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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Connecticut update

New England Central is interested in operating service (check out pages 2 & 3) between New London, CT and Brattleboro, VT on the Central Corridor. I talked about this a bit last spring, but what I didn't discuss is that the leaders who wanted New London's mayor to be quiet were more interested in securing money for the Knowledge Corridor between Springfield, MA and Brattleboro to reroute the Vermonter. 


Amherst
As MA and VT get ready to reroute the Vermonter, residents in the college town are up in arms over the pending loss of Amtrak service. The NECR move makes sense because residents and students from five colleges and universities would see passenger service continued, albeit with a different operator. 


NECR's possible path
The Class II railroad will be free to add frequencies and staff stations like Amherst and Brattleboro because it wouldn't be subject to the same limitations as Amtrak. Also, NECR is very likely to use refurbished Budd Cars so there'd be no issues with equipment.


NECR's motives
Some have raised the possibility that NECR could be using passenger service as a way to improve its infrastructure between New London and Amherst. In my humble opinion, the move justifies my point that railroads are businesses first, and if it's a business decision that leads to the Central Corridor having restored rail service, so be it (old time riders of the now-defunct Montrealer often complained about bumpy tracks by NECR's predecessor when the train used that routing). 


An important segment of riders won't be left behind once Amtrak's stimulus improvements are in place. It is also worth pointing out that the University of Connecticut and the Mohegan Sun Casino are also along the route, so having passenger service restored is no small deal.


Transitions
Knowledge Corridor improvements are expected to be done by late 2013. Theoretically, Amtrak would shift the Vermonter to serve Northampton and Greenfield in MA in the spring of the following year unless the operator says otherwise. Perhaps, a six-month overlap could take place--both Amtrak and NECR run trains between Amherst and Brattleboro, then the regional railroad takes over once Amtrak shifts westward.


Sharing stations
Of all the stops that would host both Amtrak and NECR trains, only New London is currently staffed by Amtrak. No problem, the Class II railroad would staff the facilities with its own employees or contract such duties to volunteers who would be able to sell tickets and check baggage. Palmer, MA is a place where the NECR and CSX lines--the Lake Shore Limited--intersect. The city's Union Station is currently a restaurant but the tracks of both railroads are right at the station. So, the end result is that MADOT building a platform on the south side for NECR and a platform on the north side for Amtrak. 



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