GREENFIELD, MA – August 21, 2014 – Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick arrived at Greenfield, Massachusetts on Wednesday aboard the Pan Am Railways Office Car Special train to announce that the state is spending $17 million for the Connecticut River Line’s resumption of Amtrak Vermonter passenger service, scheduled to begin December 29.
The money will buy 49 miles of track between the Connecticut and Vermont borders, once again carrying passenger trains through Greenfield, which was once a hub of freight and passenger train service.
“Every place a train has ever stopped, it’s been good for the local economy,” Patrick said. “When we invest in ourselves and in our future, we build a stronger and a more promising, more inclusive future,” he told a group of reporters and local and state officials at the Energy Park, built on the site of Greenfield’s last passenger rail station.
Using part of $73 million in federal funding awarded to Massachusetts for acquisition and upgrading of the line, the state is also in the process of building a rail platform onto the John W. Olver Regional Transit Center on Olive Street. It will serve the Vermonter service that would potentially shave 25 minutes off the detour through Palmer and Amherst that has been in place since 1989. Using $30 million from a new state transportation bond bill, the state is also refurbishing MBTA rail cars and locomotives for passenger train service between Greenfield and Springfield that is expected to be up and running in the next couple of years, depending on a state appropriation for operating funds.
“For a long time now, there has been demand and interest in improving Amtrak service on the Vermonter line so that it included the burgeoning activities and the growing population of ‘the Knowledge Corridor’ along the Connecticut River,” said the governor.
Use of the tracks will give flexibility to the state, which plans to contract with a rail operator to eventually begin north-south commuter service, to meet that demand.
“It’s a big deal,” said state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who along with Reps. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, were on hand at a press conference at the Energy Park. “It will give the state more control in how it’s used, and it’s set up nicely for the beginning of passenger rail service. I think a lot of people in Franklin County are looking forward to using it.”
The agreement between the state and Pan Am Southern, a joint venture of Pan Am and Norfolk Southern, has largely been completed, according to Mass. Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey.
The 49-mile stretch is now undergoing a major upgrade to allow for more efficient passenger service and better maintenance and enhancement of freight service, the administration said in a written press statement.
“Through this agreement, we are realizing the renewed value this infrastructure can have in creating economic opportunities throughout the region,” added Patrick.
The project will restore the original route of Amtrak’s Vermonter traveling between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., from its current route.
Starting in East Northfield, the restoration runs south to Springfield and includes the construction of three new station platforms in Greenfield, Northampton and Holyoke.
Begun in August 2012, the restoration consists of the replacement of about 95,000 rail ties, new continuously welded rail, new active warning signals and crossing gates at 23 public grade crossings, upgrades to six bridges and the first phase of a new signal installation. The restoration is funded through a $75 million grant awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration and approximately $40 million dollars in state funds. The work is expected to be complete in 2016, after the start of passenger service. These changes will improve safety, increase operating speeds for existing freight train traffic and the Vermonter and enhance capacity on the rail line to accommodate future increased levels of train traffic.
“What’s happening here, in terms of the expansion of the innovation economy, the energy in the collaborations around Greenfield and Northampton, Springfield and Holyoke, is enormously important,” Patrick said.
Davey stated, “The Knowledge Corridor is a rail asset that will play a key role in the region’s transportation system, both by delivering improved customer service in the form of faster travel times, as well as by being built to a standard that can accommodate more freight. Purchasing the line will also allow us to preserve the line’s viability for the long-term, and will position the commonwealth to use this line for increased passenger service that could provide commuters in the region a competitive alternative to driving on I-91.”
Davey said the state has also begun study of extending passenger rail service westward along Route 2 from Fitchburg, and Kulik said that the state’s development of commuter service along the Connecticut River even offers the potential for future rail service to the hilltowns.