Rail News Roundup #36

 

Today’s Headlines

• High Time for Updates to Low Overpass in Northampton

• Return of the Vermonter Remains Unclear

• Bikes Now Permitted on the Valley Flyer

• New Underpass in Springfield, Coming Along

• Waze Rolls out Alerts for Railroad Crossings

• Pioneer Valley Railroad Featured in BusinessWest

• The Former Inclined Railway in Hadley

 

CALENDAR

East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee Meeting #6
Wed. September 30th, 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
via Zoom (details to be announced)

East-West Rail Study Public Meeting #3
Late July | To be announced

 

CT Commuter Rail Council Meeting
Wed. September 16, 2020 | 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Meeting Agenda

Join via Google Meet | https://meet.google.com/dyv-ibfi-xfb
Join by phone | (316) 536-0521 (PIN: 554906563)

This group’s focus is Metro-North, but their remit also includes the Hartford Line.

Note that this months special guest will be Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti who will talk about passenger rail service, current and post Covid.

 


High Time for Updates to Low Overpass in Northampton

The low clearance Main Street/Bridge Street (Route 9) railroad overpass in Northampton, which is known to some people locally as the truck-eating bridge, is one of those problems that just won’t go away.

The Manhan Rail Trail bridge (in the foreground) and the railroad overpass above Route 9
looking east | Northampton, Ma. | August 8, 2020

The latest bridge strike on June 5th got us thinking that something need to be done,  so we create a dedicated webpage on the site to increase awareness of the many issues related to this structure.

The new page can be found on this link
Route 9 Railroad Overpass in Northampton

On this page you will find information related to the history of the overpass, a listing of recent bridge strikes, an overview of the active and passive warnings systems on the roads leading to the overpass, and a list of short and long-term steps that could be taken to improve this situation.

The roadways that lead to the bridge include both active and passive warning signs, as detailed in this interactive Google map —

A review of the signage along these roads identified a number of issues, including:

  • The railroad overpass itself does not have a standard Low Clearance sign mounted on it
  • Some of the Low Clearance signs for the overpass are missing the appropriate supplemental signs, as example a Right Arrow or an AHEAD sign
  • There are non-standard Low Clearance signs at a few locations
  • The over height vehicle detection system isn’t working on 2 of the 4 roads leading to the overpass, and
  • Some of the warning lights, under the Low Clearance signs, are damaged

Trucks hitting the overpass is a problem and a nuisance, but this this is not the main issue for most people.

The main issue is that the this overpass, which is posted at just 11 Feet 0 Inches, causes many trucks to divert to alternate routes on local streets in the city of Northampton every day.

One has to wonder how, in the year 2020, a designated state highway — Massachusetts Route 9 — could be effectively blocked to some trucks?

In the short term the signage issues should be reviewed and resolved by the Northampton DPW and/or the MassDOT.

Over the long term though the officials at MassDOT and our elected official need to consider what could and should be with this 123 year old structure.

 


Return of the Vermonter Remains Unclear

Amtrak station stop | Greenfield, Ma. | August 8, 2020

Advocates in Vermont are working hard to find a way to return the Vermonter to the rails.

On August 25th the Vermont Rail Action Network, a rail advocacy organization, hosted on online strategy call to review the current situation and to discuss steps that could be taken to get the trains rolling.

On September 9th the Vermont Agency for Transportation (VTrans) hosted an online meeting of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council — with the Vermonter (and Ethan Allen Express) service suspension the first item discussed.

Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn addressed the issue head-on at the start of the meeting with a broad statement in support of passenger rail in Vermont. He went on to say that a date to restart service would be announced soon.

To be clear, by the end of the meeting there was no clear date for the restart of the Vermonter, but it was announced that Amtrak would soon start sending test trains from Albany up to Rutland, on the Ethan Express route, to apparently prepare crews for a restart of service at some date.

Then on September 14th the City Council for the City of Burlington passed, by unanimous vote, this resolution in support of resuming passenger rail service to Vermont —

Resolution Relating to Resumption of Amtrak Service to Vermont (PDF)
City Council | The City of Burlington, Vt. | September 14, 2020

Vermont, like many states, has Covid related travel restrictions in place at the moment.

The Covid related restrictions that apply to all travel to Vermont by “plane, train or bus” can be found on this vermont.gov webpage.

Scheduled air service to Vermont, in and out of Burlington International Airport, is operating as is some Greyhound service, in particular daily service between Springfield, Ma. and White River Junction.

So this begs the question, why is the state of Vermont saying that it is not yet safe for passenger rail service to resume in the state?

The answer would appear to be that Vermont is being exceedingly cautious both fiscally and otherwise with regard to the restoration of rail service for some reason.

Vermont may have good reasons not to restart the Vermonter, but to continue insist that it is not safe is clearly not the whole story here.

To bring back riders VTrans on consultation with MassDOT and CTDOT, and Amtrak will need to set a real date for restarting the service and efforts will need to be made to get the word out that the train is returning.

If VTrans can’t get figure out a way to do this in the next few weeks then consideration should be given to adding a mid-day Valley Flyer run, with service only as far north as Greenfield, until Vermont can figure out what they want to do.

