Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer

  • Amtrak train in the Springfield RR Station.  STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Amtrak Vermonter stops in Northampton en route from Springfield to Greenfield.  STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2019 11:15:21 PM
Modified: 5/2/2019 11:15:10 PM

GREENFIELD — Expanded passenger rail service to and from Greenfield will happen as promised, but possibly not until the end of this summer.

“We don’t have a firm date yet, but it is going to happen,” Franklin Regional Council of Governments Transportation Planning and GIS Program Manager Maureen Mullaney said.

The extended service was originally planned for June, then it was pushed to July, and now, Mullaney said discussions with the state Department of Transportation and with Amtrak have revealed they need a little more time.

The expanded service will include two extra trips to and from Greenfield on weekdays and one extra trip on weekends and holidays.

Mullaney said the extra trips will allow passengers to leave the John W. Olver Transit Center for New York City early in the morning and return later that night. That can’t happen currently, she said, because there is only one round trip a day to and from Greenfield — the Vermonter leaves the John W. Olver Transit Center at 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and returns at 4:30 p.m.

“People have to make plans to stay overnight if they want to go into the city,” Mullaney said.

But the state has an agreement with Connecticut authorities and Amtrak to provide the two extended daily CTrail trains from Springfield with stops in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield as part of a pilot program — one train will run in the morning and one will run later in the night, north and south, on what is known as the Knowledge Corridor line that runs along the Connecticut River.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Economic Development Program Manager Jessica Atwood said during the week, there will be 6 and 8 a.m. trains leaving Greenfield, as well as the 1:30 p.m. train, and 10 p.m. and midnight trains returning, along with the 4 p.m. one. That means, a rider could leave for New York City at 6 a.m. and return on either of the late trains.

Atwood said there would be a 9:30 a.m. train added to the schedule on weekends and holidays — currently, there is one train that leaves Greenfield at 1:35 p.m. on those days. She said a 7:30 p.m. train would be added to the schedule.

Mullaney and Atwood said the state and Amtrak are still discussing fares, but it appears, at this point, they are not going to change.

“Our legislators are fighting hard for fare equity,” said Mullaney. “So, we’ll see what happens.

Extended passenger rail service was announced last year around this time by Gov. Charlie Baker. It will cost the state about $1 million a year to operate, and the state plans to evaluate the program at the end of between two and three years to see if it is financially feasible to make it permanent.

Mullaney and Atwood said Greenfield and the other Pioneer Valley stations have seen steady increases in ridership since passenger rail service returned in 2015.

Greenfield saw a ridership of 5,315 for the year in 2015 and today, ridership each year is up to 6,497 — an increase of 1,182. The other stations in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield have also seen steady increases. The total increase for all five stations in the Pioneer Valley went from a yearly ridership of 25,133 in 2015 to 32,378 in 2018 — an increase of 7,245.

“More and more people are taking the train,” Mullaney said. “We believe we can market this so that it continues to happen.”

“From an economic development standpoint, this really benefits residents who want more travel options,” Atwood said. “As train travel becomes more and more popular, it will also encourage people to move to Greenfield and the surrounding area.”

Atwood said train travel will also encourage more people to come to Greenfield and Franklin County to visit, vacation and do business. 

“It will make it easier for them to come to the Green River Festival, whitewater rafting and more,” she said.

Mullaney said train travel is also a way to encourage people to do their part to fight global warming. And, it allows people to travel without having to do the driving themselves, allows them to get work or other things done while traveling, keeps them from having to sit in congested traffic and they don’t have to pay extremely high parking prices in cities they are traveling to.

The two said the ultimate goal is to not only make the pilot program permanent once it has been evaluated, but to add even more trips, if ridership continues to increase.

“It takes time to establish a service like this,” Mullaney said. “We hope the state and Amtrak see that people won’t want to invest in passenger rail travel if they think it will disappear on them.”

Mullaney said to get the most accurate numbers of the pilot program, it should be evaluated in three to five years, but the state and Amtrak will decide the time frame. 

Atwood said FRCOG is surveying riders to see where they’re going and how long they’re going for, so that the agency will have information for the state and itself as expanded passenger rail service begins and continues. She said FRCOG will also eventually survey people to see what they’re doing when they reach their destinations. She said she would eventually like to know who is leaving Greenfield and for what reasons, as well as who is coming into Greenfield and for what reasons.

“In the end, I think more and more people will decide to take the train,” Atwood said. “For some it’s about nostalgia, while for others, it’s about convenience or simply that they can get up and move around during a long trip.”


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