Rail News Roundup #28

 

Today’s Headlines

• Valley Flyer Service to Start Next Friday!

• East-West Rail Meeting Followup

• Western Mass Rail Coalition Formed

• New station planned for Windsor Locks

• Extending the Vermonter to Montreal… Still Waiting

• Birnie Road Crossing Update

• Western MA Transportation Forum Planned

• Trains In The Valley’s Work Featured

 

CALENDAR

Western Mass Transportation Forum
(further details below)
Fri. September 13, 2019 | 9 am – 12 pm
Northampton Center for the Arts
33 Hawley Street

New Windsor Locks station | Public Information Meeting
(further details below)
Thur. September 19, 2019 | 6 pm – 8 pm
Windsor Locks Town Hall
50 Church Street
Windsor Locks, CT

2019 Northeast Multimodal and Transit Summit
Mon. November 25, 2019 | 11:00 am to 7:30 pm
Yale University
New Haven, CT
registration link

 


Valley Flyer Service to Start Next Friday!

MassDOT says new service will start Friday, August 30th as planned

Tickets are now available on Amtrak.com

It is our understanding that there will be special 25% promotional discount available for travel during the month of September. Details to follow.

And here’s the new schedule —

Valley Flyer schedule (PDF) | MassDOT | released August 23, 2019

A couple of thing to keep in mind —

  • This schedule is subject to slight adjustments, based on the test runs that Amtrak is doing right now during the overnight hours
  • The Valley Flyer is, what MassDOT likes to call, a “pilot service.” Basically its a test to see whether there is really a market here in the valley for additional rail service. We fully expect that things, like the schedule, will be adjusted a bit as we learn what works and what doesn’t
  • The schedule is not perfect, but it does what it was meant to do — which is to provide a way for people in the Pioneer Valley to travel south, to New York City as example, by train in the early morning and return in the evening. The last time that was possible was back in 1967!
  • If we’re successful (meaning if enough people ride the new trains) we stand a good chance at getting additional trains. If we’re not successful then MassDOT has said simply that the Valley Flyer service will be discontinued.

 

We will post a more complete schedule, with the connections to/from Metro-North in New Haven, on our Valley Flyer webpage next week.

::

In other news —

Amtrak has been running test trains between Springfield and Greenfield during the overnight hours over the past few weeks in preparation for the launch of the new service. The test runs are fully familiarize the crews with the operation of the new trains on the north-south rail corridor.

We’ve heard that Amtrak’s crews may start running the new schedule as early as Monday on a test basis,  so don’t be surprised if you see a train in the station in Northampton (as example) at 6:10am and 8am next week.

::

Amtrak and local police have been working up and down the line to remind people that trespassing on the rail line is both dangerous and illegal.

Video | “Amtrak Police promoting track safety ahead of Valley Flyer service” (1:43)
WWLP-22 News | August 16, 2019

Amtrak PD is focusing on twenty known “hot spots” along the rail line where trespassing has been a problem over time.

The Greenfield Recorder has reported that recently a man parked his vehicle a little to close to the the tracks at the Highway Auto Salvage crossing in Northampton. An oncoming train then took off one of his side-view mirrors.

Because of this incident cement blocks have been placed at the location to prevent people from parking to close to the tracks.

::

Work continues on the new 362-foot high-level platform at Springfield Union Station, which is expected to partially opened before the new service is launched.

The new high-level platform, under construction | looking east
Springfield Union Station | August 15, 2019

And in Northampton and Greenfield, work on the expanded station platforms is now nearing completion.

Northampton station site | looking south | July 23, 2019

 

As soon we have further information about the service we will post it on our Facebook page and on our Valley Flyer webpage.

 

Further reading

“Expanded rail service for Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield may begin Aug. 30; test trains running overnight this week”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | August 15, 2019

“Amtrak promotes rail safety on eve of expanded train service”
By Michael Conners | Greenfield Recorder | August 16, 2019

“Northampton, railroad officials raise safety awareness ahead of stepped-up train service”
By Jacquelyn Voghel | Daily Hampshire Gazette | August 23, 2019

 


East-West Rail Meeting Followup

Here’s a video of the recent East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee, for those of you who could not attend the meeting.

The official written summary of the meeting can be found on this link

East-West Study Advisory Committee Meeting #2 Summary Notes (PDF)
MassDOT | July 23, 2019

Further reading

“East-west rail gains headway in western Mass.”
By Michael Connors | Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 26, 2019

“Berkshire delegation says east-west rail means trains, not slower, cheaper bus service”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | July 30, 2019

 


Western Mass Rail Coalition Formed

Western Mass Rail Coalition – group shot
Springfield, Ma. | July 23, 2019

We are pleased to announced the formation of a new coalition of like-mined people and groups across Western Mass working together towards the expansion of passenger rail service.

