Discussion relating to the operations of MTA MetroNorth Railroad including west of Hudson operations and discussion of CtDOT sponsored rail operations such as Shore Line East and the Springfield to New Haven Hartford Line

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, nomis, FL9AC, Jeff Smith

  by Noel Weaver
SnoozerZ49 wrote:Thanks for the recent intresting posts on this issue. You should just be prepared for a cascade of pontifications from the rr.net resident experts about the folly of any opinions other than their own.
I don't really appreciate this remark. Who qualified you to be an "expert"?
At least in my view my reasons that this is not practical are legitimate. I like passnger trains as much as anybody on here and I have ridden them a lot in New England and elsewhere. I just don't think something like this is legitimate, there are a good number of potential routes for a regular daily passenger train but I don't think this is one of them.
Noel Weaver
  by Cosmo
Jack Powell wrote: Perhaps better yet, what physical impediments stand in the way of extending MBTA service west of Franklin/Forge Park to Putnam (or more logically, to a "park & ride" facility adjacent to 395 in the Putnam area)?
Well, for one thing, there's NO rail left on the ground between Franklin and Woonsocket, then there's a sewer line on the ROW going into Woonsocket. Once you reach the RI border, there's a bridge out over the Blackstone, and the approaches to that bridge are taken for a condo driveway directly on the ROW.
After Blackstone, headed into Millville, again, no rail. From Millville to E. Thompson, not only no rail, but several roadway bridges missing and a recreational trail on the ROW. Still no rail into Putnam.
So, instead of an active freight line (in the case of the P&W) or one already partially upgraded with CWR (NECR) you have, basically, ground zero.
There was also opposition to the line being reclaimed for service to RI from Massachusetts. Exactly who opposed I can't recall, but it was some pretty stiff opposition.
Don't get me wrong, I'd LOVE to see that line rebuilt, but I've come to realize that it just aint happening.
  by Jack Powell
Thanks, Cosmo.

I should have specified "besides no rail ...," which in itself is not necessarily an impediment. For example, when P&W rebuilt the Valley Line north of Middletown some years ago, the ancient 78-pound rail which remained was simply scrapped and the ROW bulldozed. Had the "Tiger Grant" funding that was sought last year by VRR materialized, I suspect most of the existing track structure between Middletown and Old Saybrook would have met the same fate.

Still, your listing of missing bridges, etc. between Franklin (MA) and Putnam is helpful. But if a bridge had to be replaced anyway, so what if it's gone entirely? It would be interesting to know the legal status of the recreational trail you mention. Is this the CT portion, or MA, or both? If the ROW is state-owned and "rail-banked," hikers may be in for a surprise someday. If actually purchased for recreational purposes, reconversion may be more difficult (legally, as opposed to physically).

Despite lacking CWR, or any rail at all, Putnam-Franklin has the benefit of being the most direct route between a nice place to live (but for jobs) that could really use an economic boost (Northeast CT) and downtown Boston (as compared to going around by way of Worcester). The half-hour or more thus saved could well make it the more viable rail commute. Rough comparisions of this route on a map of the former New Haven system show it to be similar, mileage-wise, to Wickford Junction (RI)-Boston, soon to be available via MBTA under the same model I've proposed (one state funding another's transit authority).