Further reading

“Vermonters wait for return of train routes”
By Randolph T. Holhut |

“No date yet for Vermonters return”
By C.B. Hall | Vermont Business Magazine | August 13, 2020

 


Bikes Now Permitted on the Valley Flyer

We are happy to pass on the news that Amtrak is now allowing passengers to travel with their bike on the Valley Flyer.

Amtrak now allows bikes on all of their trains on the Hartford Line, including the Northeast Regional trains that operate out of Spingfield.

Source: Amtrak Media Center

Utilizing newly installed luggage racks that convert to bike racks, the expanded bike program will allow Amtrak to provide storage space for up to two bikes per departure, with additional spaces being added as the rest of the fleet receives these modifications.

Standard full-size bicycles may be carried on, as long as the front wheel is removed, and stored onboard in an on board bicycle rack.

A bike may be added when reserving a seat using the Amtrak website or the Amtrak App. You can also do this over the phone by calling Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL.

The cost for taking you bike on the Valley Flyer is $10.

Other details can be found on the Bring Your Bike Onboard page on the Amtrak website.

Further reading

“Amtrak Expands Carry-On Bike Program on Northeast Regional and Northeast State-Supported Trains”
Amtrak Media Release | September 3, 2020

 


New Underpass in Springfield, Coming Along

Work continues on the new 52-foot pedestrian underpass that will soon connect the Brightwood and North End neighborhoods of Springfield, Ma.

A major milestone was reached in mid-August when the precast concrete sections of the underpass were put in place.

This work was accomplished during a scheduled five day track outage.

Once the track was closed, crews removed both tracks from the rail corridor and then excavated the earth to make room for the new underpass.

Once the underpass was assembled the track was relayed, surfaced, and reopened to rail traffic.

Springfield underpass work site as viewed from Birnie Ave | August 14, 2020

The image above shows the scene at the work site on the 5th day of the track outage. The machine on the tracks, above the underpass, is a Harsco 6700 Production/Switch tamper. It is packing the ballast under the rails and aligning the tracks, both horizontally and vertically.

A few days later the City of Springfield and MassDOT hosted a ceremony at the work site, as shown in the video below.

Video: “Ceremony held for North End pedestrian underpass project” (1:46)
By Sy Becker | WWLP-22News | August 20, 2020

See also

Springfield underpass project | Trains In The Valley

Further reading

“Springfield Pedestrian Underpass Praised; ‘We’re Going To Save Lives'”
By Paul Tutthill | WAMC | August 22, 2020

 


Waze Rolls out Alerts for Railroad Crossings

The navigation app Waze is rolling out a global safety feature that alerts users to upcoming railroad crossings along their planned route.

The screenshot below from Waze shows what a driver would see on the app when approaching the Damon Road crossing in Northampton

An audible alert is also provided as the vehicle approaches the crossing.

On December 19, 2016 the National Transportation Safety Board issued Safety Recommendation H-16-015.

This NTSB Safety Recommendation asked major technology companies to, “Incorporate grade crossing-related geographic data, such as those currently being prepared by the Federal Railroad Administration, into your navigation applications to provide road users with additional safety cues and to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public or private grade crossings.

To date the only navigation app with such functionality is Google’s Waze app.

Further reading

“Waze begins rolling out railroad crossing alerts globally”
By James Vincent | The Verge | August 12, 2020

“Tech companies ignore pleas on rail safety”
By Sam Mintz | Politico | August 10, 2019

 


Pioneer Valley Railroad Featured in BusinessWest

Pioneer Valley Railroad Is a Moving Business Success” | Business West | September 1, 2020

“Pioneer Valley Railroad Is a Moving Business Success Story”
By George O’Brien | Business West | September 1, 2020

This is a nice report on the past, present and future of the Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVRR), a local short-line railroad based in Westfield, Ma.

What’s most interesting about the article is how PVRR leverages its sister-company Railroad Distribution Services (RDS) to provide the last-mile connection to business both locally and across New England.

For customers who are not on their rail line freight is loaded onto trucks at one of the two RDS warehouses and shipped directly to the customer.

The company interchanges freight cars with Norfolk Southern, via the Pan Am Southern interchange connection in Holyoke, and with CSX via their interchange track in Westfield.

The railroad lines operated by the PVRR, which have been owned by the Pinsley Railroad Company since 1982, were original part of the historic New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

Further reading

Pinsly Railroad Company (official site)

 


The Former Inclined Railway in Hadley

Derek Strahan recently posted a fascinating piece on the Lost New England site about the Summit House and former inclined railway in Hadley, Ma.

“Mount Holyoke Summit House and Inclined Railway, Hadley, Massachusetts”
By Derek Strahan | Lost New England | August 29, 2020

According to the post, the original inclined railway to the summit was build in 1854 and for a brief period of time it was powered by a stationary horse at the base.

In 1856 the line was converted to steam power and then double tracked in the late 1800s. Then in 1900 the line was was electrified.

Much of the roof over the railway was destroyed in a heavy snowstorm in 1948.

What was left of the line was intentionally burned to the ground on February 17, 1965 by employees of the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources in an effort to remove the decaying and unsafe structure.