Figures don’t lie

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Much has been made of the great increase in ridership for trains between Greenfield and Springfield. The inference is that the “Knowledge Corridor” is a train cash cow now and, as a result of the “50 percent increase,” four additional round trips to New York are needed to handle the mob from Greenfield via Springfield.

Looking at Amtraks figures for Fiscal Year 2015, (for the eight months that it initially ran), the Vermonter carried 17,000 passengers between the stations of Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield. In 2016, the first full year the ridership was 24,000. The totals for 2017 are 28,000. The entire increase over the three years appears to be 11,000.

If 2015 had been a full year the actual figures would have been 21,000 and so the 50 percent increase in ridership is actually closer to 33 percent. By the same token, has Greenfield actually seen a 33 percent increase in ridership? Using 2016 to 2017 as a baseline, the figure for Greenfield 2016 ridership is 5920 and the figure for 2017 is 6290, an increase of 370 people or 16 percent. Dividing the annual ridership figures by 365 for Greenfield the daily passenger load with the current service is 17 representing an increase of maybe  one person per day.

In my view, Greenfield is not a mecca for north-south rail passengers. Why ? Well, you need to look no further than Route 91. We can drive to Springfield in an hour or less from Greenfield. We can drive from Greenfield to New Haven in two hours and take Metro North to New York.

We also have bus service to New York via Peter Pan and Greyhound that is generally less expensive than the train. Throw in the fact that the parking, accessibility, and station services provided to Amtrak passengers at Greenfield pale in comparison to what FRTA offers its passengers and you have the picture.

Does this mean that Greenfield should thumb it’s nose at this additional service? Absolutely not. While my suspicion is that the end result will be a negligible increase in ridership. I would also suspect that there will be a loss of riders on the Vermonter because the additional times of the new trains will probably siphon off some of its riders.

Sure it will be nice to have five trains that go to New York daily from Greenfield. And if one or more of those trains could go north to Montreal as opposed to St. Albans, that side of the equation would likely improve as well. However, if you ask area residents what they would like to see for additional train service from Greenfield, you’re going to hear eastern Massachusetts via Cambridge to Boston North Station in particular. Why? Well, it’s really simple really: Bruins, Celtics, Mass. General, Harvard, Boston Fine Arts Museum, State Offices, jobs, connections with Maine rail Passenger service. etc etc.

Lots of places where our people really would like to go by rail. In 1958 Greenfield had five trains to Boston daily. Our current transportation options going east are poor at best. Obviously there are no more trains from Greenfield to Boston. There is no bus service to Boston except via Springfield. Route two is still the substandard, say your rosary, two lane road from Greenfield to Templeton, and then a steady car jam from Fitchburg to Cambridge to Boston. So, instead of five trains to New York every day how about just four trains to New York and one 9 a.m. train to Boston and a train back by 6 p.m?

Tony Jewell

Shelburne Falls