Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts Department of Transportation’

Valley Flyer Gets Ridership Goal for Continued Funding

February 14, 2020

Preservation of Amtrak’s Valley Flyer will hinge on the experimental service handling 24,000 passengers a year by 2021.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has set that ridership goal that must be met if the state is to continue it funding of the service between Springfield and Greenfield.

The Valley Flyer began operations on Aug. 30, 2019, and also stops in Holyoke and Northhampton.

The line is also used by the Vermonter, which is funded by the state of Vermont.

Massachusetts is paying $1 million a year to support the Valley Flyer.

The ridership goal is double the number of passengers that were being handled by the Vermonter before the Valley Flyer began service.

Dana Roscoe, principal planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in Springfield, said supporters of the Valley Flyer are trying to determine how ridership has been going.

They have sent staff to station platforms to count the number of passengers boarding and disembarking.

Compiling ridership data is complicated by the fact that Amtrak only publishes that information once a year.

“We can’t just have an annual number and go with that,” Roscoe said. “At this point I honestly can’t tell you how we’re doing. My sense, completely anecdotal and word-of-mouth and from visiting stations, is that we are probably doing OK but we are absolutely are not where we need to be.”

Officials do know from Amtrak ridership data that patronage of the line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield has been growing at a rate of 25 percent a year.

The ridership information gleaned from hand counting Valley Flyer passengers will be used as part of a $350,000 marketing and branding campaign seeking to boost business.

In the meantime, the Connecticut Department of Transportation plans to improve stations in that state at Windsor and Windsor Locks.

The work will include installation of platforms on each side of the tracks, sheltered waiting areas, real-time train arrival displays, snow melt systems at ramps and on platforms, parking on both the east and west sides of the tracks, and security cameras and emergency phones.

That work is expected to be completed in 2021.

The work at Windsor Locks station includes a single platform, a multi-use trail with connections to the Canal Trail via Bridge Street, parking, and other amenities.

The 510-foot-long platform will comply with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with level boarding from every train car.

Other work being undertaken by CTDOT includes adding a second tracks north of Hartford to increase the frequency of service in the region.

A connecting is being built in Windsor Locks to link to Bradley International Airport and digital displays are being installed at stations on the Hartford Line station to provide real-time train arrival and departure times.

Mass. Rail Expansion Plan Has Costly Numbers

February 8, 2020

A study by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimates that expanding rail passenger service between Boston and the western region of the state could cost upwards of $25 billion.

However, the study drew fire from rail passenger advocates who questioned its methodology.

The study laid out six proposals. The lowest cost plan would be to increase service between Boston and Springfield and creating bus connections to Pittsfield.

That plan will cost an estimated $2 billion.

The high end proposal of $25 billion would create 150-mph high-speed service.

MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack described the cost estimates as “sobering” and said federal funding will be needed to “get this done.”

However, former Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi criticized the study as containing “questionable modeling” that he said is “unreliable and deliberately negative.”

The only Amtrak service currently linking Boston and the western region of the state is the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago.

FRA Grants to Benefit Passenger Rail

August 27, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the awarding of more than $272 million in grant funding to 10 rail projects through its State of Good Repair Program.

Several of those projects will benefit passenger rail.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded up to $23.3 million for a rehabilitation work on the state-owned line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

The project entails rebuilding rail, crossties and track surfaces, and replacing two railroad bridges in Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $15.1 million to rehabilitate and upgrade an interlocking plant in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines.

Work will include slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration.

Chicago commuter agency Metra will receive $17.8 million to construct a new grade-separated, double-tracked rail bridge over Milwaukee Avenue north of the Grayland Metra Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line in Chicago.

The city-owned New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal will receive $3.7 million to complete final design for upgrading station platforms and train service capabilities.

The platform modifications will bring the platforms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase platform height to provide level boarding for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans, and improve the step height for boarding the Crescent.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation was awarded $41.2 million to replace and upgrade Tower I interlocking, a major rail network junction at the entrance to the Boston South Station terminal area.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation received $76.9 million for the Piedmont intercity fleet and infrastructure investments project.

The project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Rail-car Maintenance Facility.

