MassDOT Rail: Springfield Hub (East-West, NNERI, Berkshires, CT-Valley-VT-Quebec)

F-Line to Dudley

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I mean... I think the point was that an "Amherst Flyer" service could probably be started, you know, tomorrow, using existing equipment, existing facilities, etc. In the schema of organization before electronics before concrete, it's an idea that really only requires some organization work, in theory.

I'm all for the NNEIRI, but there's no reason that an "Amherst Flyer" can't be seen as a starter service of sorts, just like the Cape Flyer is seen in some circles as a starter service for eventual full-time commuter rail.
Not exactly tomorrow. The Cape Flyer comparison doesn't apply to the B&A at all because of the bigger paper barrier there with ownership and trackage rights bottling the T up no further west than Worcester Union. Right now even when the MassDOT mothership has to borrow a T consist on one-off reimbursement to perform annual inspections of state-owned rail lines in Western MA (Berkshire Line, Adams Branch, Conn River Line, Ware Secondary) it needs to have a ride-along CSX crewmember or B&A-qualified Amtrak crewmember to traverse the state.

Amtrak's usually willing to help just for the inspections because they actually loan out the special Amfleet track geometry car that does all the telemetry for those annual work jobs. And generally speaking CSX doesn't break Amtrak's balls too hard when ConnDOT wants to sponsor a "Big E" Special Springfield Shuttle that backs into CSX West Springfield Yard on the siding closest to the fairgrounds, because CSX is a hometown sponsor of the Big E and usually has a presence there.

But break balls CSX will over anything else that's too unorthodox, which is why the Vermonter's 1995-2014 "temporary" reverse move to Amherst inside of Palmer Freight Yard was so fricking excruciating for all the delays CSX levied on it. So prerequisite for anything going forward is first negotiating with CSX for expanded trackage rights or a buy of the middle (or whole) B&A. With a first move for appropriating those funds. It's not instantaneous.

Somebody in the decider's chair has to decide to do something first with advancing the project, or the funding for that first-prerequisite rights negotiation won't be there.

This is very different from how the Cape Flyer works. MassDOT has owned all the Cape trackage all along, subcontracts the shortline carriers that operate on the Cape on 12-year contracts, and subcontracts the dispatching for Middleboro-Hyannis (with Cape Rail) to do their bidding. They've always been able to there run at-will. All it needed was the third-party reimbursement mechanism for the costs of running the revenue trains out-of-district, like what they get from RIDOT for every inch of Providence service run past the state line. That came in the form of a one-time fed grant + the Cape Chamber of Commerce stepping up for the Flyer Season 1 launch in 2013. Subsequently, by Season 3 in '15 Bourne had voted to join the T district and the district border had jumped forward 6.5 miles from the Wareham-Bourne town line to the Bourne-Sandwich town line...with the Cape Chamber now being able to underwrite the last 18 miles to Hyannis without need for supplemental grants.

As an contrasting example of how this would absolutely not go well to beg for a "Move-in Day Flyer" one-off on the B&A, take Gov. Patrick's politically embarrassing whistle-stop tour to the Berkshire Line when he was pimping that billion-dollar Pittsfield-NYC folly late in his 2nd term. Took a then- brand-new T loco, a string of the newest Rotem coaches, loaded it up with dignitaries, and had them pay through the nose to get the foreign-crew escort across the B&A...down the Berkshire (which the state had not yet bought, so more 'foreign' territory), and then a press conference in North Caanan, CT (which royally pissed off his CT counterpart). The train blew a traction motor on the trip back to Pittsfield and had to hobble itself back to Worcester with a CSX rescue...the dignitaries all scattering to their cars at Pittsfield. CSX sent the state a large bill for the unscheduled assist and read them the riot act to never pull that shit again. And so...we can't easily have nice things like a negotiated one-off "Move-in Flyer" by asking CSX pretty-please, because Gov. Patrick didn't ask so pretty when he pulled that lame stunt.


Now, absolutely none of these studies have (despite some inaccurate politician comments here and there) ever hinted towards these service proposals...any service proposals...west of Worcester being a T-logoed thing. It's always assumed Amtrak is going to be the operator, because the schedule times involved are beyond what's truly appropriate for sitting still in Purple Line livery. Plus the whole conundrum of how exactly you go fishing for service that far outside the T district when there isn't any lucky coincidence like the Cape Chamber there to pitch in. So nothing official was ever going to fly as a T joint anyway...including Knowledge Corridor commuter rail which would have to be its own independent (or CTrail ops-contracted) thing even if it played lend-lease with T-logoed equipment. But that extends, unfortunately, to the one-offs like "Move-in Day Flyer" where a reluctant Amtrak is probably going to say no and we already burned that bridge with CSX.