Again, it's great to talk about how nice it would be to take a train from New London to Vermont, or to Montreal. However, the likelihood of government subsidies to benefit skiers, vacationers or, as has been proposed, college students going home on weekends, seems rather remote (and probably simply masks a "cash-quest" by NEC's owners). The obvious trend is for government-financed urban-hub commuter expansion (even where rails are missing and encroachments have occurred), such as the former OC lines into South Station or, now, the current "T" expansion to Fall River and New Bedford. Linking Putnam to Boston is logically similar to these, especially given the north-south feeder that I-395 would provide.
  by TomNelligan
Despite lacking CWR, or any rail at all, Putnam-Franklin has the benefit of being the most direct route between a nice place to live (but for jobs) that could really use an economic boost (Northeast CT) and downtown Boston (as compared to going around by way of Worcester).
You feel that there is enough of a market for commuter trains to Boston in the relative wilderness of northeast Connecticut to support the cost of reconstruction of the right-of-way at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and then the cost of ongoing operating subsidies as well. I don't, and if it didn't draw at least a few thousand riders a day, it's a waste of my tax money. Historically, there hasn't been direct passenger service between Putnam and Boston since 1955, and at the end it was a single RDC running one daily, indicating minimal demand. I realize that there has been some population growth since then, but now there's also I-395, and west of Blackstone/Woonsocket there's still basically nothing but trees until you get to Putnam. I could see an argument for eventual restoration of service to Blackstone as a station for Woonsocket (a role it traditionally served), but not beyond that.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Putnam-Franklin is one of the Inland NEC routes under consideration in Amtrak's multi-decade master plan, with a detour from the old route to Woonsocket via the P&W and back up to Franklin via the B&P. But that's just kind of a footnote since you're talking a *very* prelim 30-year roadmap with several NYC-Hartford-Boston routings under consideration.

State of RI has studied commuter rail to Woonsocket via Franklin, since the hard part--rebuilding the eroded ROW embankment over Harris Pond--is completely within their borders and the MA-owned 2-1/2 miles of abandoned mainline line from the end of the active Franklin Industrial Track to the former diamond with the B&P is landbanked and a pretty easy restoration. Archived study is on the RIDOT website. It's way down the pecking order for them from their CR build-out on the NEC and also Providence-Woonsocket so I don't think you'll be seeing this one anytime soon. They're obviously thinking RI-centric first before fanning out more Boston links, and with the Harris Pond enbankment rebuild being a very tricky EIS they were realistic about the chances. Study's an informative read, though. With how bullish they are as a state about CR it's quite likely they'll do a refresh study of it when their higher-priority initiatives are online.

MA wasn't really interested back 15 years ago because Dept. of Conservation & Recreation was protective about the trail there, but that was before MADOT was reorganized to level some of the infighting boards of directors under one agency. Their attitude now, esp. with the T's further forays into RI, is that it's no skin off their backs to run any service over interstate lines that RI (or NH, if they ever get their heads out of their arses) is willing to pay for. So if they want this, I don't think MA's gonna say no to a truly trivial de-landbank of those couple miles. The Franklin Line can handle the traffic if it got significant amount of re-infill of double track, which it'll need soon enough for current service.

Anyway, that's just a sidebar. But it's not inconceivable to see the Franklin and P&W junctioning in Woonsocket for CR well before Amtrak's ready to build any new HSR route. And before that an in-state RIDOT service from Providence-Woonsocket upgrading the P&W to passenger speed. After PRV-WOON they'd almost certainly be studying WOON-BOS more seriously, and Providence Worcester upgrading the rest of the P&W and relieving the extremely busy Route 146 corridor. At that point it gets a little bit more interesting to think about the Putnam-Blackstone leg (with the Woonsocket dip on the P&W instead of running thru to Franklin like it used to) linking the I-395 corridor and bringing CT into the mix. Obviously a lot of steps in the interim, but Worcester's a definite second regional rail hub the way the lines converge and Woonsocket's got deep long-term potential to be a tertiary hub.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Re: feasibility...again, it's all about lowering the threshold to passenger service startup so low that it becomes worth the upside to trial it. If P&W and NECR make themselves warm-and-fuzzy enough about leveraging bare-minimalist passenger service on their track in exchange for higher-upside freight track weight upgrades...hey, it's bait the states will hold a substantive conversation about.

This isn't a whole lot different than what RIDOT is studying about subsidizing the Old Colony & Newport dinner train for more robust general-purpose summer transit end-to-end on Aquidneck Island. Or what the T by all logic should be doing with MassCoastal/Cape Cod Central about letting them beef up the Cape train with a transfer to CR at Middleboro (which they've been pleading and wooing like crazy to try to do). It's just a much longer route in NECR's case. Stick some bare concrete platforms out there. If NECR wants to run something themselves let them procure some passenger cars and run a limited service with a few bucks of state subsidy (emphasis on LOW dollar amount). Do a few years' trial and official study of the interest level in doing something more permanent. If the public likes what it sees in the potential and wants more, then let the state DOT's step in, run their own passenger trains, and start a slow draw-up and baton-passing from the private operator. And if it doesn't net results meriting further investment, end the trial or keep it as a limited on NECR's dime.

