Rail News Roundup #41

Today’s Headlines

East-West Rail: CSX Agrees to Amtrak Conditions

PVPC Hosts Status Update on East-West Rail

Delegation Meets to Discuss East-West Rail

Northern Tier Rail Study Kicks Off

New Windsor Locks Station Out to Bid

Deerfield | Rail Storage Track Project to Kick Off

Joint Transportation Committee Hearing

New Header Image for the Website

Virtual Meetings of Note

East-West Rail: CSX Agrees to Amtrak Conditions

The Republican | Page 1 | January 14, 2021

On January 12th, 2022, CSX — the owner of the rail corridor west of Worcester — formally indicated to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) in this letter that it would agree to a set of [pro-passenger rail] conditions requested by Amtrak as part of their planned acquisition of Pan Am Railways.

The conditions, which were put forward by Amtrak in their Final Brief to the STB in early January, included the following important statements:

Condition 2: “CSXT should be ordered to fully cooperate in good faith with Amtrak and third party public agencies for addition, expansion or modification of existing intercity passenger rail services, operation of seasonal service or “extra sections” of existing regularly scheduled Amtrak trains, and/or development of new intercity passenger rail service, including but not limited to service over on the Pan Am routes and CSXT’s Albany-Worcester route; with respect to any such request by Amtrak, all inputs and assumptions will be shared with the parties participating in any analysis or modelling (if such is required), and with the Board in any subsequent proceeding, subject to appropriate confidentiality undertakings; and with respect to the Pan Am routes and CSXT’s Albany-Worcester route, the level and composition of freight traffic used in any analysis or modelling (if such is required), will be no greater than the level forecast by CSXT in their Application.

Condition 3: CSXT should be ordered to cooperate with Amtrak and third party public agencies to identify improvements if any that would be required to make accelerated speeds on the Pan Am routes and CSXT’s Albany-Worcester route safe and practicable, and upon agreement or an order to implement such accelerated speeds, work in good faith to make such improvements as promptly as practicable.

Whether or not the STB will impose these conditions on the CSX-Pan Am transaction, as CSX has requested, will not be known until early spring — when the STB issues its final decision.

CSX’s apparent willingness to allow additional Amtrak-operated passenger trains on their tracks, at potentially higher speeds, is a significant development for those seeking additional passenger rail service between Boston, Springfield, Pittsfield — and Albany.

# # #

In a related development, on January 3, 2022, MassDOT submitted its own Brief to the STB regarding the proposed CSX–Pan Am Railways transaction.

Of particular interest to our region are these three conditions that MassDOT asked the STB to impose on the transaction:

“5. CSX, on behalf of itself and as the future 50% owner of PAS [Pan Am Southern], commits to work with MassDOT, Amtrak, and any future local rail authority (i.e., a Western Massachusetts Intercity Rail Authority) in good faith, to explore, study, and allow additional expanded passenger service in Western Massachusetts under the governance and operations framework described in MassDOT’s Intercity Rail Governance White Paper and on mutually acceptable terms, including, but not limited to, the proposed passenger service identified in MassDOT’s East West Rail Study over the former Boston & Albany main line and the PAS main line west of Ayer.

Clearly with this statement MassDOT is laying the groundwork for new or expanded passenger rail service in western Mass — for both East-West Rail and Northern Tier Rail.

6. In keeping with condition #5, CSXT must be required to reach an accord with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”) with respect to certain Amtrak operated and Commonwealth-supported intercity passenger train initiatives (as Amtrak may discuss in its own responsive filing to the Board) that will benefit mobility within, and proximate to, Massachusetts, including, but not limited to – (a) the introduction of seasonal round-trip service (with certain multiple daily starts) between Albany, New York and Pittsfield, Massachusetts (known as the Berkshire Flyer, under terms to be provided by Amtrak); (b) multiple round-trip service between Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts; (c) up to two daily round-trip service between Albany and Worcester, Massachusetts; and (d) the negotiation in good faith (under general terms and conditions regarding modelling and impacts analysis and mitigation set forth by Amtrak) of expansion of or modification to existing intercity service within Massachusetts.

And in this statement we see MassDOT’s interest in Amtrak’s stated goal of adding two additional daily round-trips trains between Albany and Boston, via Springfield.

7. CSXT must be required to support the continued development of a Springfield Master Plan for capital improvement investment to enhance North-South, East-West and multi-directional passenger services in and around Springfield Union Station, including, but not limited to, construction of passenger layover facility(ies), additional tracks and platform access, and expanded interlockings. Consistent with the goals and purpose of the Springfield Master Plan, CSXT will not remove, without MassDOT’s written consent, the currently-installed, 950-foot-long “shoo fly track.”

And finally this statement — where we see the hints that MassDOT is already taking proactive steps to move forward, what some might describe as an early-action project for East-West Rail.

How the CSX’s proposed acquisition of Pan Am plays out remains to be seen, with many interested parties working to influence the STB’s thinking, before they issue a final ruling this spring.

Further reading

“As CSX purchase of Pan Am Railway gets federal hearing; MassDOT moves to secure access for east-west rail”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | January 10, 2022

Final Brief submitted to the STB by Amtrak (PDF)
January 3, 2022

Brief submitted to the STB by MassDOT & the MBTA (PDF)
January 3, 2022

Letter submitted to the STB by CSX RE: Amtrak Conditions (PDF)
January 12, 2022

PVPC Hosts Status Update on East-West Rail

The December 9th meeting of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) included an a very interesting discussion focused on the “status” of East-West Rail.

The hour-long discussion was the first public meeting on this topic since late 2020, when MassDOT wrapped up its study of East-West rail.

Of particular interest to many was the presentation by Meredith Slesinger, the Administrator of MassDOT’s Rail and Transit Division, on the topic of governance for passenger rail in western Mass.

