Valley Rail: Cash for Clickity-Clackers

Comments (21)
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Photo By Mark Roessler
The former Holyoke train station, designed by H.H. Richardson

Train service will return to towns along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts within the next two years, along with three new station stops: one new and two renovated.

Last week, President Obama announced $8 billion dollars in federal stimulus grants for high-speed rail projects across the country—$160 million of which will be devoted to upgrading and rerouting the Amtrak Vermonter route between New Haven and St. Albans in Vermont.

Funds will be divided between the three states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont—with $70 million going toward redirecting the train from its current path through Palmer and Amherst to its original route along the river through Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. The announcement is a victory for the region and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), who has dubbed the route "The Knowledge Corridor" and has been advocating for such an investment for many years.

According to Dana Roscoe, who has spearheaded the Knowledge Corridor project for PVPC, the monies granted will fully fund the proposed project, and will pay for "double tracking in sections that are currently single tracked" over the next two years. Initially, the improvements will allow Amtrak's Vermonter to return to its original route from the "Palmer Detour," which currently takes the twice-daily train via Palmer and Amherst, adding nearly 10.5 miles to the route and a 15-minute delay as the train changes directions in Palmer.

There are plans to expand the service in the Valley beyond the Vermonter. Connecticut has received $40 million to upgrade its commuter line between New Haven and Springfield, and working with that state, Roscoe explains, "We hope to expand that service north to at least as far as Northampton. Connecticut has committed to 30 trips a day, 15 in the morning and 15 in the evening."

A "Summary of Regional Investments" issued by the federal government describing the rail grants stated, "A station will be restored in Northampton, and a new station built in Greenfield." A site for a new multi-modal transportation hub has already been selected in Greenfield, and the former Toyota dealership has already been cleared for a bus depot there. Soon a train platform will be included. The summary did not explain what would happen in Holyoke.

"When we submitted the application," Roscoe said, "the original Holyoke train station was owned privately, but it's since been purchased by Holyoke Gas & Electric."

The historic building was designed by H. H. Richardson. In an interview last year, former Holyoke mayor Michael Sullivan had said renovation was unlikely and a new station would be built made up of "modular, pre-engineered structures." Roscoe said that since the building was now owned by the city, while three locations are being considered, they were "looking seriously" at reusing the former train station at the corner of Bowers and Lyman streets.

Terri Anderson, Northampton's Director of Economic Development, confirmed that initially that city's Union Station will return to use as the hub of the Paradise City's passenger train traffic. "We'll upgrade the platform and install a self-service kiosk," she said, but stressed this would be an interim solution. City officials are considering other locations in town, near the tracks, where a multi-modal transportation hub could be built.

"The project also includes a tunnel under the tracks for bicycle riders using the Norowottuck Rail Trail," Anderson said. The proposed tunnel will be placed somewhere along King Street, allowing bicyclists to connect with the trail where it continues through the North Street neighborhoods.

The tunnel was included as an in-kind contribution from the state, Roscoe said, and he agrees it's necessary: "I was out surveying the line the other day, and we counted four locations where the tracks were beaten down by foot traffic crossing back and forth." The new train lines will allow trains to travel up to 79 miles per hour, but most trains will run at about 55 miles per hour. The line is owned by Pan Am Rails (formerly Guilford Rail), and the improvements will also permit greater access for Pan Am's freight business. Roscoe said part of the plan was to build more turnouts—side rails for parking slower trains—so that passenger rail would not be affected by the freight traffic.

While local lawmakers hailed the decision on the first day of the announcement, subsequent media analysis was less sanguine. The Daily Hampshire Gazette had a cover story that noted that Amherst would not be included in the proposed "Knowledge Corridor," though that had been reported over a year ago by the Advocate and other papers. The Boston Globe's reporting noted that New England had been "outgunned" by other states for the funds, pointing out that California and Florida had each gotten $2.3 and $1.2 billion respectively, and that an improved southern coastal route via Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts had been denied funding.

This hasn't muted Roscoe's excitement for the project. He points out that the state has shown a lot of interest in improving east-west rail connectivity between Springfield and Boston that would include a Palmer stop, and that Congressman Olver has secured funding for a feasibility study and the Department of Transportation is preparing a request for proposals. He and the PVPC have always supported upgrading this corridor as a more practical option than keeping the Amherst station open. "Looking at these projects globally," he said, "an alternate route between Boston and New York would provide competition with the southern route along the coast, and be better for the region."

