Rail News Roundup #23

 

Today’s Headlines

• New Hartford Line Schedule

• Northampton (NHT) | March 8, 2019

• Greenfield and Northampton | Station Work Update

• Update | Planned New Greenfield–New Haven Service

• Update | East–West Rail Study

• Springfield Library Earth Day Event

• Fatality in Springfield

• Springfield | State St Crossing News

• Berkshire Flyer Report Released

 

Calendar

Earth Day Talk
Springfield to Boston Train Service, Are We on Track?
Mon. April 22, 2019 | 6:15 pm – 7:45 pm
Sixteen Acres Branch Library
1187 Parker St
Springfield, MA 01129

further details below

 


New Hartford Line Schedule

Hartford Line Timetable | eff. April 14, 2019 | weekday page view

A new schedule for the Hartford Line went into effect this past Sunday, April 14th, 2019. The most notable change was the elimination of the one CTRail weekday train that arrived in Springfield from stations to the south before 9 am.

New England Public Radio (NEPR) reported said that the train was dropped due to low ridership, which is not surprising considering that the train was scheduled to arrive in Springfield at the unfriendly time of 6.07 am.

Unfortunately the new schedule provides no way for anyone who lives in Connecticut to commute to Springfield on the train for a 9–5 job. Amazingly, the schedule has four trains south (from Springfield) and no trains north (to Springfield) before 9 am.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) says that the problem is the single track between Windsor and Enfield. We also suspect that CTDOT desire is to focus their CTrail train sets on the New Haven–Hartford corridor since MassDOT at the moment only provides financial support for the Amtrak operated trains on the line.

Carmen Baskauf, a producer for Connecticut Public Radio who rides the Hartford Line, posted this interesting series of five Tweets on the schedule change —

What’s also interesting is this sentence from the NEPR piece linked below:

“He [Rich Andreski, with CTDOT] said his agency has not determined whether there would be greater demand for a train that arrived [in Springfield] closer to 9:00 am, but that such service would require additional track capacity that doesn’t currently exist.”

We don’t doubt that this statement is true, but one only has to walk through the Springfield Parking Authority’s garages on a weekday to see the many cars with Connecticut plates to figure out that -yes- there is demand for northbound service that arrives into Springfield before 9 am.

Further reading

“No More Early Morning Commuter Rail Service From Hartford To Springfield”
By Alden Bourne | New England Public Radio | April 15, 2019

 


Northampton (NHT) | March 8, 2019

Record ridership out of Northampton on the Vermonter.

Northampton station | looking north
By Robert Kearns | March 8, 2019 | 2.02 pm

The panoramic image above shows the scene at the station in Northampton on Friday, March 8, 2019 — the last day of classes before the start of Spring recess at UMass Amherst and Smith College.

How many people are in this line you might ask? We counted about 150.

Just how long was the train stopped? A total of 10 minutes¹.

¹ Transit Docs website [https://asm.transitdocs.com/train/2019/03/8/55]

 


Greenfield and Northampton | Station Work Update

The project underway to extend the station platforms in both Greenfield and Northampton continues to move forward.

The progress photos below show that most of the precast concrete foundations are now in place.

Greenfield station | looking south | April 19, 2019
Source: Franklin Regional Council of Governments

 

Northampton station | looking north | April 7, 2019

If all goes well this project will be substantially complete by early July.

Further reading

Greenfield platform extension project | Trains In The Valley

Northampton platform extension project | Trains In The Valley

 


Update | Planned New Greenfield–New Haven Service

Vermonter Ridership Survey Now Underway in Western Mass

If you are riding Amtrak’s Vermonter to or from western Mass between now and July 31, 2019 please take the on-line ridership survey that is now underway.

The survey can be found on this link
www.surveymonkey.com/r/RailRider

Over the coming weeks surveyors will be meeting selected trains to distribute survey cards (shown above) to the arriving and departing passengers at each station.

The results of the survey will be used during the development of the marketing plan for the new Greenfield-New Haven rail service.

Note that this ridership survey is sponsored by the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Trains In The Valley.

:

State Reps. Seeks Funds for Rail Marketing

Representatives Lindsay Sabadosa (D-1st Hampshire), Paul Mark (D-2nd Berkshire), and Aaron Vega (D-5th Hampden) have filed an amendment to the Massachusetts state budget bill requesting that a sum of $25,000 be provided to support a marketing campaign for the new Greenfield–New Haven passenger rail service.

The funds were requested as Amendment #461 to the Fiscal Year 2020¹ state budget bill.

We remain hopeful that these funds will be approved when the state budget is finalized in a few months.

Further information

New Greenfield–New Haven Service | Trains In The Valley

¹ The state fiscal year runs from July 1st to June 30th.

