service between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer NY via Springfield — the WMRC asked the legislature to review carefully the need for the Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority to work very closely with our neighboring states.

Further reading

“With the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill done, what’s next for east-west rail in Massachusetts and the Berkshires?”
By Danny Jin | The Berkshire Eagle | November 26, 2021


The Return of the Vermonter

Daily Hampshire Gazette (linked image) | July 20, 2021 | Page 1

On Monday afternoon July 19th Amtrak’s Vermonter returned to the Pioneer Valley after a hiatus of sixteen months.

This milestone was marked in Northampton with a celebration organized by Trains In The Valley to welcome the train back to the region.

Similar celebrations were hosted at all ten of the stations along the line in Vermont.

The train was quite late arriving into Northampton because of the extraordinary ridership that was generated by the special $1 fare promotion for travel between stations in Vermont on the first day of service.

Those who patiently waited for the train to arrive were serenaded for over an hour by our very own Expandable Brass Band.

The train finally showed up at about 3:15 pm — over one hour late.

Train 55 arriving in Northampton | By Don Treeger/The Republican | July 19, 2021
By Jacob Harrison | The Points Guy | July 19, 2021

The day’s events were nicely captured on this video:

“Amtrak’s Vermonter returns to Northampton” (6:01)
By YouTube user Skyman2002 | July 19, 2021 | via YouTube

In related news, reports posed on the Amtrak website show that ridership on the Vermonter has rebounded nicely since service returned in July.

Amtrak reported 8,700 Vermonter riders in August 2021 and 5,900 riders in September 2021. These numbers are 85% and 81% of the Vermonter ridership in August and September 2019.

Further information

“An emotional welcome back: What it was like on the first day of train service in Vermont since March 2020”
By Jacob Harrison | The Points Guy | July 20, 2021

Images of the Vermonter’s Return to Northampton
By Don Teeger | The Republican | July 19, 2021


Service to Bradley Airport has Arrived

We are happy to announce that it is now possible to reach Bradley International Airport from the Pioneer Valley using public transit.

The public transit option became available on August 22nd when the Connecticut Department of Transportation inaugurated its new CTtransit Route 24 bus service between Windsor Locks train station and Bradley Airport.

Interested?

The link below takes you to our new page with most everything you’ll need to know to give this a try:
How to Get to Bradley Airport on Public Transit


PVTA Launches Amherst–Worcester Intercity Bus Service

In September the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority launched a new route between Amherst and Worcester — with timed connecting service to the MBTA Framingham/Worcester Line at Worcester Union Station.

The new service, which is designated as the B79 bus, currently operates on a limited daily schedule Thursdays thru Mondays — with three round trips on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, and two round trips on Sundays.

Here’s the current schedule —

The route was identified as a service gap and recommended in MassDOT’s 2015 Regional Bus Network Assessment.

Ridership on the route is projected to be 8,000–9,000 riders the first year, and approximately 18,000 riders the second year.

Its important to note that the new B79 Route uses distance-based fares which range from $1.50 (within the PVTA’s service area) and then $3.50 to $9.00 outside PVTA’s service area.

PVTA B79 Amherst–Worcester Route (PDF) | September 16, 2021

The launch of this pilot service is being funded in part by a Section 5311(f) Intercity Bus Program Grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

This grant program supports the connection between rural areas and the larger regional or national system of intercity service, helping to meet the intercity travel needs of residents of rural areas.

Further information

PVTA Route B79 Schedule and Fares (PDF)
Pioneer Valley Transit Authority | September 16, 2021

“Pioneer Valley Transit Authority planning Amherst to Worcester bus service along Route 9”
By Jim Russell | Springfield Republican | February 17, 2021


PVTA Springfield–Northampton Express Bus Pilot Service

The PVTA now has an express bus service — the G73 Route — between Northampton and Springfield Union Station.

The new service, which is being provided on a pilot basis, offers:

  • Improved travel time between PVTA’s northern and southern systems
  • A faster, more direct service along Interstate 91 to improve accessibility and travel range for riders
  • Reduced travel time between Northampton and Union Station — from 60 minutes with a transfer to 35 minutes with no transfer
  • Reduced travel time between Northampton and the Holyoke Mall from 48 minutes to 20 minutes
  • Timed connections to Amtrak and CTrail trains in Springfield, other FRTA and PVTA bus routes

Here’s the current schedule —

Normal PVTA fares apply for travel on the G73E route (as example, $1.50 for an adult trip).

Students, faculty, and staff with an ID from one of the schools in Five Colleges Consortium can ride the G73E at no charge.

The Northampton–Holyoke–Springfield Express pilot route is funded through a MassDOT Discretionary Grant program.

The discretionary grant provides funding support for the service until June 30, 2022.


Chester Depot National Landmark Ceremony

On September 25th the Chester Foundation hosted a invitation-only event to celebrate the National Park Service’s designation of the Chester Depot as a National Historic Landmark.

WWLP-22News dispatched longtime reporter Sy Becker to cover the event.

His report can be found here —

Further reading

Video: Chester Railway Station – Landmark Designation Event
A recording of the live stream from the event

Chester Railway Station & Museum
Official website


Wanted: Books for the Book Exchange

Springfield Union Station | November 17, 2021

We’re helping our friends at Springfield Union Station restock the shelves of their book exchange for the holidays.

If you have books that you would like to donate to a great cause please check out this link for further details:
Wanted: Books for the Book Exchange


Western Mass Live Rail Cams

By popular request we have added a new page on our site with a list of the growing number of local rail cams in our area.

The existing cams are located in Chester, Palmer, Springfield and Westfield along CSX’s east-west rail corridor.

Of particular note is this railcam at Springfield Unions Station which provides a view of both Amtrak’s and CSX’s tracks.

Note that each YouTube feed includes 12 hours of recorded video.

If you don’t see a train, move the red slider slowly to the left. Before long you are bound to see something interesting.

The new page can be found on this link — Live Rail Cams

Post updated: December 1, 2021