Passenger rail ridership continues to climb on Valley line

  • The Amtrak Vermonter stops in Northampton en route from Springfield to Greenfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Amtrak Vermonter pulls into the station at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield in February. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2019 8:00:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the state prepares to launch an expansion of north-south passenger rail service later this summer through Northampton, city officials say the steady increase in ridership since the service began in late 2014 proves the demand is there to support more trains.

“Every year the ridership has continued to increase,” Mayor David Narkewicz said Monday.

Since fiscal 2016, total ridership on the Amtrak Vermonter to and from Holyoke, Greenfield and Northampton has increased by 20 percent, according to statistics provided by the mayor’s office. In total, 29,698 rides originated from or ended in those three communities in fiscal 2018, comprising 30 percent of the Vermonter’s overall ridership.

Northampton has been the driving force behind that increase, with ridership originating from its Pleasant Street station jumping by 26 percent between fiscal 2016 and 2018, from 17,197 riders to 21,619.

Trips originating from and ending in Northampton made up more than one fifth of all rides in fiscal 2018.

Holyoke and Greenfield have also seen increases, but at 1.6 percent and 6.7 percent in fiscal 2018, they are a far smaller percentage.

“It’s been a very healthy set of increases,” said Terry Masterson, Northampton’s economic development director.

Amtrak’s Vermonter service extends from St. Albans, Vermont, to Washington, D.C., with stops in Springfield, New York City and Philadelphia as well.

A year ago, Massachusetts officials announced an agreement with Connecticut authorities and Amtrak to provide the expanded north-south service on a two-year trial basis. The trains will be continuations of Amtrak shuttles run from New Haven, Connecticut, as part of the CTrail Hartford Line.

For Northampton, that means two additional trains in the morning and two later in the day. While Masterson did not give specific times, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments told the Greenfield Recorder that there will be 6 and 8 a.m. trains leaving Greenfield, and 10 p.m. and midnight trains returning on non-holiday weekdays as part of the program. The program also expands weekend service to Greenfield.

The Vermonter is the only passenger train traveling north of Springfield now. It runs once a day in each direction.

Narkewicz and Masterson believe ridership is there to support the expansion, based on the ridership figures.

“We want the (expanded) service to be permanent,” Masterson said.

Masterson said he doesn’t see increased rail service as being for daily commuting. Rather, he said it would make it easier for Northampton riders to make trips a few times a month, and Narkewicz said that such a service could also make it easier for people to travel from other destinations to Northampton.

The extra trips will allow passengers to leave from the upper valley for New York City and return later that night. That can’t happen currently because the southbound train arrives in Northampton around 2 p.m. and the northbound trains arrives around 4 p.m.

“This is a transformative effort to grow the region,” said Masterson.

“We believe that it has great potential for economic development (in Northampton),” said Narkewicz.

The expanded service is slated to begin at the end of summer, Maureen Mullaney, the transportation planning and GIS program manager for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, told the Recorder late last week.

Mullaney said the state and Amtrak are still discussing fares, but it appears that they are not going to change.

The expanded service will cost the state about $1 million a year to operate, and the state plans to evaluate the program after two years to see if it’s financially feasible to make it permanent.

“More and more people are taking the train,” Mullaney told the Recorder. “We believe we can market this so that it continues to happen.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at budunau@gazettenet.com.




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