 


Update | East–West Rail Study

East-West Rail Study Public Meeting #1
By Robert Kearns | Springfield, Ma. | March 12, 2019

It was a standing room only crowd at the first public meeting for the East-West Passenger Rail Study in Springfield back on March 12, 2019, with over 100 people signed in on the official roster of attendees.

The meeting consisted of a presentation (given by the MassDOT project manager) which was followed by a public comment period. The formal part of the meeting then ended and attendees were invited to join an “Open House” where people could talk with members of the project team.

A detailed written summary of meeting is linked further below in this post.

Of particular interest is this page from the presentation –

To the surprise of some, the official list of “potential approaches” now includes a Bus Rapid Transit option and a Maglev option.

Maglev, which is derivative from the words magnetic levitation, is form of transportation that allows for high-speed ground travel at speeds in excess of 300 mph.

It is safe to say that we will never see a Maglev line built in Massachusetts, for countless reasons, including the construction costs — which at the moment are in excess of $265 million per mile¹.

The new Bus Rapid Transit option was quickly criticized for numerous reasons in a published Op-Ed piece [“Keep East-West Rail On Track” | The Republican] which argued that the study needs to stay focused on rail options.

Next up for this study — The 2nd meeting of the East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee, later this spring.

Further Reading

East-West Study Public Meeting #1 Presentation (PDF)
MassDOT

East-West Study Public Meeting #1 Open House Boards (PDF)
MassDOT

East-West Study Public Meeting #1 Summary (PDF)
MassDOT

“Former Senate president prods DOT to expand rail study”
By Larry Parnass | The Berkshire Eagle | March 13, 2019

“Proposed East–West rail provides challenges”
By G. Michael Dobbs | Reminder Publications | March 14, 2019

Opinion | “Keep East-West Rail on Track”
By Ben Hood (co-founder Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop), Karen Christensen (President, The Train Campaign, Ben Heckscher (Co-founder, Trains In The Valley), and Dave Pierce (President, Chester Railway Station)
The Republican | March 18, 2018
(also published in the Berkshire Eagle, the Berkshire Edge, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette.)

Opinion | “Two big rail projects, one big vision for Massachusetts”
Stan Rosenberg | The Republican | March 22, 2019

¹ Based on the expected costs to build the Chuo Shinkansen maglev line in Japan.

 


Springfield Library Earth Day Event

Springfield to Boston Train Service, Are We on Track?
Mon. April 22, 2019 | 6:15 pm – 7:45 pm
Sixteen Acres Branch Library
1187 Parker St
Springfield MA 01129

Rail service is on the rise in Western Mass. Hear from key leaders about train service from Springfield to Boston.

  • Tim Brennan, Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, speaking about more passenger rail from Springfield and some recent, climate-friendly developments in public transportation.
  • Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno will talk about his appointment to the Advisory Committee for MassDOT’s Study of East-West rail, and why expanded Springfield to Boston passenger rail which could be a boon for commuters, job hunters, and the economy.
  • Reggie Wilson, Sixteen Acres Branch Library Manager, will present on environmentally friendly trains that could be used between Springfield and Boston.

 


Fatality in Springfield

A well worn footpath across the rail line | Springfield, Ma. | March 27, 2019
Courtesy of the Republican

A woman was killed while attempting to cross the active rail line near Wason Avenue in Springfield’s North End on Monday, March 25, 2019.

The person who died, who was said to be trespassing on the tracks, was hit by Amtrak train 56, the Vermonter, which was traveling north on the MassDOT-owned Connecticut River Main Line.

Tragically this accident happened only weeks before the start of construction of a long-planned pedestrian tunnel under the tracks near the location of the accident.

Our thoughts go out to the family of the deceased, the crew members on the train, and the first responders.

Further reading

“Woman crossing railroad tracks killed after being hit by a train in Springfield”
By Taylor Knight | WWLP-22News | March 26, 2019

“Pedestrian tunnel under Springfield train tracks arriving too late to prevent tragedy”
By Patrick Johnson | The Republican | March 27, 2019

Springfield underpass project | Trains In The Valley

 


Springfield | State St Crossing News

Courtesy of the Rail Passengers Association

The Rail Passengers Association held its annual meeting two weeks ago in Washington, D.C. This meeting brings together rail advocates from across the country for three days of meetings and presentations.

The keynote speaker during lunch on Monday April 1st was Kenneth Hylander, the Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer for Amtrak. His presentation focused on the Safety Management System that Amtrak is putting in place across the organization.

About half way through the presentation he got to the subject of railroad crossing safety.

To the surprise of some in the room, the State Street crossing in Springfield was noted as the example of an extremely dangerous crossing on Amtrak’s network.

In his remarks he said that Amtrak is actively working with the city of Springfield to find ways to make it possible for people to cross the Amtrak-owned tracks at this location using the underpass that is just to the north of the crossing rather than via the existing at-grade crossing at the end of State Street.

