Rail News Roundup #38

Today’s Headlines

• Final Report for East-West Rail Released

• MA Bond Bill Signed – $50M for East-West Rail

• Chester Station Designated as National Historic Landmark

• Brattleboro Station Plan Approved by Local Board

• Draft Vermont Rail Plan Update Released

• DOJ Settles ADA Lawsuit with Amtrak

• Moynihan Train Hall Opens in NYC

• Secretary Pete Hits the Rails

• Online Meetings and Webinars of Note

CALENDAR

CT Commuter Rail Council
Online meeting (via Zoom)
Wed. February 17, 2021 | 7 pm – 9 pm

Vermont Rail Advisory Council
Online meeting (via Microsoft Teams)
March 19, 2021 | (further details to be announced)


Final Report for East-West Rail Released

The Final Report for the East-West Rail Study was released on Friday, January 5th, to little fanfare.

The report can be viewed on these links:

Chapter 1 – Executive Summary (PDF)

Full Report – Chapters 1–6

Appendix | Benefit Cost Methodology (PDF)

Appendix | Capital Costs (PDF)

Appendix | Operating and Maintenance Costs (PDF)

Appendix | Ridership Methodology (PDF)

The final report now includes a summary of actions that MassDOT intends to take as part of what they refer to as “advancing the conceptual planning phase for East-West Passenger Rail.”

Notably, MassDOT has included wording that suggests that they may now be open to looking into a “phasing,” which could mean any number of things, depending on what CSX (the owner of the rail corridor) might allow.

To this point, the final report includes this text:

“for example, because roughly 62% of ridership is generated between Springfield and Boston, this segment may be a worthwhile starting point. While phasing is not likely to be a simple proposition, it could offer an opportunity to respond to one of the most prevalent themes among the commenters, namely an interest in change sooner rather than later.”

MassDOT also says that to move forward they will also need to look at the economic and demographic impacts/benefits of East-West Passenger Rail, in some detail. This work will require a separate study, which will be dependent on the availability of either state or federal funding to support the work.

The report also outlines steps that MassDOT will take to address the issue of governance, since neither MassDOT or the MBTA are in a position to manage or operate the service, according to what was written in the report.

Its interesting to note that the Connecticut Department of Transportation overseas the operation of the Hartford Line — with specific functions (such as train dispatching and train operation) contracted out to third-parties, such as Amtrak.

Then there is the topic of CSX (the owner of the rail corridor west of Worcester), which was the “elephant in the room” from day one of this study.

All indications suggest that CSX has little or no real interest in allowing additional passenger rail service on their tracks, for any number of reasons. If MassDOT owned the rail corridor, as they do east of Worcester, the situation would be quite different.

Whether MassDOT has any leverage to move CSX off of square one on the topic of East-West passenger service remains to be seen.

Further reading

MassDOT Issues Final Report for East-West Passenger Rail Study
MassDOT Press Release | January 5, 2021

East-West Rail Study Presentation to the MassDOT Board (PDF)
MassDOT | January 11, 2021

“For state lawmakers east-west rail dangles within reach”
By Lauryn Allen | Daily Hampshire Gazette | December 29, 2020

“The Trans-Commonwealth RR: Is a New Day Dawning for East-West Rail?”
Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight | January 26, 2021


MA Bond Bill Signed – $50M for East-West Rail

Governor Baker signed into law the $16 billion Transportation Bond Bill on Friday, January 15th.

The bill includes money for a great many transportation initiatives.

Notably, the bill includes “not less than $50 million” for East-West Rail. This is more than enough to cover the work that MassDOT says would be required to advance the conceptual planning phase for East-West Passenger Rail.

The wording of the bill also includes wording that specifically states that funds in the Transportation Bond Bill may be used for any work necessary to make the Valley Flyer Service a permanent commuter rail service.

These two provisions of the Bond Bill are significant steps forward for passenger rail service in the Pioneer Valley.