She made a clear case in support of Amtrak as the operator of intercity passenger rail in western Mass, and for the creation of a Western Mass Rail Authority to manage the East-West Rail project and service.

For those interested in watching parts of the meeting, here’s a list of the topics:

Economic Impact Analysis Review (jump to video)
Steve Gazillo, AECOM and Lyle Wray, Capitol Region Council of Governments

Project Funding Possibilities (jump to video)
Senator Eric Lesser

Ridership Analysis Presentation (jump to video)
Dan Hodge, Cambridge Econometrics

MassDOT Governance Paper Review (jump to video)
Meredith Slesinger, MassDOT

Next Steps Roundtable Discussion (link to video)
All Speakers with Dana Roscoe, PVPC, Moderator

Delegation Meets to Discuss East-West Rail

And still on the topic of East-West Rail… this post from Congressman Richard Neal’s Twitter feed earlier this week —

Link to post: pic.twitter.com/1burIV86is

What exactly was discussed at the meeting is not known, since this was a private discussion among the delegation — but anyone looking at the image should pause to appreciate that this meeting was focused on a single topic, East-West Rail.

As some have said, for East-West Rail to become reality there needs to be money and political will.

The federal dollars are within reach (with the signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and images like this strongly suggest that the political will is clearly there too.

Northern Tier Rail Study Kicks Off

On December 16th MassDOT conducted the first Working Group meeting of the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study.

The study, which was delayed for over a year due to covid, will examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing passenger rail service between the cities of North Adams and Greenfield and the city of Boston along an existing rail corridor that has come to be known as the Northern Tier Route.

The meeting involved a relatively large number of people — including 8 people from MassDOT and the Study Team, 24 members of the official Working Group, and 100 members of the public.

Notably this study will be looking at the statewide and regional economic and environmental benefits of restoring passenger rail on this route — in addition to the traditional topics that are included in such studies, such as projected ridership, service options, and construction costs.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to read the meeting summary on the official study website (linked below) and/or view the recording of the meeting (embedded above).

Questions and comments on the study can be submitted to MassDOT using this link.

The next working group meeting is scheduled to take place in the Spring.

Further reading

Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study (Official website)

Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study Overview
Trains In The Valley

New Windsor Locks Station Out to Bid

Site of planned new Windsor Locks station | December 23, 2021

On January 19, 2022, the Connecticut Department of Transportation advertised State Project No: 320-0016 – Hartford Line Construction of Windsor Locks Railroad Station in the Town of Windsor Locks.

The bids for this project are scheduled to be opened on February 16, 2022.

According to the bid documents, the project must be completed in no more than 820 calendar days (about 27 months) once the Notice To Proceed is issued to the contractor — which would suggest that the station will be ready in late 2024.

Further reading

Windsor Locks Station Project
Trains In The Valley

Deerfield | Rail Storage Track Project to Kick Off

Reclaimed asphalt waiting to be reused | By Paul Franz/Daily Hampshire Gazette
All State Materials Group facility | Deerfield, Mass. | December 2021

State elected representatives were on hand in December to tour All States Materials Group’s (ASMG) facility in Deerfield as the company prepares to start construction of a new 5-track rail yard.

ASMG, a Sunderland-based asphalt and building materials company, has received a $500,000 Industrial Railroad Access Program (IRAP) grant from MassDOT to expand its rail car storage space at its asphalt plant at 901 River Road in Deerfield. The IRAP grant supports 31% of the total cost of the project.

IRAP is a public/private partnership program that provides state incentive funding to increase freight rail usage in Massachusetts by making it easier for shippers and receivers to connect to the freight rail system and for railroads to attract and serve viable markets.

Further reading

“All States Materials Group site visit shows proposed railcar storage site in Deerfield”
By Chris Larabee | Daily Hampshire Gazette | December 19, 2021

Joint Transportation Committee Hearing

The Joint Transportation Committee held two days of hearings in early January to accept oral and written testimony for a long list of bills that are up for consideration.

The Western Mass Rail Coalition submitted written testimony (shown below) in support of three specific pieces of legislation —

And Trains In the Valley submitted this testimony in support of the bill presented by Rep. Mark and Rep. Sabadosa that would direct MassDOT to enter into an Interstate Compact for Western Mass Rail Service.

New Header Image for the Website

186 North Hatfield Road, Hatfield, MA | January 1, 2022

As you’ve probably already noticed, we’ve changed the header image at the top of our site.

The new image is a panoramic shot of a section of the MassDOT-owned Connecticut River Main Line just off North Hatfield Road, in Hatfield.

On the far left side of the image is a private crossing that allows the owner of the property to access their property on either side of the tracks.

This particular private crossing was first established in the 1800s and the land owner’s right to cross the rail line here is part of the deed for the property.

Virtual Meetings of Note

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Hearing – Day 1 (8hr 47m)
CSX/Pan Am Merger Application | January 13, 2022

Day 2 of the hearing can be found on this link.

Marketing Intercity Passenger Trains (1hr 48m)
Host | Vermont Rail Action Network | January 4, 2021

For those interested in hearing about how intercity passenger rail service is marketed in other areas of the country.

Natalie Bogart, Marketing Director for the Amtrak Downeaster which runs between Maine and Boston.

Priscilla Kalugdan, Marketing & Communications Officer for the Capital Corridor in California.

Jim Mathews, CEO of Rail Passengers Association

Understanding the FRA’s Expanded Grant Application Process (1hr 7m)
Host | Rail Passengers Association | January 26, 2022

For those interested in the process that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will use to review and decide on intercity rail grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Ryan Arbuckle, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation Manager, FRA

Matthew Lorah, Grants and Program Management Division Chief, FRA