Valley Flyer Trains designed to fail

  • At 5:45 a.m. the inaugural trip of the new Valley Flyer, Amtrak’s new rail service, leaves Greenfield headed south. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 2/14/2020 9:20:25 AM
Modified: 2/14/2020 9:20:14 AM

Tina Cote, administrator for the Franklin Regional Transit Authority, kindly replied, at length, to My Turn piece regarding the mostly unused public meeting room in the John W. Olver Transit Center. And she generously shared with me the four-page John W. Olver Transit Center Meeting Room Policy — four pages of bureaucratic nonsense in my opinion. The clinkers are no meetings after 5 p.m. and a $50-$100 charge. Contrast that with the Greenfield Cooperative Bank, which allows one of my 501(c)(3)’s to use their elegant meeting room, whenever available, with these requests: leave the room as you found it and return the key.

Other than my frustration, as a Greenfield taxpayer, with an underutilized asset, my interest in the meeting room is minimal at age 77. My selfish interest is continuation of the Valley Flyer service as it fits my needs very well, and I love it. But it won’t survive on my using it four times a year as I Amtrak out for Texas, California or Oregon.

The Valley Flyer was designed to fail, just like the recent Peter Pan services connecting Greenfield with Albany. It is quite likely you never even heard of that affordable, convenient, fast, and comfortable bus service connecting West County with the capital of New York. And that is why it failed: no publicity, and a missing stop. Instead of going to the Albany Amtrak station in Rensselaer, the bus missed what I believe would be the destination for most folks.

I rode it three times from Shelburne Falls and walked over to the Amtrak station — something I would not wish to do in inclement weather, or with a lot of baggage. The first time I requested a ticket in the Albany bus station back to Shelburne Falls, I was told there was no such place. Then I showed the agent a printed timetable.

The main issue with Amtrak is it in not user-friendly. Besides having to wait out in the cold in Greenfield, just purchasing a ticket can be a real hassle. Tina Cote claims that she is not allowed to sell Amtrak tickets. Which only shows she does not understand the system. Anyone with the proper tools can generate Amtrak tickets.

Amtrak is persnickety as to who rides their trains, but does not care who pays for the ticket. So I could set up shop in the John W. Olver Transit Center tomorrow, with my smart phone, a portable printer and my credit card and help folks purchase Amtrak tickets, if they were lacking either in skills, or one of the tools needed, like a credit card. I could do that, but I am a busy boy. And I fully understand Tina not wishing to get involved with the complexities.

As for designed to fail, MassDOT has proven, that when it comes to the environment, it has no interest in taking traffic off of I-91. The walk-up fare for the 36 miles Greenfield to Springfield is $26. The cheapest internet, two weeks in advance fare, is $14. That’s 72, or 39 cents, per mile (CPM). The CTrail Hartford line walk up fare for the 62 miles Springfield to New Haven is $12.75 (20.5 CPM), $6.25 for seniors (10 CPM). Metro-North charges $17.75 Off-Peak for the 73 miles from New Haven to New York (24.3 CPM) while seniors pay $11.75 (16 CPM). Further afield, TEXRail, with all new equipment on a new railroad, charges $2.50 for 27 miles. Meanwhile Valley Flyer trains crawl along through the four Massachusetts cities with 98-99.9% of the seats empty.

Designed to fail does not mean it will. Just look at Amtrak. Fortunately, a lot of good people are working hard to change the current situation. MassDOT gets a lot of credit for infrastructure improvements on a line that had been ignored since 1981. Piles of new crossties sitting line side, unused for three years, may lead you to believe otherwise.

Hopefully, Tina Cote will succeed in her quest to find another food vendor for the John W. Olver Transit Center. Otherwise pack a big lunch if you are using Metro-North to go to The City, or take a meal break in Springfield or New Haven. And if you can figure out what to do with your luggage in Springfield, while waiting four hours and 20 minutes for the Chicago train, please let me know.

Alden H. Dreyer is a resident of Shelburne.



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