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Pioneer Valley Rail Advocates Celebrate New ‘Valley Flyer’ Service

An Amtrak Vermonter train arrives at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield, MA. Courtesy of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Rail advocates in western Massachusetts are celebrating the inaugural run today of a new Amtrak service that will afford Pioneer Valley residents and visitors better daily connections to and from New York City.

The new "Valley Flyer" service will triple Amtrak's daily frequency through the Pioneer Valley. It supplements the existing Vermonter route, which runs only one round trip per day, with two additional round trips on weekdays and one additional trip on weekends and holidays between Greenfield and New Haven, from where passengers can transfer to other Amtrak trains to connect to New York City's Penn Station.

The schedule for the new Valley Flyer Amtrak service, as of August 22, 2019. Note that MassDOT and Amtrak may make adjustments to this schedule; consult Amtrak for the latest information. Courtesy of MassDOT.

The new service is the culmination of years of activism from local planners, transit advocates and business organizations, and takes advantage of previous infrastructure upgrades made to the line earlier this decade.

Members of Trains In The Valley, an organization of Pioneer Valley rail advocates, are particularly excited about the new service.

"Our members have been attending public meetings, we've done letter-writing, we've met with local officials," said Trains In The Valley co-founder Ben Heckscher in a Thursday phone interview. "We've gotten the complete attention of our local elected officials and legislators. It's an example of what can happen if citizens and advocates come together and speak with a common voice. It's pretty cool."

The new service is being supported by MassDOT on a 2-year pilot basis. State officials have said that the service will be made permanent if the new trains can meet a target of 24,000 additional annual riders on the line (about 65 new passengers per day, on average).

"We are going to be focused on trying to fill every single seat" to meet that threshold, said Heckscher. "We have a large number of college students; we expect people from New York City will use the service to come up to our area on weekends. We also have lots of people in our area who are New York City expats, or people who live here but still need to visit the city for business on a regular basis."

Heckscher notes that while the existing Vermonter schedule is fairly inconvenient for day trips to New York, and generally requires an overnight stay in New York City, the schedule of the new Valley Flyer trains will allow people to leave Massachusetts early, spend most of the day in the city, and return to the Pioneer Valley before midnight.

While they work to promote the new service to New York, Trains In The Valley is also advocating for more passenger rail connections between the Pioneer Valley and Boston.

A study now underway – the MassDOT-sponsored East-West Passenger Rail Study – is analyzing several alternatives to add more daily trips and upgrade the railroad between Pittsfield and Boston for higher speeds (StreetsblogMASS will cover that study in detail in future posts).

Trains In The Valley is also advocating for a bill in the Massachusetts Senate (S. 2054, sponsored by Pioneer Valley Senator Jo Comerford) to study a second east-west rail route, the so-called "Northern Tier" line from North Adams to Greenfield to Wachusett.

For more information, join the Trains In The Valley e-mail list.

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