Additional Greenfield trains coming in June
BRATTLEBORO — Advocates for expanded rail travel to Brattleboro and eventually to Montreal will be watching closely a two-and-a-half year program running two trains a day from Springfield, Mass. to Greenfield, Mass.
The commonwealth of Massachusetts inked an agreement last year with Connecticut and Amtrak to provide two extended daily trains from Springfield with stops in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. With that service, rail travelers will be able to board a train in Greenfield and be in New York City in a little more than four hours. One train will run in the morning and one later in the day in both directions, meaning travelers could conceivably travel to the city in the morning and be home that same night.
The only train currently traveling north of Springfield is Amtrak's Vermonter, which stops in Brattleboro. The Vermonter runs northbound and southbound each day between St. Albans and Washington, D.C.
The new Greenfield-New Haven trains will be run by Amtrak, with Amtrak equipment. Amtrak is training crews on the route right now in anticipation of the start of service later this year.
The pilot program will cost the Bay State $1 million a year and is expected to draw 24,000 passengers each year. Passengers riding the CTrail service will have to switch trains only once, in New Haven, Connecticut, on both the northbound and southbound trip.
Rail advocates will be disappointed to learn, however, that there are no plans right now for Vermont to work with Masschusetts and Connecticut on extending the service to Brattleboro.
"We're watching ridership numbers," said Dan Delabruere, Rail Program director for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. "But there are no current plans to bring that train to Brattleboro."
"The issue of course is cost," said state Rep. Mollie Burke, P-Windham 2-2 and a member of the Vermont House of Representative's Committee on Transportation. "Vermont pays Amtrak to run in Vermont, and it is all state money," she said, $8.3 million to be exact.
While extending the service to Brattleboro isn't under consideration, said Burke, one idea being discussed is running a bus from Brattleboro to Greenfield so folks can catch the train to New York.
Ben Heckscher, co-founder of Trains in the Valley, said because it's up to the state of Vermont to fund rail service traveling from Greenfield to Brattleboro, it's important that rail aficionados and riders advocate directly with their senators and representatives for funding.
"For the service to travel that far, it has to be driven by VTrans," said Heckscher.
Heckscher said each leg added to the service should come with the idea that the ultimate goal is to get service to extend all the way to Montreal.
"We have to take incremental steps," he said.
"Getting the train to Montreal is taking some time, and that would be an Amtrak project," said Burke. "Quebec needs to repair some of the track, and they need to build a secure immigration facility in Montreal."
Burke said there has been some positive movement with extending the Vermonter up to Montreal, with agreements to allow U.S. immigration officers on Canadian soil. However, noted Burke, the priority for the state of Vermont is to get the Ethan Allen Express all the way to Burlington.
"There is state money for improvements along the Western Corridor," she said. "The only federal money we receive for rail comes from competitive grants and some Federal Highway Administration formula funds."
Heckscher also noted that Greenfield just opened a new parking garage, which makes it easy for people north of town to drive down, park and get on the train.
"For anyone in the area it's a positive step, but it's not yet clear how Brattleboro and Vermont at large will integrate into the new service," said David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "We have talked with stakeholders about the expansion, to look at how Vermont might benefit, but solutions haven't yet been settled on."
In the meantime, said Carle, Leahy, as the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will continue to support Amtrak in the appropriations process.
"Once again, this year President Trump has proposed deep, slashing cuts to Amtrak, which Senator Leahy opposes," said Carle.
Burke said when rail travel was the primary mode of transportation in the Northeast, there were six trains running that could get folks from Brattleboro to New York City.
"We are definitely living in the dark ages and trying to encourage some light, but it is hard," she said.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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