'Valley Flyer' shuttles in Massachusetts' 'Knowledge Corridor' to begin Aug. 30

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As seen from the rear of a southbound Vermonter in 2018, the new Valley Flyer trains will serve the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield, Mass.,  a connection point for regional buses
Bob Johnston
The Vermonter leaves the small platform at Northampton, Mass. Stations and tracks were rebuilt with federal grants in anticipation of expanded service.
Bob Johnston

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. Starting Friday, Aug. 30, Amtrak will be extending New Haven, Conn.-Springfield, Mass., shuttles 40 miles north to and from Greenfield, Mass. The service is part of a two-year pilot program to test demand for expanded rush-hour service connecting with Northeast Corridor trains.

Two weekday round trips — morning southbound and evening northbound — will augment the midday Washington, D.C.-St. Albans, Vt., Vermonter. The morning trains will depart Greenfield at 5:45 a.m. and 7:35 a.m, connecting to New York-bound Amtrak trains leaving New Haven at 8:38 a.m. and 10:37 a.m. The evening trains, departing from New Haven at 7:35 p.m. and 9:55 p.m., connect with trains arriving from New York and arrive in Greenfield at 10:23 p.m. and 12:38 p.m.

On weekends, northbound train No. 400 departs the newly refurbished Springfield Union Station at 7:50 a.m. without a connection from New Haven, then runs south from Greenfield as an extension to train 461. In the evening, northbound No. 488 from New Haven heads to Greenfield at 6:45 p.m. It returns only as far as Springfield as train No. 499, departing at 8:10 p.m.

The route has hosted the Vermonter since 2014, when a $70 million stimulus-funded upgrade of deteriorated Pan Am Railways tracks in western Massachusetts (a former north-south Boston & Maine route) allowed Amtrak to return to the more direct route once used by the Montrealer. [See “Amtrak to shift ‘Vermonter’ route Dec. 29,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 12, 2014.] Strategically placed passing tracks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant stations, and modern interlockings with remote-controlled switches and signals paved the way for the new trains.

However, unlike additional CTrail New Haven-Springfield service added in June 2018 by the state of Connecticut, Massachusetts is not subsidizing fares.  Instead, Amtrak is letting its systemwide “Saver” and “Value” yield management fare rules govern pricing. For instance, a one-way Greenfield-Springfield adult “Saver” fare, available only two weeks in advance, is $14 for the 40-mile trip compared with a $12.75 fare for the 62-mile New Haven-Springfield journey on both CTRail and Amtrak shuttles regardless of when purchased. The Valley Flyer fare jumps to $18 for tickets bought within the two-week limit.

It is unclear what will constitute a “successful” 2-year pilot program for the new trains, whose schedules are designed to give commuters in the northern part of the Knowledge Corridor a same-day way to travel to and from New York or southern Connecticut. While they also can connect with Metro-North and Shore Line East service at New Haven, passengers’ Amtrak options from New Haven include one-seat rides as far south as Newport News, Va., (weekday train No. 95 and weekend No. 161) and Roanoke, Va., (weekday No. 171). Northbound connections come from trains originating at Newport News (No. 94 weekdays), Norfolk (No. 88 weekends), and Washington (No. 178 weekdays). Northeast Regional and Acela Express connections are also possible to and from Providence, R.I., and Boston.

Ticketing is available at the Amtrak website but as of late Sunday, downloadable schedules for the new service were not listed on that website.    

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