How and why the State Street crossing became Amtrak’s poster-child for safer railroad crossings we do not know, but we are happy to see that Amtrak has finally started to pay attention to the dangerous situation that has existed at this crossing for many years.

Further reading

State Street Crossing | Trains In The Valley

Presentation of Kenneth Hylander to the RPA DC meeting | April 1, 2019

 


Berkshire Flyer Report Released

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and 1Berkshire has released their final report for the Berkshire Flyer 2.0 Project — A Pilot Seasonal Rail Service between New York City and The Berkshires.

Berkshire Flyer 2.0 Final report (PDF)
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission | 3/1/2019

The new Berkshire Flyer service will operate use the existing tracks between Pittsfield and New York Penn Station via Albany/ Rensselaer and will function as an extension of Amtrak’s Empire Service.

The two-year pilot service, which is scheduled to start in 2020, will run on a Friday northbound/ Sunday southbound schedule for twenty weeks of service annually between Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day weekend.

The estimated fare between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, Mass. is projected to be $70 – $75 one-way.

Further reading

Berkshire Flyer 2.0 Project website
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission

“Berkshire Flyer Team: Berkshires To NYC Rail One Step Closer”
By Josh Landes | WAMC | March 3, 2019

Rail News Roundup #22

 

Today’s Headlines

• East-West Rail Study | Public Meeting on March 12th

• Electeds Call for ‘Fair’ Rail Fares

• Northampton | Station Extension Work Begins

• Springfield | Union Station Update

• Palmer | UMass led Station Study Kicks-Off

• Vermont | Track Improvement Grant Approved

• New Hampshire | Vermonter Hits Empty Vehicle on Tracks

• Natick | Planned Station Improvements

• PVPC Exec. Director Tim Brennan to Retire

 

Calendar

Public Meeting | East–West Passenger Rail Study
Tue. March 12, 2019 | 6 pm – 8 pm
UMass Center at Springfield
1500 Main St (Tower Square)
Springfield, MA

Palmer Rail Stop Study Meeting
Sat. March 16th | 9 am – 12 Noon
Palmer High School Cafeteria
4105 Main Street
Palmer, MA
(details below)

 


East-West Rail Study | Public Meeting on March 12th

Meeting Flyer (PDF) | English  Spanish

MassDOT will host a public meeting for the East-West Rail Passenger Rail Study at the UMass Center in Springfield on March 12th, 2019. (meeting details can be in the flyer above)

According to MassDOT, the goal of the meeting is to:

  • Inform attendees about the study scope and existing conditions on the corridor
  • Learn from attendees about what they would like to see in rail service alternatives

The meeting will begin with a presentation at 6:00 PM, followed by time for Q&A.

The open house will begin at 6:45 PM, where participants will be able to view study materials in more detail and speak directly with members of the study team.

Parking: If you would like to park in the Tower Square garage, parking will be validated at $5 per car. Meeting attendees can park on all levels but are encouraged to park on Level A.

If you wish to learn more about the study before the meeting please have a look at the presentation and summary notes that MassDOT posted online after the December 2018 meeting of the East-West Rail Advisory Committee.

For those who cannot attend the public meeting — all meeting materials will be posted online and feedback/comments accepted via email.

If you wish to submit written comments regarding east-west rail service alternatives please email them to MassDOT Project Manager Jennifer Slesinger at jennifer.slesinger@dot.state.ma.us.

Note that other public meetings will be scheduled as the study project progresses.

Official project website
https://www.mass.gov/east-west-passenger-rail-study

 


Electeds Call for ‘Fair’ Rail Fares

The Recorder | February 23, 2019 | Page 1

“A Push for ‘Fair’ Fares”
By Anita Fritz | The Recorder | February 23, 2019

The Recorder is reporting that Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais are two of 10 regional legislators who have signed on to a joint letter to MassDOT asking for more equitable and “fair fares” on Amtrak’s Vermonter service — and the planned new Amtrak service between Greenfield and New Haven.

Fares for the Vermonter are set by Amtrak using a model they call “revenue managed pricing.” By all accounts this model attempts to set fares as high as possible — which in our view is not something that should be happening for a state-supported passenger rail service like the Vermonter.

As example, if you want to travel from Northampton to New York Penn Station during the next 30-days the lowest one-way adult fare ranges from $54 to $100 depending on which day you travel.¹

Why Amtrak is driving up the fares for travel on the Vermonter we do not know. What we do know is that it wouldn’t be possible to increase fares on the MBTA Commuter Rail system or increase tolls on the MassPike in the way that fares are being increasing on the state-support Amtrak Vermonter service.

As a final note regarding Vermonter fares for today . . .  the lowest available adult fare for future travel from Northampton to New York was increased in just the past few days. The base fare for this trip was raised by 8%, from $50 (the price listed in the article) to $54. Thank you Amtrak.