The organization, which is called the Western Mass Rail Coalition, met for the first time as a group after the recent East-West Rail Advisory Committee meeting in Springfield.

The goal of the organization is to unite rail advocacy groups, and business, labor, and political leaders from across the four counties of western Massachusetts, in order to speak with a strong, collective voice in favor of a robust 21st century passenger rail system connecting the region and and neighboring states.

At this meeting were representatives of the the Train Campaign, Trains In The Valley, Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop and the Chester Railway Station.

The group released the following op-ed after the meeting

“East-west rail study generating energy and enthusiasm”
Opinion | The Worcester Telegram | August 3, 2019

The op-ed was also published in the Berkshire Eagle and the Greenfield Recorder. It will be published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette later this week.

 


New station planned for Windsor Locks

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is moving ahead with plans to build a new train station in the town of Windsor Locks.

Windsor Lock station | August 2019

 

The new station, which would replace the current Amtrak-owned station at the south end of town, will be located just to the north of the historic station building on Main Street.

Early conceptual design for the new Windsor Locks station | September 2015

The new station is important for western Mass for two reasons —

  • Windsor Locks is the station of choice for people living in Agawam and Longmeadow, since driving north (to Springfield) to catch a train headed south doesn’t make much sense, and
  • This new station will be the transfer point for a new dedicated shuttle bus connection between the Hartford Line and Bradley Airport.

CTDOT will hold a public information meeting on Thur. September 19, 2019 from 6 pm until 8 pm at the Windsor Locks Town Hall, 50 Church Street, Windsor Locks, CT.

 

Its interesting to note that the Bradley Airport Authority has plans in the works to connect the airport to the new station in Windsor Locks by light rail line at some point in the future.

A study (linked below) was completed in 2016 and the airport is maintaining a protected right of way on their property for use in the future.

No funding has been identified yet for construction of the light rail line between the airport and the new Windsor Locks station, but one could imagine that it will be built at some stage.

 

Further reading

“DOT requesting $65M from Bond Commission for new Windsor Locks train station”
By Anthony Branciforte | Journal Inquirer | August 6, 2019

Hartford Line TOD Action Plan – Town of Windsor Locks (PDF)
October 20, 2016

Bradley Light Rail Feasibility Study (PDF)
March 2016

 


Extending the Vermonter to Montreal… Still Waiting

Central Station | Montreal, Quebec | June 14, 2013 (cropped and adjusted)
The original image was created by Wikimedia Commons user Jeangagnon

On August 15, 2019 the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, announced that U.S. and Canada have brought into force the Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air (LRMA) Transport Preclearance between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada.

Bringing into force this agreement enables Canada and the U.S. to expand preclearance for travellers at land, rail and marine facilities in both countries, and in particular at Central Station in Montreal.

The next step is for the Ministère des Transports du Québec, the Government of Canada, and the owners of Montreal Central Station to develop a site plan and operation agreement for the long planned pre-clearance facility in the station.

In all likelihood nothing will happen until after the Federal election in Canada on October 21, 2019.

Lets hope that soon after the Federal elections that the parties involved will sit down and hammer out a plan to get the pre-clearance facility built so that the Vermonter can finally, after more than a decade of effort, be extended to Montreal.

When will the Vermonter by extended to Montreal you might ask? The best case scenario at this stage would be seem to be some time in 2021.

Further reading

Vermonter Extension to Montreal | Trains In The Valley

“Preclearance issues extend wait for rail service to Montreal”
By Alexandre Silberman | VTDigger.com | August 15, 2019

 


Birnie Road Crossing Update

Work continues at railroad crossing at Birnie Road in Longmeadow.

Bernie Road crossing | looking west
Longmeadow, Ma. | August 15, 2019

Amtrak has completed the installation of new active warning devices (lights, gates and bells) as can be seen in the image above.

Before the crossing can be reopened Amtrak forces must return to the site to reinstall the road surface across the tracks.

See also

Railroad Crossings of Note | Trains In The Valley

 


Western MA Transportation Forum Planned

A meeting has been planned to bring people together from across Western Mass to talk about the transportation issues that exist across the region.

The goal is to create out-of-the-box solutions to solve some of the problems that exist today.

It is also hoped that this forum creates a coalition among multiple sectors in the four western Mass counties to share best practices and bring a strong united voice to Boston to advocate for needed funding and support for transportation initiatives.

Meeting flyer (PDF)

The idea for this forum came from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which is working in all areas related to food insecurity — with access to transportation being an important one.

