She’s back! Valley residents celebrate return of the Vermonter

  • Mason Branch stands with his daughter, Feli Branch as she and his wife, Kristin Holder, say goodbye. Holder was waiting with a group of others to board the Vermonter as it made its way into the Northampton station on its first run back in service after being shut down because of COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cynthia Jirak, a member of the Expandable Brass Band plays music as people wait for the Vermonter to pass through Northampton on its first run since it shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mason Branch stands with Sue Craft and his daughter, Feli Branch, and waves goodbye to his wife, Kristin Holder, as she boards the Vermonter on its first run back in service after being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2021 8:19:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Vermonter is back on the rails, offering daily trips to and from Washington, D.C., more than a year after service in Massachusetts and Vermont was suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak train Nos. 55 and 56, collectively nicknamed the Vermonter, have been out of service north of New Haven, Connecticut, since March 2020. Ridership plummeted during the pandemic, Amtrak said, dropping from 9,500 passengers in October 2019 to just 40 in the first month of widespread lockdowns and restrictions.

The Pioneer Valley-based rail advocacy group Trains in the Valley hosted a “Welcome Back” party at the Northampton station platform at 170 Pleasant St. on Monday.

“It’s a big day for the Vermonter and for rail transportation here in the Valley,” said Ben Heckscher, co- founder of Trains in the Valley. “We look forward to expanded rail service, with the help of our friends at MassDOT, in the near future.”

The state-funded trains have now resumed their normal daily schedule, connecting St. Albans, Vermont to Washington, D.C., with stops in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, Springfield, and other locations in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Train 55 runs south while train 56 travels north.

The Expandable Brass Band provided live music, and when the southbound train rolled into the station at around 3:10 p.m., cheers and applause erupted from the roughly 50 people who had come to see it. A volunteer handed out cookies and lemonade to celebrate the train’s first day back in service.

Train 55 was gone again in less than two minutes. Similar parties held at every stop had caused more than an hourlong delay in the scheduled 2:01 p.m. arrival of the Vermonter.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz declared July 19, 2021, to be “Amtrak Vermonter Train Day” in Northampton, citing the economic and environmental benefits of a well-traveled rail line.

“She was gone for a while during COVID, but we’re so excited to have her back,” Narkewicz said. “Passenger rail service will continue to be important to the economic and social health of the entire Pioneer Valley region.”

Narkewicz said it’s possible that the Vermonter will serve the Canadian city of Montreal, roughly 90 minutes from St. Albans by car, within the next few years.

Amtrak said in a statement that federal law requires all passengers to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, and that failure to comply can lead to a ban on future travel.


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