Editorial: Come and ride the Valley Flyer

  • The inaugural trip of the new Valley Flyer, Amtrak’s new rail service in the Pioneer Valley, leaves Greenfield at 5:45 a.m. headed south. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 9/17/2019 4:28:04 PM

The dream of regular, reliable and affordable train service in the Pioneer Valley is a little closer to reality with the launch of Amtrak’s Valley Flyer service between Greenfield and New Haven, Connecticut two weeks ago.

But that dream may be short-lived if residents don’t do their part and hop on board. The Valley Flyer is a state-sponsored pilot service with Amtrak, meaning it will end in the fall of 2021 if ridership numbers are low. Few want that, especially given that momentum seems to be building for commuter rail in western Massachusetts in both the north-south and east-west directions.

Ideal for commuters and daytrippers, the Valley Flyer’s schedule includes two southbound morning trains and two northbound evening trains that stop in Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield. The trains also connect with Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at New Haven and serve stations between New Haven and Springfield. This new pilot service adds to the usual Vermonter trains, which send one northbound and one southbound train through the area every day of the week.

For the first time since 1967, you can catch the train in the Pioneer Valley in the morning, spend the day in New York City and come back the same night, according to advocacy group Trains in the Valley.

“Rail is the conversation whose time has come,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said on the Valley Flyer’s first day of service.

There’s hope that the Valley Flyer can be an economic and environmental engine connecting the communities in the Valley to each other and to the outside world.

“The Valley Flyer will finally make it possible for those in the Knowledge Corridor to commute to places like New York City and back in the same day while bringing more travelers into Massachusetts,” Congressman James McGovern said.

Rail service isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment. Massachusetts will foot $2.16 million of the bill for Valley Flyer’s two-year pilot, while Connecticut covers the balance, according to MassDOT. That’s on top of the roughly $83 million in federal and state money spent five years ago to upgrade tracks between Springfield and the Vermont border and build new passenger platforms in Greenfield, Northampton and Holyoke.

A robust commuter train schedule that can cut traffic congestion and improve mass transit options is key in the fight against climate change. While the Valley Flyer may not make much of an impact on rush-hour traffic during the pilot, Amtrak and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation should be scientifically gauging its effect on the environment.

“There has to be some sort of structural solution we can come to, to prevent this kind of fossil fuel consumption,” Bob Gruber, a professor at Springfield College who lives in Northampton, told the Gazette while riding the Valley Flyer. “This is that kind of structural solution.”

The Valley Flyer success will be measured by riders. The service needs to log an additional 24,000 new riders over the next two years to be considered a success. That’s where you come in.

If you can, ride the Valley Flyer. Book a trip to New York. Ride it up to Greenfield or down to Springfield. Taking the train is more spacious and comfortable than the bus and less stressful than driving, and the train cars are equipped with free Wi-Fi.

Yes, at $10 for a one-way trip between Greenfield and Northampton, or up to $67 from Northampton to New York, the price is not quite right — and is rather high. A Greyhound bus ticket from Northampton to New York can be had for around $20. 

But continued funding is contingent on ridership growing in the Valley, and with a strong showing, legislators could be moved to subsidize the service like officials in Vermont and Connecticut do. That would drive down the price of the train fare, something we think needs to happen for long-term success.

Here’s another reason we hope the pilot succeeds. High numbers of people riding the north-south line will help prove there’s a market for east-west rail service currently under consideration in Massachusetts. Connecting stops in western Massachusetts to Boston along the Interstate 90 corridor is being studied by legislators, and high-speed options that could carry passengers from Springfield’s Union Station to the capital in as little as 80 minutes on an electrified rail line are on the table.

The Valley Flyer is poised to be a boon to the Pioneer Valley. Let’s work together to make it one.




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