Comments (21)
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I would hope the City of Northampton would give serious consideration to the old Honda dealership located on King Street across from Finn Street..
Posted by PhilB. on 2.2.10 at 15:18
A "Knowledge Corridor" that goes through the 1 of the 5 college towns is a oxymoron. At the very least Amtrak thruway dedicated bus service from Mount Holyoke in South Hadley to the Holyoke Amtrak Station together with UMass, Hampshire and Amherst having dedicated bus service to Amtrak Northampton woul dbe wise. It is also strikes me as unfair that Massachusetts is now clearly a parasite off of rail transportation paid by the states of Vermont and Connecticut. I believe it is time for the Commonwealth to contribute to rail travel in Western Massachusetts. The paid extension of one Amtrak train daily that now ends in Springfield onward to Palmer, Belchertown and Amherst would be cheap.
Posted by Paul on 2.3.10 at 5:22
Congratulations to Tim Brennan and the PVPC. the Pioneer Valley shoudl be proud of having such effective advocates. I for one can't wait to jump on the train here in Hartford,and have lunch or a rail trail ride to Amherst from Noho.
Posted by David Panagore on 2.3.10 at 16:21
Again, props to PVPC. They're a great bunch of planners. I really hope they decide to renovate the HH Richardson train station--it's a real architectural treasure. I wonder how much Northampton will get for the construction of a new station. Hopefully they can afford to put something up that's worthy of the downtown. As far as buses go, the PVTA inter-college routes will probably re-route through the new multi-modal stations.
Posted by Phil LaCombe on 2.3.10 at 18:41
This is so exciting!!! I hope it can boost Greenfield's economy and lessen the stress of traveling on rt 91. I'm very happy they've kept bicyclists in mind regarding the tunnels. Hopefully we'll get one going from Western Mass to Boston! Yay trains!!!
Posted by Emily on 2.4.10 at 17:43
can you have something stop in one of the hilltowns like chester huntington or russell ????????? we need something desperately up here . there used to be a station in huntington and chester...........
Posted by amy on 2.5.10 at 18:38
Lets just hope we don't turn the tracks in to another bike path in 10 years... A train up the 91 route and east to Boston is about the most obvious thing we could possibly do! We need more trains over the entire country! i 2nd the Honda Dealership, We don't need something congesting the downtown, and it's close enough for most to walk to, or take the bike path :-)
Posted by Brian on 2.7.10 at 11:03
what great news! i think it's key to make a transit hub. you don't want to carry suitcases, a baby stroller, or heavy groceries 5 blocks in january for a transfer. while the honda dealership offers space, the east-west Rte 9 bus lines, as well as buses to easthampton and holyoke, would have to add a significant amount of time to their schedules to travel up and down that congested stretch of King St. but i have to admit i don't know where the best place it.
Posted by mike on 2.8.10 at 10:15
Really? Common sense public transportation? Who knew?
Posted by Orange Julius on 2.11.10 at 11:01
Just found out tonight that Mayor Higgins is pushing to have the new train station located behind the Registry of Deeds where there is no parking let alone long term parking. The committee for this issue will all be people appointed by the Mayor. I am sure taht she will not appoint people with a viewpoint that is opposite to hers. From what I understand she considers the Honda Dealership to be to far out of town.
Posted by PhilB. on 2.13.10 at 21:30

I wish Greenfield (Where I live) would dump the Energy Park and restore the station to it's original spot. It's a shame the station was torn down in 1966 in the first place. Do you want the new transportation depot on an old Toyota dealer the cars will it run away from you? DUMP THE ENERGY PARK IN GREENFIELD!!

Posted by whately47 on 3.21.10 at 20:27

I traveled by train from Middlebury, VT to Greenfield in 1947 as a 3 1/2 year old and remember it well. I find it so hard to believe that the old B&M route along the Connecticut River has been allowed to languish in such bad shape for this long!

Funding and cooperation with the owner of this segment of track should have corrected this problem years ago!

Service to Palmer should be on a Springfield-Boston train or on a Boston to Vermont train via Palmer and Amherst.

Posted by C2Cin2006 on 11.3.10 at 10:30

It was later announced at the recent State of the Union address that the President would in fact like to install a national rail system in the next few years. The truth is, I just can't see that actually happening in this economy. It would seem that creating jobs (lasting jobs, not just ones to build a rail line) and defending the country are more important, and more likely to get funded, but I'm just one guy.

Posted by Moving Companies on 2.24.11 at 13:17

How about (re)using the 'old' train station by the Depot Restaurant in Northampton? Its right in downtown, all ready for re-use, and there is a public parking lot right there.

Posted by mellyk on 2.25.11 at 9:53

I think opening the old station would serve the community very well. Not only will it help to create jobs but it will also help to ease some of the traffic congestion in the area.

Posted by paid surveys on 4.9.11 at 13:00

Service to Palmer should be on a Springfield-Boston train or on a Boston to Vermont train via Palmer and Amherst.

Posted by weight loss tips on 5.11.11 at 13:56

I think this project will improve the railway around the plamar route which is really a nice news. This project of $160 million is really something special achieved by president obama. What i want to know is something more about Dana Roscoe who is about to invest into these project.

Posted by Engagement rings Briz on 5.18.11 at 12:09

The committee for this issue will all be people appointed by the Mayor.

Posted by how to lose weight fast on 6.21.11 at 9:49

From what I understand she considers the Honda Dealership to be to far out of town.

Posted by loestrin 24 coupon on 9.6.11 at 14:16

Congratulations to Tim Brennan and the PVPC. the Pioneer Valley shoudl be proud of having such effective advocates.

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