New Jersey Transit received $18.4 million for platform D improvements at Newark Penn Station. The project includes repairing and/or replacing Platform D slabs and joints, reconstructing platform edges, installing new tactile strips and timber rub rails, repairing the overhead canopy and upgrading lighting.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation was awarded $12.5 million for a major rehabilitation of the Amtrak station in Providence.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was awarded $37.5 million to procure three new consists for use in the Amtrak Cascades service.

The project will replace the three Washington state-owned Talgo VI trainsets: two used in current service and one damaged in the December 2017 derailment.

The loss of the damaged trainset reduced the Amtrak Cascades schedule from six to four daily round trips.

The project will enable WSDOT to meet existing and anticipated passenger demand, and allow Washington to retire its Talgo VI trainsets.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was awarded $25.7 million to replace deteriorated, outdated passenger cab-baggage and coach cars used in the Chicago–Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha service with three single-level cab-coach cars and six single-level coach cars.

Funding Approved for Berkshire Flyer Pilot Program

August 2, 2019

Funding has been approved by the State of Massachusetts for a two-year pilot program to launch Amtrak service from New York City to Berkshire County in Massachusetts.

The Berkshire Flyer has been allotted “not less than $270,000” for its inaugural year, which is expected to start in Spring 2020.

Legislation authorizing the funding also set aside $30,000 for a project manager and $100,000 for marketing the service.

The Flyer is will operate on weekends during the summer season between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, using the Empire Corridor to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and the route of the Lake Shore Limited east of there.

One train is expected to operate from New York to Pittsfield on Friday while its counterpart will return to New York on Sunday.

Trains will operate from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends with the fare set at $70 each way.

A marketing plan will be created by 1Berkshire, the county’s economic development and tourism council while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation needs to work out schedules and other logistical matters with Amtrak.

Also involved in the planning and implementation of the service will be the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.

Boston-Springfield Proposal Gets Boost in Boston

May 9, 2019

A proposal to launch rail passenger service between Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, got a boost when the Boston City Council approved a resolution in support of the service.

It was the first time the council had expressed support for the service, which would be operated by MBTA.

Council member Matt O’Malley, who offered the resolution, described the proposed service as having the potential to be transformative for both cities.

O’Malley said rail service to Springfield could directly address housing and environmental issues.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is currently studying the proposed service as part of its East-West Passenger Rail Study.

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited currently operates between the two cities, but does not have a commuter friendly schedule.

Greenfield Still Awaits Date for New Service

May 5, 2019

Officials in Greenfield, Massachusetts, are still awaiting a date for when expanded Amtrak service to that community will begin.

They are hoping that it will get underway by the end of summer.

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

The new service has already been delayed, having once been planned to start in June and then in July.

But now, Mullaney said, Amtrak and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation have told the city it needs more time.

The new service will link Greenfield with New York City and include two extra trips on weekdays and one extra trip on weekends and holidays.

The trains will depart the John W. Olver Transit Center at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and returning in the evening.

The existing service to Greenfield by the Vermonter leave Greenfield southbound at 1:30 p.m., 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.

The additional service was made possible by an agreement with Connecticut and Amtrak to for a pilot program to provide the two extended daily CTrail trains from Springfield with stops in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield.

This service would be in addition to the existing Vermonter schedules, which are not expected to change.

The pilot program is expected to cost about $1 million a year to operate.

Greenfield has seen rising Amtrak ridership of late. It has increased from 5,315 in 2015 to 6,497 last year.

Ridership has also been rising at stations in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield.

Report Backs Berkshire Flyer Proposal

March 14, 2019

A group seeking to establish experimental Amtrak service to Berkshire County in Massachusetts from New York has issued a report calling for a two-year pilot program to start in 2020.

The service, dubbed the Berkshire Flyer, would operate on weekends between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, using routes now used by Amtrak.

During the pilot period, one train would operate on Fridays to Pittsfield while the return train to New York would operate on Sundays.

The season would begin with Memorial Day weekend and last through Columbus Day weekend. Fares are expected to be $70 each way.

The report indicated that an earlier option to operate through Connecticut on the freight-only Housatonic Railroad would cost $300 million.

State Senator Adam Hinds of Pittsfield introduced legislation directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to create a working group to study the feasibility of service using Amtrak’s Empire Corridor and CSX tracks that host the Chicago-Boston Lake Shore Limited.

“They reported back that it was, in fact, feasible, would be beneficial economically, and would require no new capital investment for the infrastructure,” Hinds said.

