Marketing money for Knowledge Corridor caps drive for extra train runs

  • Amtrak pulls into the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2019 5:41:45 PM

Greenfield will soon have expanded rail service to New York City, allowing people to travel back and forth in the same day, thanks to $250,000 voted unanimously by the state House and Senate to market the pilot program.

All the budget needs now is Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature, and what is known as the Knowledge Corridor Rail pilot program will begin being marketed. Extended service will start this summer with two additional trips daily to New York City.

Legislators said they’re confident the budget will be signed.

“It took three weeks longer than expected,” said Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “But it was worth the wait.”

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she is thrilled that the Knowledge Corridor pilot program will move forward.

“I am delighted that my colleague Sen. (Eric) Lesser and I were able to secure the money in the Senate budget for north-south passenger rail marketing,” Comerford said. “The funds will be used to raise critical public awareness and excitement at the onset of this pilot program.”

Comerford said the expanded train service is the result of years of work by many lawmakers at every level of government, and the marketing funds essentially lock in tens of millions of public dollars already invested in the project.

“I’m just very, very pleased,” Comerford said. “There were a number of really good things included in the budget, and this one, among many others, is going to be great for Franklin County.”

The state has an agreement to provide two extended daily CTrail trains beginning by the end of summer or early fall — two in the morning and two in the evening — both stopping in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. There will be one extra trip on weekends and holidays.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Economic Development Program Manager Jessica Atwood 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.

The state Department of Transportation has indicated the pilot program will become permanent if it can achieve a ridership of 24,000 new riders each year.

“That’s what we’ll be aiming for,” Mark said. “We want to make sure that ridership keeps going up, so that it does become permanent.”

According to FRCOG, Greenfield and the other Pioneer Valley train stations have seen steady increases in ridership since passenger rail service returned in 2015. Greenfield had ridership of 5,315 for the year in 2015 and today, ridership is up to 6,497 — an increase of 1,182. The other stations in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield have also seen steady increases.

Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said the rail pilot program has the opportunity to transform the region, connecting job-seekers to employers throughout cities and towns up and down the corridor, and also linking colleges.

Once Baker signs the budget, the $250,000 will go to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to market the Knowledge Corridor, which runs along the Connecticut River.

“Funds that will allow promoting this new, expanded Knowledge Corridor passenger rail service to the region will undeniably be crucial to its success and transitioning it from a pilot to permanent mobility asset,” Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan said previously.

The program will cost the state about $1 million a year to operate. It plans to evaluate the program at the end of two or three years to see if it is financially feasible to make it permanent.

 

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.


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