Governor Deval Patrick today announced an agreement in principle allowing the Commonwealth to purchase the Knowledge Corridor rail line between East Northfield and Springfield from Pan Am Southern, a joint venture of Pan Am and Norfolk Southern. The 49-mile segment of rail is currently undergoing a major restoration that will allow for more efficient passenger service, in response to increased demand, and will allow the Commonwealth to maintain and enhance freight service, which will take trucks off the roads, reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
“For close to 100 years, the Commonwealth’s rail infrastructure was the lifeblood of economic vitality for communities in Franklin and Berkshire counties, and across Western Massachusetts,” said Governor Patrick. “Through this agreement, we are realizing the renewed value this infrastructure can have in creating economic opportunities throughout the region.”
The agreement in principle to purchase the Knowledge Corridor rail line is an important milestone in the Knowledge Corridor/Restore Vermonter Project. The project will restore the original route of Amtrak’s Vermonter travelling between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. from its current routing via Palmer and Amherst. The work on the project includes upgrades to the 50-mile Pan Am Southern Connecticut River Line running between Springfield and East Northfield, known as the Knowledge Corridor. The ongoing restoration project will lead to the relocation of the Vermonter, Amtrak’s north-south passenger rail service to the Knowledge Corridor by the end of 2014, potentially reducing trip times by 25 minutes. Starting in East Northfield, the restoration runs south to Springfield and includes the construction of three new station platforms in Greenfield, Northampton and Holyoke. Passenger service on this line ceased in the 1980s and was rerouted southeast to Palmer, where trains reverse direction and head west to Springfield.
Beginning in August 2012, the restoration work consists of the replacement of approximately 95,000 rail ties, new continuously welded rail, new active warning signals and crossing gates at 23 public grade crossings, upgrades to six bridges and the first phase of a new signal installation. The restoration is funded through a $75 million grant awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration and approximately $40 million dollars in state funds. The work is expected to be complete in 2016, after the start of passenger service. These improvements will improve safety, increase operating speeds for existing freight train traffic and the Vermonter and enhance capacity on the rail line to accommodate future increased levels of train traffic.
“The Knowledge Corridor is a rail asset that will play a key role in the region’s transportation system, both by delivering improved customer service in the form of faster travel times, as well as by being built to a standard that can accommodate more freight,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey. “Purchasing the line will also allow us to preserve the line’s viability for the long-term, and will position the Commonwealth to use this line for increased passenger service that could provide commuters in the region a competitive alternative to driving on I-91.”
The Knowledge Corridor/Restore Vermonter project is part of the vision for a New England High-Speed and Intercity Rail Network that will provide a foundation for economic competitiveness and promote livable communities from major and smaller cities to rural areas.
Beyond the Knowledge Corridor, the Commonwealth’s work to increase rail opportunities for commuters and tourists alike continues. MassDOT has been working closely with Pan Am Southern, the City of North Adams and the Town of Adams to have Berkshire Scenic Railway operate the Adams Branch railroad line between the two towns. The operation of a scenic railway between North Adams and Adams would be another draw for the thousands of tourists that flock to the Berkshires each year. MassDOT expects to have an agreement in place for the operation of Berkshire Scenic Railway on the Adams Branch in time for trips to begin this fall.
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