::

The second concern relates to the fares for the new Greenfield–New Haven service, which starts in June 2019. These fares, according to a recent article in the Republican, may be based on the fare structure used today for the Vermonter.

While it is our understanding that the actual fares have yet to be decided — we believe that

  • MassDOT should establish fixed fares for the Knowledge Corridor Pilot (as the UMass Student Senate requested in their letter in December 2018) that are set at levels that will encourage people to use the service, and;
  • the fares should be set at reasonable and logical steps above the fares that both MassDOT and CTDOT agreed to when the Hartford Line service was established in 2018.

 

¹ Amtrak fares from Northampton to NY Penn Station for the 30-day period starting March 4, 2019 (PDF) | AmSnag 2.0 website

 


Northampton | Station Extension Work Begins

Northampton station | February 14, 2019

We are happy to report that work has now started on the platform extension project at the station site in Northampton.

Assuming the weather cooperates, this project should be complete by June of this year.

Further information
Northampton platform extension project

 


Springfield | Union Station Update

Platform C (now under construction) | looking east
Springfield Union Station | February 14, 2019

Neither snow, nor wind, nor cold seems to be slowing down the construction of a new high-level boarding platform at Springfield Union Station.

The new 362-foot platform, which should be finished this spring, will allow level-boarding of two trains at the same time at this station.

::

In other news the Springfield Redevelopment Authority has recently opened a hi-tech 950-square-foot conference facility on the second floor of Union Station.

The room is available for use by station tenants and community groups at no charge. Other businesses may use the room for $75 per half day.

Conference room at Springfield Union Station Don Treeger/The Republican | February 4, 2019

Organizations interested in using the room should contact Ginny Averett-Kuhn, who is the property manager for Union Station, at 413-471-3397.

Further reading
“Tenants Being Sought For Remaining Commercial Space Inside Union Station”
By Paul Tuthill | WAMC – Northeast Public Radio | February 4, 2019

 


Palmer | UMass Led Station Study Kicks-Off

On Monday February 11, 2019 the Palmer Town Council voted unanimously to have the UMass Center for Economic Development (CED) implement a community-informed feasibility study to support the establishment of a passenger rail stop in Palmer if/when East-West passenger rail service starts.

The study will be led by UMass professors John Mullin, Michael Di Pasquale, and Henry Renski.

Phase I of the project will include meetings with town officials and staff, a review of existing material, and meetings to gather public and stakeholder input into the process. This will be followed by a review of local assets, a demographic market demand study, and a review of similar rail projects. This work will result in a draft and final report to the Town Council.

Phase II of the project would produce a planning study that addresses the proposed rail stop and its relations to downtown and the greater Palmer area.

Phase III of the study would produce an implementation plan that addresses a range of technical, design and cost issues related to the project.

The UMass CED study team will host a charrette to gather public suggestions and ideas for Phase I of the study project on Sat. March 16, 2019 from 9 am to 12 Noon in the Pathfinder Regional Tech High School cafeteria [NEW LOCATION], 240 Sykes Street, Palmer, Mass.

Those wishing to attend this meeting are asked to R.S.V.P. to Sarah Szczebak, the Community Development Director for the Town of Palmer, by calling 413-283-2685. Alternatively you may send an R.S.V.P. note by email to sszczeback@townofpalmer.com

Further reading

City of Palmer Moves Forward with Local Rail Station Feasibility Study (PDF)
Press Release | Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop | February 15, 2019

 


Vermont | Track Improvement Grant Approved

Amtrak’s Vermonter approaching Essex Jct. station | looking North
Courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) has been awarded a $2 million federal grant for safety improvements along the New England Central Railroad’s mainline in Vermont. This rail line, which is known as the Roxbury subdivision, is used by the Vermonter between the Massachusetts–Vermont stateline and St. Albans, Vt.

The $2,082,519 competitive grant was recently awarded under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program.

The planned work involves moving rock ledge near the rail line at five locations, upgrading two culverts, and the installation of an advanced rockfall detection warning system at selected locations along the line.

Dan Delabruere, the Rail and Aviation Program Director at VTrans, recently said to the Rutland Herald, “it will be about a year before any work begins. Accepting the grant is a process that takes several months and is designed to ensure the funds are spent correctly. There’s also design work that needs to be done.”

In addition to safety improvements, the project will eliminate slow orders that have resulted in 216 hours of annual passenger delays along the line in Vermont. By our calculations this works out to about 18 minutes of delay per day for each run of the Vermonter.

This project in turn should result in a significant tightening of the Vermonter‘s schedule in Vermont when the project is complete sometime in 2020.

Further reading
“Track safety work to start in about a year”
By Keith Whitcomb Jr. | Rutland Herald | February 19, 2019

 


New Hampshire | Vermonter Hits Empty Vehicle on Tracks

FRA Blue Emergency Notification System Sign
Depot Rd, Hatfield, Ma. | February 5, 2019

On Sunday, February 3, 2019, the driver of a pickup truck lost control of the vehicle and ended up on the railroad tracks in Charleston, New Hampshire.

