NYC firm to begin marketing Valley Flyer train service

  • At 5:45 a.m. on Aug. 30 this year, the inaugural trip of the Valley Flyer, Amtrak’s new rail service, left Greenfield heading south. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sen. Jo Comerford, Greenfield Mayor William Martin and Greenfield mayor-elect Roxann Wedegartner took the inaugural trip aboard the new Valley Flyer, Amtrak’s new rail service, in late August. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sen. Jo Comerford, center, and others are ushered onto the Valley Flyer, Amtrak’s new rail service, for its inaugural trip in late August. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2019 9:41:16 PM

GREENFIELD — The seven-day-a-week passenger train Valley Flyer made its inaugural trip from Greenfield at the end of August, and Franklin Regional Council of Governments says it’s now time to start some serious marketing to increase ridership to assure it becomes a permanent route.

Maureen Mullaney, transportation and GIS program manager II for FRCOG, said thewatsons, a branding, advertising and design company out of New York City, has been contracted to market the Valley Flyer pilot program.

The state House and Senate earmarked $250,000 to market the program, which Gov. Charlie Baker approved when he signed the 2020 budget. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has indicated the pilot program will become permanent if it can achieve a ridership of 24,000 new riders each year over the next several years.

The state currently has an agreement to provide the extended daily train service — two in the morning and two in the evening, both stopping in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. There is currently one extra trip on weekends and holidays.

“Thewatsons is going to bring ideas and really get involved to make sure we’ve got the right advertising, incentive packages, logos and brands,” Mullaney said. “We’ll be coordinating efforts with Amtrak and the state.”

Mullaney said thewatsons and FRCOG will also be working with area chambers of commerce, regional planners, representatives from cities along the route, legislators and other stakeholders, which might include colleges and other potential partners.

“There are a lot of people interested in rail service, its success and its expansion,” she said. “Vermont and southwestern New Hampshire officials have also talked with us about marketing the service to their residents.”

Mullaney said the focus has been, for instance, on offering the expanded rail service to New York City to area residents, but FRCOG would also like to see marketing that offers the service to New York City residents and others who want to travel to Greenfield.

“Valley Flyer has been positively received,” she said. “Folks in the Valley go to New York City to work or to visit. Some students are using it to commute. But there are some challenges.”

She said there is limited service on weekends and holidays, so people can’t travel to the city and back in just one day at those times. She said there’s also the challenge of getting people coming from outside the area to their final destinations.

“We can get them to Greenfield on the train, but there’s limited bus and taxi service, so that last mile to their destination is a problem,” Mullaney said. “You can be sure we’ll be working on those challenges with other stakeholders. We’re kicking around all sorts of ideas. We have so much to offer in Franklin County, but people need to be able to get to destinations easily.”

She said the bottom line is that Valley Flyer needs an increased ridership to be successful, and to have the state and Amtrak decide to make it permanent.

“Fares can also be expensive, so we’re looking at that, as well,” she said.

According to Mullaney, Greenfield and the other Pioneer Valley train stations have seen steady increases in ridership since passenger rail service returned in 2015. The agency is hoping that with the help of thewatsons, it can make the Valley Flyer a permanent fixture and possibly expand service even more someday.

The pilot program is costing the state about $1 million a year to operate. It plans to evaluate the program at the end of two or three years to see if it is financially feasible to make it permanent. The train travels along the Connecticut River, making stops in Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Springfield.

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