Rail News Roundup #27

Today’s Headlines

• New Greenfield Service Almost Ready to Roll

• Northampton Station Expansion Nears Completion

• East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee Meets

• The Case for a Station in Palmer

• Northern Tier Rail Study Moves Forward

• $10 Weekend Pass on MBTA Commuter Rail

 


New Greenfield Service Almost Ready to Roll

The southbound Amtrak Vermonter arriving in Holyoke, Ma. | Courtesy of WAMC

New England Public Radio reported last week that we could see new Amtrak service in the Pioneer Valley on the north-south rail line as as soon as August.

The new service, which will be in addition to the Vermonter, will consist of two weekday trains from Greenfield to New Haven in the morning and two trains north from New Haven to Greenfield in the evening. All of the new trains will have scheduled connections with both Amtrak and Metro-North service at New Haven Union Station.

On the weekend and holidays there will be just one new train in each direction.

In a presentation that was made to the MassDOT Board of Directors last week, the tentative date for the start of service was listed as Friday, August 30, 2019.

The same presentation said that the start of service was dependent on the following list of actions:

  • Expedited Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approval, following extended Amtrak deliberations, on added safety features affecting freight as well as passenger operations
  • Completion of work on [the] new platform at Springfield Union Station
  • Acceleration of corridor work to minimize later disruptions
  • FRA approval of a revised exemption from the requirement for Positive Train Control

 

In related news, on July 10, 2019 members of the western Mass. delegation met with MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator Astrid Glynn to discuss details related to the launch of the new service.

Meeting between MassDOT and the Western Mass Delegation
July 10, 2019 | Courtesy of Office of Sen. Comerford

In attendance was Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester), Sen. Eric Lesser (D-First Hampden and Hampshire), Rep. Natalie Blais (D-1st Franklin), Rep. Mindy Domb (D-3rd Hampshire), Rep. Paul Mark (D-2nd Berkshire), and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-1st Hampshire).

It’s both wonderful and amazing to see such large group of our elected officials engaged and involved with the effort to expand passenger rail service in our region.

And to round out the news related to the new Greenfield rail service, we are pleased to report that Sen. Comerford’s earmark for $250,000 to support marketing of the new Greenfield service was included in the FY2020 state budget that was approved by the legislature on July 22nd.

Further reading

New Greenfield-New Haven Service
Trains In The Valley

“North-South Expanded Western Mass. Rail Service Awaits Completed Passenger Platform”
By Sean Teehan | New England Public Radio | July 25, 2019

“Marketing money for Knowledge Corridor caps drive for extra train runs”
By Anita Fritz | The Recorder | July 25, 2019

 


Northampton station Expansion Nears Completion

Northampton station site | looking south | July 23, 2019

This recent image from the station site shows that Newport Construction, the contractor on the station expansion project, is nearing completion of the work at the site.

Remaining work on the project includes, among other things, the application of the top-coat of asphalt on the access road and the parking lots at the station, installation of a bike rack, and new signage at the station.

It is expected that all of the construction work at the station platforms in Greenfield and Northampton will be completed in the coming weeks.

Further reading

Northampton platform extension project
Trains In The Valley

 


East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee Meets

East-West rail meeting (1:59) | WWLP-22News via YouTube | July 23, 2019

MassDOT released six proposed alternatives for further study at the East-West Passenger Rail Study Advisory Committee meeting that was held in Springfield on July 23, 2019.

The proposed alternatives include these six options:

Alternative 1
Passenger Rail between Springfield and Worcester with Upgrades to Existing Track

Alternative 2
Passenger Rail to Springfield with Upgrades to Existing Track

Alternative 3
Passenger Rail to Pittsfield with Upgrades to Existing Track

Alternative 4
Passenger Rail with New Track in Existing Alignment

Alternative 5
Passenger Rail with New track in Existing Alignments and Priority Realignments

Alternative 6
High Speed Rail in I-90 Corridor with Direct Downtown Service

 

A detailed diagram for each of the proposed alternatives can be found in the meeting presentation, which is linked below:


East-West Study Advisory Committee Meeting #2 Presentation (PDF)

Generally speaking, most members of the advisory committee appeared to be impressed by the possibilities that were presented by MassDOT and its team of consultants at the meeting. It was clear that a real and significant effort had been made on MassDOT’s part to come to the meeting with well thought out proposals for the committee to consider.

But with that said, many members of the advisory committee (and members of the public at the meeting) expressed their displeasure with options 1, 2 & 5 because these options call for only a dedicated bus connection between Pittsfield and Springfield.

There was vocal support expressed at the meeting for station stops in both Chester and Palmer. Oddly missing from all of the proposals, and the discussion at the meeting, was any mention of a possible station stop in the Westfield (pop. 41,000) which is located 20 minutes by auto to the west of Springfield.