According to media reports, emergency personnel at the scene contacted Amtrak to warn them of the vehicle on the tracks, but the call did not come soon enough.

Within moments of call the northbound Vermonter hit and demolished the vehicle, sending debris flying in the direction of first responders at the scene.

None of the train’s 74 passengers were injured, according to reports, although one firefighter was transported to the hospital as a precaution.

What exactly happened at the scene of this accident is subject to an ongoing investigation.

Media reports say that that officials on the scene contacted Amtrak to report the vehicle on the tracks. If this is true this action may have delayed contact with the crew on board the train since at this point of the journey they are only in radio contact with New England Central Railroad’s dispatchers along this line.

::

When there is an unsafe condition on the tracks find the blue Emergency Notification Sign (like the one shown above) at the crossing and call the number listed, then call 9-1-1.

The number listed on the blue sign will connect the caller to the emergency operations center for the railroad that dispatches both freight and passenger trains on the rail line.

Further reading
“Train strikes empty vehicle in Charlestown”
By Paul Cuno-Booth | The Keene Sentenal | February 4, 2019

Emergency Notification System (PDF)
Federal Railroad Administration | March 2017

 


Natick | Planned Station Improvements

Natick Center Station Design Public Meeting Presentation February 13, 2019 | page 9

Design work is underway for a range of accessibility improvements at the Natick Center station on the MBTA Framingham/Worcester Line.

When this project is complete in late 2021 the track configuration at the station will allow for room for a future 3rd track. Why do we care about this you might ask?

Because MassDOT has said that the Worcester/Framingham Line is currently at capacity during certain times of the day and before East-West rail service could happen this capacity issue will need to be resolved.

Leaving room for a potential future third track at this location on the East-West rail corridor is one significant step in the long road to potential East-West passenger rail service between Boston and Springfield.

Further reading
Natick Center Station Accessibility Improvements
MBTA Project website

Natick Center Station Project – Meeting Presentation (PDF)
MBTA | February 13, 2019

 


PVPC Exec. Director Tim Brennan to Retire

Tim Brennan standing near the new Northampton station platform in late 2014
Jeffery Roberts/Daily Hampshire Gazette

“After 40-plus years, Brennan to step down from Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in September”
By Cassandra McGrath | Daily Hampshire Gazette | February 24, 2019

It is with regret that we must pass along the news that Tim Brennan, the Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), will be retiring in September of this year.

It is difficult to quantify the many ways that Tim has personally impacted both passenger and freight rail service in our region over the past forty years, but we will try with a few bullets.

The short list of issues that Tim has been involved in during his tenure at the PVPC would include,

  • the Commonwealth’s purchase of the Ware–Palmer–Barre freight rail line. (1976)
  • early push-back against Conrail’s plans to remove miles of double-track on the Boston and Albany line, out of concern that such a step would make it much more difficult to increase passenger rail service on the line. (1983) [Boy was he right… ]
  • local support for conversion of Amtrak’s overnight Montrealer service into a daytime train through the Pioneer Valley (1985)
  • completion of the Knowledge Corridor Feasibility Study (PDF) which ultimately lead to the return of passenger rail service to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. (2009)
  • local support for the Northern New England Intercity Passenger Initiative study which recommended more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service along the Inland Route (New Haven–Springfield–Boston) and the Boston–Springfield–Montreal Route. (2014)
  • local support for expansion of the passenger rail service north of Springfield along the Knowledge Corridor. (on-going)

On a personal note we will miss the wisdom, insight and direction that Tim has happily and eagerly provided to our organization over the past three years.

We salute and thank Tim Brennan for the leadership that he has provided over many years as a regional champion of passenger and freight rail service for our region.

 

 

Post last updated: March 23, 2019

Rail News Roundup #18

 

Today’s Headlines

• CTrail Customers Kicked Off Amtrak Trains On The Hartford Line

• Rail Users’ Network Meeting Recap

• Longmeadow | Bernie Road Crossing – Some Good News

• Springfield | State St Crossing Concerns

• Knowledge Corridor Tie Replacement Project

• Worcester | Station Platform Project Moves Forward

• Holyoke | Repairs to Pioneer Valley Railroad Bridge

• Vermont Rail Action Network’s Annual Dinner | Nov 8th

• 2018 Multimodal and Transit Summit | Nov 19th

• Report | Attracting Visitors by Passenger Rail to Franklin County

• The Millennials Disrupting Boston’s Transit System

• Fall Foliage Train on the Pioneer Valley Railroad

• Train Time in Northampton | October 8, 2018

 

Calendar

Thur. November 8, 2018 | 4:30 pm – 8:00 (POSTPONED)
Vermont Rail Action Network’s Annual Dinner
Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center
100 State Street, Montpelier, VT

 

Mon. November 19, 2018 | 11:30 am – 7:30 pm
2018 Multimodal and Transit Summit
UConn Hartford
10 Prospect St, Hartford, CT
FREE for members of the community

 


CTrail Customers Kicked Off Amtrak Trains On The Hartford Line

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

“As Ridership Booms on the Hartford Line, CTrail Customers Are Being Kicked Off Amtrak Trains”
By Frankie Graziano | Connecticut Public Radio | October 25, 2018

According to this report, some passengers holding CTrail tickets have in recent weeks been asked to leave Amtrak Hartford Line trains to make room for passengers holding Amtrak tickets.

