House approves $30 million for rail commuter service between Springfield and Greenfield

Last modified: Wednesday, February 05, 2014
GREENFIELD — The state expects most of the construction on a $2 million accessible train platform at the rear of the John W. Olver Regional Transportation Center will be completed by the end of this year, just before Amtrak returns to Greenfield after a more than 30-year absence.

Meanwhile, the House unanimously passed a $12 billion transportation bond last week that includes $30 million to refurbish MBTA passenger coaches and locomotive equipment for passenger commuter service between Springfield and Greenfield. The proposal, which is said to have support with members of Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, now moves to the Senate.

According to Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which is paying for the project, the state will build a high-level platform, which means it will be at the same elevation as the floor of a train.

Verseckes said the platform will be accessible to all and no one will have to climb stairs onto the platform or a train, if they cannot or do not want to.

He said the money for the platform will come mostly from a Federal Railroad Administration grant the state received, but the state will add some of its own money, because the federal grant only allows for construction of a low-level platform.

He said bike racks and benches will be installed on the platform.

Verseckes said the project will be sent out to bid and “substantial” completion is expected by the end of this year.

The news of the platform comes just a little more than a month after it was announced that Amtrak will begin running its first passenger train through Greenfield early next year. The last time Amtrak stopped in Greenfield was in the 1980s.

The state is currently negotiating with Pan Am Railways to purchase the 49 miles of track between Springfield and Northfield for about $17 million. Repairs to that track are being completed as part of the federally funded, $75 million process that’s expected to be complete this year. It is some of that $75 million that the state will use to build the platform.

This is all in preparation for the twice-daily run of Amtrak’s Vermonter to begin early in 2015, but officials are also beginning to look at the possibility of as many as four commuter trains a day running between Greenfield and Springfield.

Following the Legislature’s initial approval for acquiring used train equipment late Wednesday night, there are plans to add operating funds to the coming year’s budget which could have commuter trains, as well as the Vermonter, running through Greenfield next year.

Greenfield also has plans of its own as it prepares for commuter trains to return.

Mayor William Martin proposed the building of a four- or five-story municipal garage several years ago and the town is still seeking funding for that project.

Martin recently asked Town Council to approve purchase of the former Hapco auto parts building on Olive Street opposite the transit center from the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority, saying he believes the town has a better chance of securing grants and other types of funding for the municipal garage. Town Council and some of its committees are currently considering the request.

Because there is not a lot of parking on the regional transportation center property, Martin said it is critical to build a parking garage within the next couple of years.

FRTA Administrator Tina Cote said she has seen the preliminary designs of the platform, and there are still issues to be discussed with MassDOT, including who will maintain the platform that will be built adjacent to the back of the regional transportation center.

“We’re constantly communicating with the state about the design, which includes a roof to keep waiting passengers dry,” she said. “The design will tie in aesthetically with our building.”

Cote said FRTA will have to wait to see when trains will come through Greenfield to decide whether the building will be open during those times, especially if they are nights or weekends, when the building is currently closed.