For those interested in the details, here is the exact wording —

Line item 6622-2184 — $175,000,0001
For the purpose of implementing rail improvements pursuant to chapter 161C of the General Laws;

provided, that not less than $50,000,000 shall be used for transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction, construction of stations and right-of-way acquisition for the East-West passenger rail project, which includes Pittsfield to Boston service via Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester; provided further, that said rail improvements may take the East-West Passenger Rail Study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation into consideration; provided further, that funding for said rail improvements may be used in conjunction with any federal funding set aside for the East-West rail project;

provided further, that funds may be used for transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction, construction of stations and right-of-way acquisition for rail projects,

  • including Housatonic Railroad service,
  • Boston to Cape Cod service, including, but not limited to, commuter service to Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod,
  • Fitchburg to Greenfield to North Adams service, Pittsfield to New York City service and Boston to Albany, New York service and
  • converting the Valley Flyer Pilot Service into a permanent commuter rail service connecting the cities town of Greenfield and the cities of, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield;

and provided further, that not less than $25,000,000 shall be expended for transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction of rail and stations and right-of-way acquisition for the Berkshire Flyer rail project, which includes service from the city of Pittsfield to the city of New York, New York via the city of Albany, New York

1 Chapter 383 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment, Signed by Governor Baker on January 15, 2021

Further reading

“Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker approves $16 billion transportation bond bill, including $50 million for East-West rail project”
By Steph Solis | MassLive | January 15, 2021


Chester Station Designated as National Historic Landmark

On January 13, 2021 the Secretary of the Interior designated the Chester Factory Village Depot and the Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges in Becket, Middlefield, and Chester, Massachusetts, as National Historic Landmarks, in recognition of their national significance in the history of the United States.

The original Chester Factor Village Depot was constructed in 1841, in time for the opening of the Western Railroad’s line through the Berkshire Hills.

During the 1800s the Chester Factory Village Depot was one of the more important passenger stops on the route between Boston and Albany. All daytime trains paused long enough for passengers to obtain food at the station from a refreshments table inside, while the locomotive took on coal and water.

The station burned down in 1862 but was quickly replaced by a new station building (shown below) on the west side of the railroad tracks.

Chester Factory Village Railroad Depot (Chester Depot) | looking northeast
By John Daly, PAL Inc. | 2017

The Chester Foundation moved the station building to the east side of the tracks in 1990 and subsequently restored the structure.

Currently, the Chester Factory Village Depot is one of only four surviving Western Railroad stations built prior to the Civil War.

The historic Chester Depot, which is now owned and managed by the Chester Foundation, is open to the public during the summer, and by appointment.

This National Landmark Designation also includes a 3,800-foot-long segment of the original Western Railroad roadbed, built in 1840-41. This segment of the line was abandoned in 1912 after a partial realignment of the east ascent to Washington Summit.

Also included are a series of stone arch bridges (sometimes referred to as the Keystone Arches) that were built by the railroad in the early part of the 1800s.

Western Railroad Roadbed and Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridge No. 5
Westfield River gorge, looking north | By John Daly, PAL Inc. | 2017

The railroad segment and bridges are an intact segment of the first railroad in the United States to demonstrate the feasibility of moving trains across a mountain range using only traction, or the friction between the wheels of the train and the tracks, for propulsion and braking.

The historic bridges can be reached by walking on the Keystone Arches Bridges Trail which follows, for the most part, the abandoned section of the Western Railroad roadbed.

Source

Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges and Chester Factory Village Depot, National Historic Landmark Nomination, National Park Service
Executive Summary (PDF)
Nomination (PDF)
Nomination photos (PDF)

Further Reading

Chester Railway Station & Museum

Friends of the Keystone Arches


Brattleboro Station Plan Approved by Local Board

Artists’ Rendering of New Brattleboro station | December 2020

On December 17, 2021, The Brattleboro Development Review Board provide Amtrak with “Site Plan Approval” to develop a level boarding platform and station building shelter in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

The new station will be located at the present location of the current station, but on the opposite side of the tracks.

Construction of the new station is expected to start in early 2022.

Further reading

Brattleboro Station – 90% Design Development Submission (PDF)

“Amtrak site plan gets local approval”
By Chris Mays | Brattleboro Reformer | December 18, 2020

Letter to the Editor: “Rail project will benefit entire region”
By Dan Peacock | Keene Sentinel | January 30, 2021


Draft Vermont Rail Plan Released

The draft update to the Vermont Rail Plan was released for public comment in early February 2021.

Draft Vermont Rail Plan Update (PDF) | February 5, 2021

The draft set of initiatives includes the ongoing project to extend the Vermonter to Montreal, which is been in the works for a long time. The plan states that this project is, “a key, well-underway priority,” that could start with one trip per day and then be expanded to two trips per day.

The plan also includes this interesting chart with projected ridership for a various “rail scenarios” that were studied during the preparation of the draft rail plan update.

One of the “rail scenarios” modeled by the consulting team included a possible extension of one Valley Flyer train to White River Junction.

Its important to note that the Valley Flyer extension to White River Junction was not included on the list of projects that will move forward in the draft version of the state rail plan.

Please note that the public comment period for the draft report ends on March 22, 2021 at 9 AM.