“Jim Redeker, Connecticut’s transportation commissioner, said that’s not supposed to happen. ‘That may be something that occurs in the field,’ Redeker said. ‘That could be simply that the particular crew that’s on that train is not familiar with our policies.’ ”

The basic problem is a simple one — the number of people showing up at some stations along the line is, at times, exceeding the number of available seats on some of the Amtrak-operated Hartford Line trains — in particular the Amtrak trains that today operate with only two coaches. Commission Redeker said just the other day, at the ribbon cutting for the new Berlin station, that the Hartford Line has carried over 120,000 passenger trip since its launch and that it had exceeded all of their expectations.

CTDOT and Amtrak need to correct whatever is “occurring in the field” and discontinue the reported practice of removing selected passengers from Amtrak Hartford Line trains. The optics of this practice is very bad, at multiple levels.

CTDOT and Amtrak need to find a way to provide additional coaches where needed since clearly there should be no reason for any passenger to be left standing on the platform.

::

UPDATE — The Hartford Courant is reporting that CTDOT is working with Amtrak to add coaches to some Amtrak Hartford Line trains. When this will actually happen is not clear at this time.

Further reading

“State Asks Amtrak For More Cars On Hartford Line To Ease Crowding After Passengers Kicked Off”
By Kenneth Gosselin | Hartford Courant | October 27, 2018

 


Rail Users’ Network Meeting Recap

Courtesy of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission

The Rail Users’ Network, a national rail advocacy organization, held its annual meeting on September 13th at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commissions offices in Springfield. Approximately sixty people attended the meeting.

Topics covered included developments along the Hartford Line Corridor, new passenger service north of Springfield on the Knowledge Corridor, and MassDOT’s East-West Rail Study. Additional topics included an update on the Berkshire Flyer (a planned service between New York City and Pittsfield) as well as updates from two regional rail advocacy groups — the Train Campaign and Trains In The Valley.

The highlight of the meeting was probably the presentation given by MassDOT on the East-West Rail Study.

The study will look at up to six alternatives for passenger rail service in the Pittsfield–Springfield–Boston corridor, with at least one alternative for 90 minute of less travel time between Springfield and Boston. The study will also look at the potential for infill stations, as example Palmer.

MassDOT’s outreach efforts for the study will include a Study Advisory Committee of stakeholders, public meetings, briefings for legislative leaders, as well as a project website and outreach through social media.

The study, once its fully underway, should take about a year to complete.

Note | All of the presentations have been posted on page | Trains In The Valley Events

Further reading

“Picking up steam: Rail advocates to meet in Springfield for updates on CTrail, expanded north-south service and east-west plans”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | October 11, 2018

“MassDOT takes next step toward $1 million east-west rail study”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | October 17, 2018

 


Longmeadow | Bernie Road Crossing – Some Good News

Amtrak train crossing Birnie Road in Longmeadow | March 16, 2017
Photo credit: Greg Saulman / The Republican

Funding in place for safety upgrades at Longmeadow rail crossing where DPW worker Warren Cowles was killed in train crash”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | October 18, 2018

At long last, safety upgrades for the Bernie Road crossing in Longmeadow are moving forward.

The crossing, the site of seven collisions and five deaths since 1975, will see the installation of active traffic control devices (flashing lights, gates, and bells) in the coming months.

One has to wonder, why, with all of the regulatory oversight that is afforded to railroads, and railroad crossings in particular, that the crossing at Bernie Road remained unprotected and seemingly unnoticed for so long.

Why did Amtrak allow this crossing to remain listed as “closed” in the Federal Railroad Administration’s database for decades?

Was it too many layers of oversight? Was it that “everyone and but no-one” was ultimately responsible for safety at this crossing?

There are lessons to be learned here and we can only hope that someone in government will now look back and to see what steps can be learned from the decades long saga of the Bernie Road railroad crossing.

Work at the crossing, to install gates, flashing lights, and bells, is expected to begin in 2019.

 


Springfield | State St Crossing Concerns

The Republican has published an in depth article on the many issues surrounding the crossing of the Amtrak double-track rail line at the end of State Street in Springfield. (shown in the image below.)