Tentative Schedule

9:00-9:30
Registration, breakfast, networking

9:30- 9:45
Opening remarks / Welcome

9:45-10:00
Keynote speaker – Eric Lesser

10:00-11:00
Lightning Rounds – 4-5-minute presentations. Two rounds of four presentations each, with time for questions after each round:

· Innovative/creative solutions in the four counties (i.e., Hilltown Easy Ride)

· Funding – how do we create an equitable transportation system

11:00-11:10
Break

11:10-11:40
Break into roundtables to brainstorm ideas

11:40-12:00
Report Out from each table

 


Trains In The Valley’s Work Featured

Northampton train station Friday afternoon | July 26, 2019
Carol Lollis/Daily Hampshire Gazette

“Getting more aboard: How Trains in the Valley is helping to boost local rail”
By Sarah Buttenwieser | Daily Hampshire Gazette | August 16, 2019

Great news! Trains In The Valley was featured in last Friday’s Hampshire Life section of the Daily Hampshire Gazette!

A lot has happened since we started the group back in the spring of 2016 for sure.

Many thanks to Mayor David Narkewicz, Representative Lindsay Sabadosa, and Tim Brennan of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission for their contributions to this article.

We’ll continue advocating for continued rail progress here in the Pioneer Valley and we hope you will too!

Rail News Roundup #24

 

Today’s Headlines

• Proposed Northern Tier Rail Study

• Vermonter Ridership Continues to Rise

• New Greenfield Service Pushed Back to Late Summer

• Working on the Railroad

• Springfield | Platform C Update

• Boston City Council Votes for East-West Rail

• New Website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop

• Holyoke | Cars in the Freight Yard

• WGBY video | Freight Rail in Western Mass

 

CALENDAR

POSTPONED: Advisory Committee Meeting #2
MassDOT East-West Passenger Rail Study
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
1500 Main St
Springfield, Ma.

 


Proposed Northern Tier Rail Study

Joint Committee on Transportation hearing | May 14, 2019
Massachusetts State House | Boston, Ma.

On Tuesday May 14, 2019 Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester) and Rep. Mindy Domb (D-3rd Hampshire) appeared before the Joint Committee on Transportation to offer their testimony in support of Bill S.2054, “An Act to examine the feasibility of rail service between North Adams, Greenfield and Boston.”

Comerford presented her own testimony, and provided the committee with over 700 comments for constituents in her district.

The comments poured in after she reached out with this Facebook post last Friday afternoon.

Also offering testimony at the hearing, in support of the study, were Joseph Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator for the Rail Passengers Association, and Clint Richmond, Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee and Executive Committee member of the Massachusetts Sierra Club .

Clint Richmond offered the Sierra Club’s support for the proposed study and pointed out that proposed Northern Tier Route could create many more new destination pairs, such as Fitchburg–Springfield and importantly Boston to Vermont/Montreal via Greenfield.

He also made the strong point that such a service would connect numerous gateway cities in the commonwealth and that it will complement the proposed Boston-Springfield route.

In related news, Sen. Comerford and Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex) have introduced Amendment 30 to the Senate version of the draft 2020 Massachusetts State Budget.

If the amendment is approved as part of the budget process, which is not at all certain, a study of the feasibility of passenger rail service between North Adams and Boston would commence on June 1, 2020 and be completed no later than June 1, 2021.

See also

Proposed Northern Tier Rail Study
A new page on the Trains In The Valley website

Further reading

“Comerford files bill for east-west rail study”
By Anita Fritz | Greenfield Recorder | May 14, 2019

“Lawmakers pitch northern rail route to Western Mass”
By Colin A. Young | State House News Service | May 14, 2019

 


Vermonter Ridership Continues to Rise

The Amtrak Vermonter pulls into the station at the Olver Transit Center
Courtesy the Greenfield Recorder

“Passenger rail ridership continues to climb on the Valley line”
By Beru Dunau | Daily Hampshire Gazette | May 6, 2019

The good news just keeps on coming.

Ridership in the Pioneer Valley on the Vermonter for the last fiscal year exceeded 32,000 riders — with Northampton the busiest station, with almost 22,000 riders.

Further reading

Vermonter data
A page on the Trains In The Valley site with detailed ridership data for the Vermonter.

 


New Greenfield Service Pushed Back to Late Summer

Amtrak train at Springfield Union Station
Greenfield Recorder / Paul Franz

Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer
By Anita Fritz | Greenfield Recorder | May 2, 2019

The headline sounds like good news, but what actually is happening is that the start of the new Greenfield service is being pushed back from June to late summer.

Back in June of 2018 Governor Charlie Baker announced that the new service would start in the spring of 2019. Then immediately following his formal announcement MassDOT said that the service would start in June 2019.

Why the delay? The news article does not say, but it looks to us like some of the infrastructure projects along the corridor are taking a little longer than planned.