Let the private RR's that really want to do this handle the startup. It's so much cheaper, lower-risk, and shorter-leash a commitment than the REALLY BIG PROJECTS. It really should be part of the whole diversified repertoire for building out the regional network because New England does have a few plucky shortlines with fresh corporate leadership that are trying to be more creative than the old guard. There's no reason not to at least talk possibilities of mutually-serving partnership with other carriers if it can potentially sniff out some useful routes that can get up and running on a shoestring budget. It helps perpetuate the regional network all the same and primes the states for more big projects. If this means CT does a CHEAP private partnership bare-bones limited service on NECR's route before it can feasibly spend huge bucks on trunk-line buildout like Waterbury-Hartford or Hartford-Vernon, so be it. The low investment's ultimately going to help justify the high investments. States have to stop thinking so monolithically about its transit projects. You can't get anything done when all of them are nearly too big to swallow and there aren't readily available examples of newer builds with empirical evidence and hard data of relative benefits. Think smarter and more nimble. Seek public-private partnership where the interest is there, manage the risk and resources to a bare functional minimum, and make deals that give them an in to take over if it takes off.

Put it this way: the fact that NECR, Housatonic, MC/CCC, and OC&N are all raising their hands at the same time asking for an informal discussion with the states means there's probably a little something to this. Whether or not any of the routes actually pan out as viable.
  by Jack Powell
TomNelligan wrote: You feel that there is enough of a market for commuter trains to Boston in the relative wilderness of northeast Connecticut to support the cost of reconstruction of the right-of-way at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and then the cost of ongoing operating subsidies as well. *** it's a waste of my tax money.
Not necessarily at the present time. But what will the situation be in 15 or 20 years (half of which would by consumed by the obligatory study anyway)? Just as the stock market always rises in the long term, Boston-area real estate will become more expensive and less accessible as its population grows. At the same time, the Connecticut Legislature has incentivised "smart growth," which roughly translates into forcing local planning authorities to focus residential growth on transit hubs, such as highway/rail interchanges. With this comes economic growth (as long as residential tax revenues are not outstripped by education costs, which is really a matter of what kind of housing is allowed to predominate, and at a more subtle level, what socio-economic status it's intended to attract). Nor have we mentioned the long-term price of gas, the cost of building and maintaining roads (all entirely subsidized), and the cost of doing nothing. On the other hand, the world might end in 2012, but I'm betting otherwise.

The traditional railroad way of thinking, which you seem to espouse, is that the free markets will determine where the provision of commuter service is warranted. Coupled with planning and development decisions (in Connecticut, at any rate) being traditionally made 169 different ways (i.e., its number of towns), often in competion with each other and with no regard for effects beyond their individual borders, the result is auto-dependent sprawl. Changing this, so as to preserve something of the "relative wilderness" you mention, requires more than reactive decision-making. Yes, the "Don't Tread On Me" types currently in vogue will decry it as socialism, Orwellism, anti-Ayn Randism, or whatever. Fact is, you're still free to live wherever you want, and also free to vote against those who would spend your tax dollars in ways to which you object.
  by Ridgefielder
Jeff Smith wrote:I think it was me that stuck this in P&W when I was setting that up and searching "Worcester". Anyway, I don't remember my thinking on this proposal back then; I think I was more in favor of service to Worcester from New London, yet, am now more favorably inclined after reading the last few posts. Some of these old services were run up to A-Day with Budd service, and there are those more knowledgable on that. I'll have to do more research.
New London - Worcester via Norwich lasted up to A-day; I think the Budd cars made 3 rountrips/day. New London-Brattleboro on the Central Vermont has been gone since 1946 or so-- a 1-a-day mixed at the end IIRC. The south end of the CV was never much of a passenger route: I think you'd have to go back to the pre-First World War era to find anything other than a local operating south of Palmer.
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:Stick some bare concrete platforms out there.
In fact, I think there already *are* some platforms out there that were put in when the Montrealer was shifted onto this route in the mid-90s.
Last edited by Ridgefielder on Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by jaymac
Sure, NECR and its constituent communities probably would like to get major track improvement underwritten for the southern segment the way NECR did for parts of its northern segment, but routing via the Knowledge Corridor does seem to have a bit more wisdom behind it. More population and more origins/destinations don't always equal more riders, but there's a greater probability for that outcome than with less population and fewer origins/destinations. For those -- like me -- who would enjoy an occasional ride through non-industrial Connecticut countryside, there's a museum operation that seems to have that covered. If AMTK ever decides Downeaster service should no longer be an orphan, then maybe New London, but more likely Providence, could (note the use of the conditional) happen. Actually, Judy Tenuta says it better: "It could haaaapen."
To go all Rule 290 and take the diverging route off topic, it seems like Ayn Rand references are returning: the junior senator from Kentucky serving as reliever for Jim Bunning, this site, and even a road-side sign a few miles from my home, "Who Is John Galt?" I think I can hear the presses running now...
  by boatsmate
What is the rail condition and wieght on the section between Willimantic and NL?? I know it is restricted to 4 axels all 6's are taken off at either Willi or Norwich.