Further information

Draft Vermont State Rail Plan Update (PDF)

State Rail Plan webpage
Vermont Agency of Transportation


DOJ Settles ADA Lawsuit with Amtrak

Windsor Lock station | August 24, 2019

On December 2, 2020, the Department of Justice and Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, entered into an agreement to resolve the department’s findings of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Under the agreement, Amtrak will fix inaccessible stations and pay $2.25 million to victims hurt by inaccessibility at 78 stations across its network.

As example, the following stations along the route of the Vermonter are listed were included in the settlement:

Montpelier, VT

Windsor, CT

Windsor Locks, CT

To be eligible for monetary compensation, an individual must:

  • Have a mobility disability;
  • Be harmed physically or emotionally because of accessibility issues including, for example, inaccessible parking; steep slopes or steps to get to the station; lack of directional signs; toilet rooms with inaccessible entrances, stalls, or sinks; high ticket counters; deteriorated platforms; and narrow routes at stations, at one or more the listed stations between July 27, 2013, and Dec. 2, 2020;
  • Have lived at, visited, or desired to visit a place closer to one or more of the 78 listed stations than an accessible, alternative Amtrak station; and
  • Submit a claim form and declaration by mail, fax, email or online to the claims administrator by no later than May 29, 2021.

To file a claim of to learn more visit
amtrakdisabilitysettlement.com

Further reading

Justice Department Settles with Amtrak to Resolve Disability Discrimination Across its Intercity Rail System
Press Release | Department of Justice | December 2, 2020


Moynihan Train Hall Opens in NYC

Moynihan Train Hall | By Nicholas Knight | Empire State Development

The new Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station NY, named for the visionary United States senator who proposed the project in the 1990s, opened its doors on January 1, 2021 to New Yorkers and travelers from the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, the New York City Subway, and the entire northeast region.

Section Rendering | Moynihan Train Hall | SOM

Moynihan Train Hall expands the Pennsylvania Station complex with the addition of a 225,000-square-foot rail hub in the landmark James A. Farley Post Office Building.

For those of you hoping for better times in 2021, and thinking about a trip by train to New York City at some stage, here’s the video for you.

Video: The New Moynihan Train Hall (1:17)
Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo | Dec 30, 2020

The video shows the complete Moynihan Train Hall along with an audio track that includes portions of the speech that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new facility.

Congratulations to all of the people who worked so long and so hard to create this magnificent new public space.

Further reading

“Moynihan Train Hall brings modernity to NYC’s Penn Station with skylights galore”
By Benji Stawski | The Points Guy | January 5, 2021

“The Moynihan Train Hall’s Glorious Arrival”
By Ian Volner | The New Yorker | January 13, 2021

Image Galley of Moynihan Train Hall (56 hi-def images)
archdaily.com | January 2021


Secretary Pete Hits the Rails

Secretary Pete Buttigieg at Washington Union Station | February 5, 2021
Source: TransportationGov Twitter feed

We don’t venture into national topics very often, but we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to note that Pete Buttigieg became the 19th Secretary of Transportation on February 3rd.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in January he was quoted as saying, “I’m only the second biggest passenger rail enthusiast in this particular administration.”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Points Guy last week, Sec. Buttigieg outlined plans to aggressively move on high-speed and rural rail projects, among many other topics.

We look forward to the inspirational leadership that we expect Secretary Buttigieg will provide in the coming years, in particular on the topic of passenger rail service in this country.

Further reading

Video: “Buttigieg calls for expanding transportation ‘to more people and places’ “ (2:33)
The Washington Post | February 5, 2021


Online Meetings and Webinars of Note

Here’s a sampling of recent meetings, podcasts, and webinars that we think could be interested to readers of the Rail News Roundup.

Podcast: A Conversation with Gov. Michael Dukakis (22:23)

Former governor Michael Dukakis has strong views on the importance of public transportation. He thinks it’s an important investment but he’s also a believer in keeping costs in check.

Karen Christensen, Founder of the Train Campaign, talked with Dukakis about rail as a regional issue and national imperative.

Hear his views on how governors and legislators should be thinking about rail infrastructure and the importance of a connection to New York — especially for Berkshire County — as well as the East-West Rail project and the North-South Rail Link.

Rail Passengers Webinar Series: State Supported Services (1:22:39)
January 27, 2021| via YouTube

Another great Webinar from the folks at the Rail Passenger Association.

The panel for this webinar includes Wayne Davis from the rail advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast in Maine, Laura Kliewer from the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, and Deborah Fisher Stout from the Northern Flyer Alliance.