The report also estimated that it would cost $421,561 to start the program in June 2020.

Ticket revenue is expected to be $184,000, leaving $237,561 to be raised elsewhere, Hinds said, adding that a combination of federal, state, and local funding might be used to launch the Berkshire service.

The service will also need a sponsor who can serve as the go between with host railroads Amtrak and CSX, as well as government agencies and private companies involved in the service.

Vermonters Still Wary Of Service Future

May 3, 2018

Although Vermont officials and rail passenger advocates are optimistic that Amtrak service to their state will survive, they are not taking that for granted.

Many in Vermont became alarmed after Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional hearing in February that the passenger carrier would likely suspend service using routes that are not protected by positive train control.

Anderson was speaking about the prospect that some of its host railroads might not meet a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline set by federal law to install PTC.

However, the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express and Washington-St. Albans Vermonter use routes in the Green Mountain state that are not required to have PTC under federal law.

Both trains are funded in part by the State of Vermont.

Following Anderson’s comment an Amtrak government affairs manager tried to downplay the matter, suggesting that Vermont’s trains are likely to continue.

Amtrak is studying how and if to operate on route that are not required to have PTC.

However, of late Vermont officials have sound the alarm again because they say that Amtrak officials have been noncommittal in speaking about the future of the Vermont service.

They say Amtrak has not yet ruled out the possibility at the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will cease operating to Vermont on Jan. 1, 2019.

Another complication, Vermont officials say, is the prospect that a segment of the Vermonter’s route in Massachusetts may not meet administrative requirements that would reassure Amtrak of its safety.

The segment in question is 49 miles owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that it purchased in 2014 from Pan Am Railways so that the Vermonter would reach a higher population base.

The resulted in rerouting the Vermonter from a route via Amherst to a route via Northhampton.

There are no plans at present to install PTC on that line.

There is little rail traffic on the route and the Federal Railroad Administration might be willing to grant it a waiver from the PTC requirement.

The Vermont Business Magazine said it had spoken with two sources who attended an April 16 meeting in Washington of the Rail Passenger Association, a national advocacy group.

During that meeting, Chris Jagodzinski, Amtrak’s vice president for operations, displayed a map indicating, in practice, the relative likelihood that Amtrak would cease serving certain route segments.

The sources said the 49-mile segment in Massachusetts is rated among the highest-risk routes because its lacks a PTC plan.

Vermont officials fear that Amtrak might refuse to run the Vermonter north of Springfield and instead carry passengers there by bus.

They also fear that once rail service is lost, it might be difficult to get it back.

A MassDOT spokesperson declined to comment on the PTC issue other than to make an innocuous statement in support of rail passenger service and referring specific questions to Amtrak.

Nonetheless, a source told the Vermont Business Magazine that MassDOT is working with the FRA, Amtrak and Pan Am to resolve the PTC issue, which the source said appears to be “solvable” by the PTC deadline.

An Amtrak spokesperson said the carrier is just now beginning to undertake a safety review of the Ethan Allen route and has yet to begin the review of the Vermonter route.

Federal law requires that if service is to be terminated by Amtrak, it must give 180 days notice. If service to Vermont is end or be suspended on Jan. 1, 2019, the notice would need to be given by July 5.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the tracks used by the Vermonter in Vermont are seeking a $1.6 million grant under the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program that could be used to pay for safety equipment.

This could includes, for example, the installation of rock slide detectors.

“At this point the ball is in Amtrak’s court,” Michele Boomhower, director of policy planning and intermodal development at VTrans, said. “We have no time frame for anything changing, so we’re operating on a business-as-usual framework, awaiting Amtrak’s safety analysis.”

Berkshire Passenger Study Set

September 30, 2017

A working group seeking to bring intercity rail passenger service to the Berkshire Mountains recently held its first meeting.

The group is studying establishment of seasonal train service between the Berkshires in Massachusetts and New York City.

The NYC/Berkshire Passenger Rail Working Group is overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and was included the state’s fiscal 2018 budget bill.

The group will conduct a study to identify and evaluate the economic and cultural benefits, while also identifying any legal, logistical, or political challenges that may knock the project off track.

Members of the group include federal and state transportation officials, local representatives, industry leaders, and transportation advocates. Their report is due by March 1.