Many at the meeting expressed their real concern with MassDOT’s admission that they and their consultants had not yet involved CSX — the owner of the rail corridor between Pittsfield and Worcester — in the study process. It is our understanding that CSX was involved at the equivalent point in MassDOT’s previous study of East-West Rail in 2016.

For those looking for a brief overview of the proposal we would encourage you to watch Sen. Eric Lesser’s (D-First Hampden and Hampshire) excellent 5-minute summary of the six proposed alternatives —

 

The entire meeting was recorded by Focus Springfield Community TV. A link to the video can be found on our East-West Rail Study Information web page.

Further reading

East–West Passenger Rail Study (Official webpage)
MassDOT

East–West Passenger Rail Study Information
Trains In The Valley

“MassDOT: Boston-Springfield-Pittsfield passenger rail must balance speed, cost and convenience”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | July 23, 2019

Radio | “Six Options Being Evaluated For East-West Passenger Rail” (3:34)
By Paul Tuthill | WAMC Northeast Public Radio | July 24, 2019

“Keep buses out of east-west rail plan, lawmaker says”
By Larry Parnass | The Berkshire Eagle | July 23, 2019

 


The Case for a Station in Palmer

The Case for Palmer (PDF)
Towards a Passenger Rail Station on the East-West Massachusetts Train Line
UMass Amherst Center for Economic Development | June 1 2019

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Recently released UMass Amherst led study makes strong case for a new train station in Palmer.

The study, which was carried out by a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Economic Development, examined the the feasibility of the town of Palmer becoming a passenger stop on the proposed East-West passenger rail line.

The report concluded — based on interviews with members of the business community, team leaders, a community wide charette and a review of quantitative data focusing on the Lower Quabbin Region of twenty-one towns — that a strong case can be made for a station in Palmer, for the following reasons:

  • Palmer provides the best intermediate location between Springfield and Worcester.
  • Palmer has ample and appropriate infrastructure for a stop, including several available sites in the downtown area.
  • A Palmer stop will open up an underserved region to passenger rail service and will expand the commuting capabilities for those working in eastern locations wishing to purchase an affordable home.
  • A Palmer stop will increase rail access for Five College students. (in particular UMass Amherst and Amherst College)
  • A Palmer stop is strongly supported by the townspeople and the local government.

 


Northern Tier Rail Study Moves Forward

Proposed Northern Tier Rail Corridor
Map courtesy of MRG, Inc.

Sen. Jo Comerford’s (D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester) proposal to study East-West passenger rail along the so-called Northern Tier Route has been adopted by both houses of the state legislature.

The planned study would look at the feasibility of restoring passenger rail service between North Adams, Greenfield and Boston along the existing rail corridor that links these localities.

The wording for the study was included as Section 84 of the FY2020 state budget which was approved by the legislature on July 22, 2019.

The Governor now has 10 days (from July 22nd) to review the budget and take action to either approve or veto the budget. The Governor may approve or veto the entire budget, veto or reduce specific line items, veto outside sections or submit changes as an amendment to the budget for further consideration by the Legislature.

Assuming that the governor does not veto Section 84 of the budget, work on the one-year study will start in June 2020.

Further information

Northern Tier Rail Study Information
Trains In The Valley

“Massachusetts study for east-west rail on track”
By Anita Fritz | The Recorder | July 25, 2019

 


$10 Weekend Pass on MBTA Commuter Rail network

Outbound Framingham/Worcester Line train 519
Courtesy of the MBTA

The $10 weekend rail pass on the MBTA Commuter Rail system is now permanent.

The pass allows for unlimited travel all day Saturdays and Sunday on all MBTA commuter rail lines and zones. The MBTA made the pass permanent after two six-month trials.

The $10 all-weekend fare is available on the mTicket app, onboard trains (cash or credit card from conductors), and at ticket windows at North, South, and Back Bay stations. The special fare applies to customers age 12 and above; the weekend fare allows adults to travel with two children under 12 at no additional cost.

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If you are traveling from western Mass to Boston by train using the MBTA Framingham/Worcester Line we recommend that you us one of these two stations:

Worcester Union Station | MBTA
2 Washington Sq, Worcester, MA | Parking from $4 – $16/day

Grafton station | MBTA
1 Pine St, North Grafton, MA | Parking is just $4/day
This is the next station east of Worcester. Using this station, which is only 4 miles further drive, will save you about 10 minutes in travel time in each direction — since you won’t have to travel into/out of Worcester.

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If you are traveling from western Mass to Boston by train using the MBTA Fitchburg Line you’ll want to travel from this station:

Wachusett station | MBTA
55 Authority Dr, Wachusett, MA | Parking from $3/day

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Further information

$10 Commuter Rail Weekends
MBTA

Beginner’s Guide to the Commuter Rail
MBTA

 

 

Post updated: July 31, 2019