Aerial photo of Riverfront Park
Photo credit: Patrick Johnson / The Republican

“Riverfront Park in Springfield is getting a facelift — but is a rail crossing a barrier to access?”
By Greg Saulmon | The Republican | October 16, 2018

This railroad crossing, which today is marked with nothing more than a pair of stop signs and a crossbuck, sees nearly 30 trains a day at the moment (24 passenger trains and 4-6 freight trains.)

Amtrak train passes through the crossing at Riverfront Park | October 9, 2018
Photo credit: Greg Saulman / The Republican

We did some research (using the FRA Crossing inventory database) and its looks to us like this is the only public rail crossing between Springfield and New Haven that is *not* protected with active traffic control devices (flashing lights, gates, and bells.) We didn’t count the Bernie Road crossing because its blocked to all traffic at the moment.

To put this in some perspective, an underpass was recently constructed to connect the bike paths on either side of the single-track rail line that runs through the city of Northampton. The underpass allows people to safety cross a rail line that carries six trains a day at the moment. (2 passenger trains and 4 freight trains.)

The State Street railroad crossing in Springfield, which is closed to the public at the moment due to the construction, looks like a significant safety concern that needs to be reviewed very carefully before it is reopened.

 


Knowledge Corridor Tie Replacement Project

Conn River Main Line | looking north
North Main Street | Deerfield, Ma. | April 8, 2018

MassDOT is in the process of awarding a contract for tie replacements, track refurbishment and related work along 32 miles of the Conn River Main Line (CRML) between Springfield and Greenfield.

The project includes the follow elements:

  • Install up to 30,000 new wood crossties
  • Install 3.5 track miles of new continuous welded rail on the controlled sidings in Northampton and Springfield and on the southbound track in Deerfield
  • Construct 0.4 miles of new southbound track in Deerfield
  • Distribute 28,500 tons of track ballast
  • Surface, align and regulate the ballast along 32 miles of CRML track, including all turnouts that branch off the mainline track
  • Remove and reconstruct five farm crossings along the line
  • Remove & dispose of all scrap crossties, timbers, and wood debris

 

The specifications states that scrap crossties, switch timber, and other wood products shall be removed from the right-of-way within five working days of their removal from the track.

The contract documents say the contractor shall achieve Contract Completion within 300 calendar days from Notice to Proceed or by May 15, 2019, whichever is earlier.

The presumptive low bidder for this project is LM Heavy Civil Construction of Quincy, Mass.

See also

Infrastructure > Current Projects

 


Worcester | Station Platform Project Moves Forward

On October 1, 2018 the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board approved a proposal to proceed with the design work required for the planned construction of a new center platform at Worcester Union Station.

MBTA Contract No. X72PS01 | Worcester Union Commuter Rail Station
Source: FMCB Meeting presentation | October 1, 2108

Why you might ask is this relevant to the Pioneer Valley . . . Because one of the many elements that must be resolved before East-West passenger rail service could be expanded is is the removal the platform bottleneck that exists today at Worcester Union Station.

The resolution of this issue, which will take about 3–5 years, will make it possible for the station in Worcester to handle additional passenger trains in the future.

Further reading

MBTA board approves Union Station platform expansion”
By Grant Welker | Worcester Business Journal | October 1, 2018

Worcester Union Station Design Contract presentation (PPT)
Fiscal Management Control Board | October 1 2018

 


Holyoke | Repairs to Pioneer Valley Railroad Bridge

Curved open-deck railroad bridge | looking northeast from Cabot St
Near South Canal & Cabot streets | Holyoke, Ma. | October 11, 2018

The Pioneer Valley Railroad is now working to rehabilitate a curved open deck bridge in Holyoke near South Canal and Cabot street. The bridge, which is shown in the image above, will have both steel and masonry work performed on the structure.

The re-opening of this bridge, which was last used in 2013, will allow the Pioneer Valley Railroad to interchange freight rail cars with the Pan Am Southern railroad which operates the north-south rail line through Holyoke.

This work is being partially funded by a grant of $495,000 that was made by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). The grant was one of eight grant awards made in 2017 under MassDOT’s Industrial Rail Access Program.

 


Vermont Rail Action Network’s Annual Dinner | Nov 8th

UPDATE 10/31/2018 | This event has been postponed due to scheduling challenges with the speakers and honorees. VRAN intends to reschedule the event in early 2019.

The Vermont Rail Action Network (VRAN) will hold its annual dinner and awards celebration next month in Montpelier.

Join rail industry and community leaders, railroad employees, shippers and rail supporters from around the region for Vermont’s premier rail event of the year.

All Earth Rail Budd Rail Diesel Car | in St Albans, Vermont | October 2018
Author: CodeJeffrey | Source: Wikipedia Commons

This year’s gala event will be held on Thursday, November 8th from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. (POSTPONED) at the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center in Montpelier, VT.