Capt Bill << remembers the NY to Montreal via NL back in the early 80's
  by jaymac
Capt Bill might want to recalibrate his memory, assuming it had to with rail service. AMTK routed via the Connecticut River until the 1987-1989 Ambustitution account rail conditions on Guilford. When rail service resumed in 1989, it was via New London until April 1995, when the current daylight St. Albans via Palmer and Springfield routing started up. When/if the Knowledge Corridor gets completed, the Palmer dogleg/end-change will itself become a matter of memory.
  by Jack Powell
My own memory's a little hazy as to the early-1990's New London-Willimantic-Palmer re-routing of the Montrealer, but wasn't this the result of funding obtained through the influence of then-Congressman Sam Gejdenson (D), who represented Connecticut's Second District, through which the service thereafter ran?

Such factors are sometimes left out of the discussion of routes that could/should be resumed or improved. Years can be spent on studies identifying sensible or practical solutions based on demographics, operational sense, etc., but the decisions to implement may come down to who is in power and where their constituencies are. You then wind up with passenger routings (such as the Montrealer through eastern Connecticut) that make as much sense as gerrymandered congressional districts, if you fail to keep in mind the politics.

Outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak has suffered from this phenomena since its inception.
  by TomNelligan
The Montrealer was rerouted through Willimantic in 1989 because under the Guilford management the B&M's Connecticut River mainline had been downgraded to a point where schedule-keeping became impossible. That led to court actions in which Amtrak seized the portion of the line between East Northfield, Mass., and Windsor, VT, where the Central Vermont historically had trackage rights, and in turn conveyed it to the CV. (CV already owned Windsor-WRJ.) The line was then fixed it up to permit restoration of the service. The all-CV routing via Willimantic avoided the Conn River south of East Northfield in part because the CV historically had no operating rights there. Aside from increasing the overall cost, that would have complicated the legal issues surrounding the hostile takeover. At this point I don't recall Congressman Gejdenson being involved in this process, but I can't say he wasn't. Note that the train was almost useless for local transportation in eastern Connecticut because it went through in the middle of the night.

At the time I did an article on all this for Trains (which you can get through the magazine's archive) that has a lot more background. I don't have the issue date handy but it was late 1989.
  by The EGE
Ridgefielder wrote:
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:Stick some bare concrete platforms out there.
In fact, I think there already *are* some platforms out there that were put in when the Montrealer was shifted onto this route in the mid-90s.
I believe that Willimantic was the only Vermonter station between New London and Amherst. There's definitely a bare platform there; here's what it looks like from the street: http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UT ... 71.71,,0,0
  by NRGeep
Once CS Lewis College is up and running (located on the former Northfield prep school campus) would it make sense to put in a flag stop in East Northfield?
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 9