Yes, the delay is frustrating, but everyone should keep in mind that operating a passenger rail service is much more complicated than people imagine.

Simply put, the service will start when MassDOT, Amtrak and CTDOT are ready and not a moment sooner.

Further reading

Passenger Rail | Valley Flyer
A page on the Trains In The Valley website with information about the planned new new service.

 


Working on the Railroad

Maintenance of Way equipment parked for the weekend on a siding | Sat. May 4, 2019
just off of South Main St. in South Deerfield | looking north

The equipment in this image is being used for a large tie replacement project that is now underway along the MassDOT-owned rail corridor between Springfield and Greenfield.

While this work is taking place travelers should expect that the Vermonter may be slightly delayed (10-15 minutes) at stations in the region until they are finished with the work.

The delays occur because of one or more temporary “slow orders” that are put in place in the work zone where the ties are being replaced. A slow order then remains in effect for a period of time after the work is completed while they wait for the track to fully settle.

As of today (May 17, 2019) the tie crew was reported to be working in Hatfield. The crew is working their way south and should arrive in Northampton sometime next week.

Some of you may wonder what we are looking at in this image. The machine at the head of the line is a Harsco Rail Mark IV Production/Switch Tamper. It is used to pack (or tamp) the ballast in and around the ties and to set the proper level for each rail of the track.

Further reading

Infrastructure | Current Projects
A page on the Trains In The Valley website with information on the many infrastructure projects that are in progress in our region.

 


Springfield | Platform C Update

A lot has happened at the high-level platform work site at Springfield Union Station in the past few weeks.

By late April the contractor had the site ready for the installation of the precast concrete sections for the new high-level platform at the station.

A large mobile crane was then setup on Lyman St for about a week so that the precast concrete sections could be lifted from flatbed trucks at street level and then carefully placed onto the new foundations at track level.

 

Crane in position on Lyman St | April 23, 2019
By Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican

If you’re wondering, this crane would appear to be a Liebherr LTM 1500 crane. Its maximum load capacity is 550 tons.

 

Springfield Union Station as viewed from the top of the garage | looking east | April 29, 2019

 

Platform C (now under construction) | looking east
Springfield Union Station | May 9, 2019

Here you can see the high-level platform, in its current form, with all of precast concert sections now installed.

You can also see that the newly installed structural members for the canopy, which was fabricated using steel from the historic canopy at the station.

When complete the platform will be accessed from the concourse level of the station via a new elevator and new set of stairs.

Further reading

“Crane lifts Platform C into place at Springfield Union Station”
By Jim Kinney | The Republican | April 24, 2019

 


Boston City Council Votes for East-West Rail

On May 1, 2019 the Boston City Council adopted a resolution supporting East-West rail service between Boston and Springfield.

The resolution, which is shown below, was adopted by unanimous vote of the council.

Resolution Adopted by the Boston City Council | May 1, 2019

Further reading

Boston City Council votes to support Springfield-to-Boston high-speed passenger rail
By Shira Shoenberg | The Republican | May 1, 2019

 


New Website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop

We are happy to report that the new website for Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop is now live.

PalmerTrain.org

Interested parties may also wish to visit the Facebook group for this organization.
Facebook.com/palmertrain

 


Holyoke | Cars in the Freight Yard

Holyoke rail yard as viewed from South Canal St | looking north | May 9, 2019

This seemingly nondescript image shows something that until recently has not been seen in Holyoke for quite a few years.

What you are looking at are five freight cars on the interchange track in Holyoke. This track is used to transfer cars between the Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVRR) and Pan Am Railways.

The reopening of the interchange track was made possible by a MassDOT Industrial Rail Access Grant (IRAP) to the PVRR. The IRAP funds along with funds provide by the railroad were used to repair of the bridge that carries the PVRR tracks over the Second Level Canal near Lyman Street.

We have been told that the three northernmost cars are center-beam flatcars that are used for hauling building and lumber materials. These flatcars were unloaded at the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Westfield and are now headed back empty.

The first two cars are gondolas which are normally used for hauling scrap material. Its unclear what they were doing on the PVRR system, but it could be that they were at Rescar Industries in Westfield being repaired.

 


WGBY video | Freight Rail in Western Mass.

The video below, which was produced by WGBY in Springfield, provides a nice overview of the freight rail system in western Massachusetts.

Here is the caption on YouTube that goes with this video:

When the Pinsley Rail Company purchased the railroad formerly operated by Conrail in 1982 and turned it into what is now known as the Pioneer Valley Railroad, it ushered in a new era for the short line rail industry in Western Massachusetts.

Since that time, Pinsley’s client list, warehouses, and distribution services have continues to grow along with rail service.

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan chased trains around several 413 towns to get a look at the state of rail freight transport in Western Mass.

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