With the recent arrival of 12 self-powered Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) in Vermont, enabling reliable and affordable regional rail service for commuters in Vermont, there is much to celebrate.

Two of All Earth Rail’s recently renovated Budd RDC’s (shown above) will be parked on the tracks behind the hotel. A cocktail hour is planned onboard the RDC’s for those who arrive early.

This annual event is a wonderful opportunity for networking with delicious food, live music from a swing jazz band, and the presentation of VRAN’s annual Rail awards

 


2018 Multimodal and Transit Summit | Nov 19th

The Center for Latino Progress’s Transport Hartford Academy is organizing the first annual Multimodal and Transit Summit, which is co-hosted by the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planners Association and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The Multimodal and Transit Summit will be held on Monday, November 19th in downtown Hartford from 12:00 pm to 7:30 pm.

The Summit will bring together local leaders, legislators, transportation professionals, planners, engineers, construction firms, and passionate citizen advocates to discuss the current state, known challenges, and the best future for Connecticuts’s transportation system.

The Summit will reach transportation professionals, while also reaching non-professionals that we need to keep informed and engaged to move multimodal topics into the public sphere, daily conversations, policy changes, and state legislation.

Multimodal transportation is about building connections and increasing mobility.

Note that this event is free for citizen advocates and members of the community.

If you are traveling to the Summit from western mass we recommend that you park at the Springfield Union Stations Garage ($5/day) and take the Hartford Line!

Further information

Multimodal Summit 2018

Registration link

 


Report | Attracting Visitors by Passenger Rail to Franklin County

The Franklin County Council of Governments has recently released an interesting report that looks closely at the opportunity for passenger rail based tourism in the Franklin County region.

Attracting Visitors by Passenger Rail to Franklin County, MA (PDF)
Franklin County Council of Governments | September 2017

The report starts with a review of train-based tourism programs around the country (the Downeaster, Vermont by Rail, Ski Sante Fe, and the Trails and Rails Program) in areas that are similar to the Franklin County region.

The authors of the report looked at Amtrak’s efforts to promote travel to region and found that these efforts were minimal, somewhat disjointed, and could be improved.

The report includes a number of good recommendations, including the following tasks (each task in the report includes multiple steps and parts.)

  • Request Amtrak to update its webpage for the Vermonter route
  • Request Amtrak to update its webpage for the Greenfield Station
  • Coordinate with Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield tourism industry leaders on a number of activites
  • Develop partnerships and materials to support the local tourism industry in promoting travel by rail.

 

The report reinforces the view that we have always had — that efforts to promote passenger rail service need to driven from the local level.

 


The Millennials Disrupting Boston’s Transit System

‘They’re Bold and Fresh’: The Millennials Disrupting Boston’s Transit System
By Erick Trickey | Politico Magazine | October 25, 2018

If your interest is transit advocacy this is a must read article.

Simply put, TransitMatters is the 21st-century model for transit advocacy.

” ‘They’ve been terrific in asking us to think about things differently,’ says Joseph Aiello, chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, a governor-appointed panel that oversees the T for the state department of transportation. ‘The board and staff listen to them very carefully. We don’t always agree with them, but we frequently adopt their work.’ ”

We’ve added this great story here as an inspiration transit advocacys.

 


Fall Foliage Train on the Pioneer Valley Railroad

Last year’s autumn passenger train on Pioneer Valley Railroad
Courtesy of the organizer (listed below)

Please note that both trains are now SOLD OUT

This weekend, rail or shine, the Pioneer Valley Railroad will be operating a two special passenger runs to raise money for a local charity in Holyoke.

Each train has room for 70 passengers – 60 in the passenger coach and 10 in caboose. The caboose is used as a so-called “shoving platform” for the train movement when the engine is not leading.

Here are the details:

Sat. Oct. 27th | 9 and 11 am
Holyoke to Westfield and return

Departing from
Heritage State Park, 221 Appleton St, Holyoke

Adults $40 – Children under 12, $20 (SOLD OUT)

Note that this event is sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians James A. Curran Division One and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. Half the proceeds from the event will be used for the Hibernians’ scholarship fund.

 


Train Time in Northampton | October 8, 2018

Northampton station | October 5, 2018

In closing out this mega-post we’ll leave you with this nice image from Northampton.

The photo was emailed to us by someone who was walking along the bike path one day and wondered what was going on.

October 5th, to be clear, is the day before Columbus Day weekend when many people are traveling.

The line of people in this image — all of them — are waiting to board Amtrak Train 55, the southbound Vermonter.

The line starts on the left, loops around the parking lot, and past the historic Union Station building. It continues to the station platform then turns and goes up the access ramp at the front of the platform. The line ends at the bench on the platform.

Using the high-def image we were counted about 100 people waiting to catch the train. We couldn’t get an exact count because some people were clearly sitting on the ramp.

If the are wondering how long it took to board this crowd, the answer is 5 minutes.