Passenger rail returned to Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts, on Monday for the first time in over twenty years. The change was spurred by federal stimulus money to update Amtrak’s Vermonter line. The trip is now slightly shorter, but the trains aren’t coming through the area any more often.
Close to 100 people cheered as the first Amtrak train pulled up to the new wooden platform in Northampton. Many, like Julie Zuckman, had waited years for this.
“I like the idea of taking the train right from Northampton, even though you could take it from Springfield before, which is only half an hour away, but psychologically it makes me feel less landlocked,” Zuckman says.
Zuckman says she often visits New York City by driving to New Haven, Connecticut, then taking the Metro-North railroad. So does Alvaro Castano of Northampton. He says he’s not sure the new train will be any better than his current method of getting to New York.
“I was looking at the schedule here, and it’s like three hours to get to New Haven, so it’s kind of a long ride, so I’m not sure if I’ll do it,” he says.
Castano is one of many Northampton residents who came to the platform just to see the new train. They waited anxiously as the scheduled arrival time came…and went. But about 15 minutes later, it pulls up and the conductors herd everyone on board. The train starts up, and tickets are taken. Soon, the train is traveling at about 50 miles an hour.
On the train, Brian Foote of Northampton is going to Springfield and back. He’s excited about the new service, but says he won’t take it much unless the timing is changed. Right now, there’s a single southbound train at 1:30 p.m. is in the middle of his workday.
“I hope to see commuter rail so there’s at least three or four trains every day. I don’t know if it’s economically feasible at this point, but hopefully in the future it will be,” Foote says.
Any future expansion of this line will require increased demand from passengers, but Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman says, “it’s not just demand, because demand itself, you can fill the train, and then you need another train. There’s a huge additional cost to doing something like that.”
Boardman, who was in Springfield on Monday to mark the occasion, says that cost would come from local and state government. States pay a portion of the cost to run many Amtrak trains. But Boardman says his company provides a service that airlines and buses don’t: long-distance travel to and from small towns all over the country.
“That kind of service is something that I think this country is ready for, we’re seeing a growth in that kind of service, but it takes money for that to happen, and that takes public support,” he says.
So far the cost of the upgrades to the line is estimated at 130 million dollars, according to a state rail spokesperson, with both the feds and Massachusetts covering the cost. And work on the line is not finished – it’s expected to continue through 2016. But for what it’s worth, even with a delay, the first train of the new route arrived in Springfield on schedule.