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Another Amtrak train on track?

Even as the state completes purchase of north-south rail track and work proceeds on track repairs to reroute Amtrak service through Greenfield, a study is underway to provide a Boston-to-Montreal service through town.

The Inland Rail Study is considering a 484-mile route through Springfield that would go beyond the St. Albans terminus of Amtrak’s Vermonter and connect the Northeast with a northern anchor in the Quebec capital, traveling at an estimated top speed of 90 miles an hour, Franklin County’s regional transportation planning manager Maureen Mullaney told the Franklin Regional Planning Board this week.

That’s lightning speed compared to the 10 mph top speed of the existing Vermonter service in some areas with deteriorated track, which is being re-routed from a Palmer-Amherst-Northfield track by the start of next year, thanks to $73 million in federal money. It’s even faster than the 60- to 75-mph speeds of the new Vermonter, for which a $2 million platform is planned for construction this summer at Greenfield’s John W. Olver Transportation Center.

Eliminating the jag in the existing route would also cut 90 minutes off the trip, Mullaney said.

The inland study undertaken by Massachusetts and Vermont’s transportation departments in collaboration with their Quebec and Connecticut counterparts and support from the Federal Railway Administration, is examining the potential of more frequent, higher speed intercity passenger rail service, as well as ridership potential on the Boston-to-Montreal path, using existing rail corridors.

Mullaney said it’s unclear yet whether a Boston-to-Montreal train through Greenfield would be the same, extended Vermonter run that appears scheduled to arrive in town each afternoon in either direction, or whether it might be one of the two or three Amtrak runs that are envisioned after the higher-speed service gets established.

In any case, it would connect Greenfield with Montreal as well as faster rail service to New Haven, New York City and Washington, D.C.

One hang-up remaining, Mullaney said, is how the border crossing would work in a way that doesn’t require all passengers to disembark at either side yet meets Homeland Security and customs requirements. Service studies and environmental reviews should be done by the fall of 2015, Mullaney said, and service could conceivably begin as early as 2016 on a new generation of Montrealer, which is what the Amtrak service had once been called.

At a January hearing in White River Junction, Vt., some questioned why a train to that city from Boston had to travel through Springfield, Mass. One person compared it to keeping the two sides of a triangle and “cutting out the hypotenuse.” But 60 miles of track between Concord, N.H. and White River Junction was removed years ago, and in 2003 New Hampshire balked at reinstating it.

Work on improving the track, which has already been completed between Greenfield and the Vermont border, is expected to take place this spring and summer, Mullaney said.

On the Web: http://bit.ly/1hEKUFQ

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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