I expected an update on the Knowledge Corridor plan at yesterday's rail meeting, but what I got was a very ambitious, and wide ranging vision of transportation in the Northeast. Including train runs from NYC to Montreal, into Bradley Airport, Springfield connected to Boston, Faster trains, and more connections. It took place at the PVPC's (Pioneer Valley Planning Commission) office in Springfield. It was presented by MassDOT, and CTDOT with the PVPC on hand.
To implement high-speed, intercity, and regional rail services from NYC to, New Haven - Springfield, Boston, and Montreal.
Provide major connections to the Northeast Corridor, Bradley International Airport, and New Britain - Hartford Busway.
Provide freight capacity and reliability.
Restore second main line between New Haven and Springfield.
Restore inland route and service capacity between NYC and Boston.
Restore service to Montreal.
Here in Western Mass the term "intercity service" will translate into trains running every hour between Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield. Depending on other factors, the service could be even better, running every half hour, and including cities from New Haven to St. Albans VT. We will also get a second main line to accommodate, and enhance freight service. Amtrak will run high speed regional service with an ave speed of 90 mph.
Working on these plans are: CT DOT, Mass DOT, VT AOT, Amtrak, Regional Freight operators, Metro North, Regional Communities, FRA (Federal Rail Administration), and FTA (Federal Trasit Administration).
The FRA is ramping up a new Billion dollar program to fund much of these projects, but the States will also have to chip in. And it will not happen overnight. The time line for these plans stretch over the next 20 years.
Knowledge Corridor plan
I expected yesterday's hearing to be an update on the Knowledge Corridor plan with an explanation of why the plan had stalled the past year. I also expected to hear that Amherst, and Palmer would be getting something out of it because of their well organized lobbying efforts.
Last year the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission presented the Knowledge Corridor plan at a meeting in Northampton. That plan, a realignment of the current passenger line up the Conn River Line,(Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield), is now contained within the 2030 Vision plan. Amherst and Palmer voiced opposition to the Knowledge Corridor plan when it was presented last year since it would end their current service, and provide new high speed service to the Conn River Line.
In February the project appeared to be dying on the vine when Connecticut officials were shocked to be left out of the current round of Federal funding after the Federal Department of Transportation "found deficiencies in many of the state's proposals". The rumor in the rail industry was that the deficiencies were a lack of public support for Connecticut's projects including the Knowledge Corridor plan. Then in April the project made a sudden comeback when the U.S. Secretary of Transportation indicated that the Connecticut River Valley may get high speed commuter rail service early because “This corridor has its act to together”.
Political intervention is obviously a major factor in getting the project moving again in April, and expanding it into a broader regional vision as part of the national rail plan. Although Tim Brennan from the PVPC cited climate change and energy crises as "agents moving this project forward for the good for all".
With planning on this scale Amherst, and Palmer's opposition to the Knowledge Corridor plan only added the chorus of communities asking for better rail service. Palmer should be pleased with this new regional vision. It includes them in a new passenger route to Boston. And Amherst? Well, as if the billions UMass receives, and free bus services aren't enough...
But what about Holyoke?
A site for Holyoke's rail station has not been selected yet. Amtrak claims that the old H. H. Richardson station is a bad choice because it's situated on a curve in the tracks where it would be difficult to pull parked train cars. However the railroader in the family tell me "that's bull". In the past Amtrak has opposed using historic stations because of the high costs to restore and maintain these buildings. It's become an unwritten policy of theirs to reject old structures at every opportunity. Two other sites were proposed last year. One at Pulaski Park, and the other at intersection of Dwight, and Main streets. Personally, I can't see the Pulaski Park location ever happening.
The current operator of the Conn River Line, Pan Am Rail, has been difficult to work with. It has one of the worst reputations in the industry. They never paid Holyoke's other railroad, PVRR, interchange fees, and forced the closure the interchange between the two of them in Holyoke. Holyoke's two railroads haven't connected to each other in years. PVRR serves Holyoke with daily train service from Westfield. Pan Am Rail no longer serves Holyoke but for a few trips trough the city each month. Their tracks are so bad that the number of FRA violations, called exceptions, are currently on for over 100 pages. For comparison, the PVRR is embarrassed if they receive 5 exceptions.
Ideas and Comments
If you would like to submit ideas and comments about 2030 Vision for Rail plan print out this form below, and mail it to:
Connecticut Department of Transportation Bureau of Policy and Planning Office of Environmental Planning, Room 2159 (NE2) PO Box 31746 Newington, CT 06131-7546