First order of business on any of these study flavors is working out the expanded trackage rights with CSX and/or buying the line. Which, no doubt, CSX is eager and willing to deal for if we float the right "Pimp My Yard" package at them for West Springfield. They've been waiting for years for the state to bite on one of these studies, because there's as much in it for them with faster freight and a region-largest West Springfield facility brought up to par with the new intermodal bells/whistles of Worcester Yard. But it does mean there has to be an actionable sequence coming out of these studies and appropriation of monies for the share of control before anything...even a Baker/Pollack cross-state victory train...can run. This is, after all, one of national CSX's steadiest-growth corridors. They aren't out to ransom when it's a pretty short, fair, and universally agreed-upon list of freight grant extras (namely, judicious West Springfield upgrades) they want from the state in exchange...but they ain't giving it away for free either. So that is the starting point for anything and everything.
 

HenryAlan

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Like the Cape Flyer, it would have to be double-ended, as there's nowhere to turn it in Amherst.
That's not why the Cape Flyer is double ended. None of the Keolis operated trains do a terminal turn, they all operate in push/pull mode with a control car at one end. The Flyer has the second engine for emergency backup. If a train with just one engine breaks down some distance from the normal MBTA catchment, it is difficult to get a spare out to the train in a timely manner. The second engine mitigates against that issue.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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That's not why the Cape Flyer is double ended. None of the Keolis operated trains do a terminal turn, they all operate in push/pull mode with a control car at one end. The Flyer has the second engine for emergency backup. If a train with just one engine breaks down some distance from the normal MBTA catchment, it is difficult to get a spare out to the train in a timely manner. The second engine mitigates against that issue.
They've run the Flyer as regular one-loco push-pull before when they've been short the second engine, so there's no blanket rule on that. Double-draft is just, as you mention, the preferred butt-covering protection because it's out-of-district. Don't know if the major MassDOT renovations recently done (with more to come) on Hyannis Yard are going to eventually change that. Cape Rail does have its home shop onsite and their new ex-MNRR FL9 excursion loco can take the same layover plug-in idling power source as T equipment so on-Cape upgrades are trending to a place where they probably can hedge on dropping the second unit off the Flyer within a year or two.
 

Wash

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Is it too early to be worrying about cab cars? It sounds like whatever East/West service happens is going to need them and there's a chronic shortage in the US at the moment.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Is it too early to be worrying about cab cars? It sounds like whatever East/West service happens is going to need them and there's a chronic shortage in the US at the moment.
The cab shortage is easing. When the new Midwest and Cali coaches go into service over the next 2 years over a dozen of the hollowed-out ex-F40 loco "cabbages" are going into standby storage where they'll basically be doing nothing except backing up the Downeaster's and Cascades' cabbages until those routes' cab replacements trail a few years year and the cabbages get completely retired. (NNEPRA gets its new Downeaster cabs during the statie wave of Amfleet replacements, and WSDOT is on-deadline to the NTSB's ruling on the 2017 Cascades wreck to retire its 4 remaining Talgo VII trainsets within 2 years in favor of more supplemental-order Talgo 8 sets with integrated cab cars.) So even if the state had gotten a much earlier jump on NNEIRI/E-W action plans they'd be able to run it on Opening Day with spare cabbages right away...since these wouldn't be Penn Station run-thrus where the cabbages are too tall for the NY tunnels. And then the Amfleet-replacement order is going to be a perma-solve sending the remaining cabbages to permanent retirement, retiring the Metroliners, and generously expanding the rosters (mostly for PennDOT, who are going to be ordering up more cabs than they immediately need for the sake of future slow-cook Pennsylvanian service increases).


Also should be noted that there is no physical requirement that anything running through SPG Hub needs to have a cab car. Springfield has the bi-directional wye, and New Haven has a turning loop just like Boston. Springfield Tower does assisted revenue-service backup moves from station platforms to wye each and every day for the Valley Flyer and pull-only Vermonter, which do not change prevailing directions mid-trip, as well as for reversing the pull-only SPG Regional. It's century-old hat there that doesn't unduly chew dwell times. And New Haven Union's turning loop is a straight shot south off the platforms, operationally easiest to hit from the Shoreline or Springfield Line directions. The only reason the Springfield Shuttles have run with a mandatory Metroliner cab for 35 years has been Metro North v. Amtrak turf politics at New Haven Union. MNRR doesn't like excessive cross-cutting moves like AMTK needing dispatch priority over commuter trains for berths on the southernmost platforms or crossing a bunch of track switches to hit the yard. This was much more a problem back before Boston electrification when those cross-cuts were needed all day long for engine swaps, so AMTK agreed in the early-80's to mandate the cab car on the Shuttles to keep MNRR's bitching to a minimum. It's functionally not a problem at all anymore now that power swaps have been reduced from all-day to scant trickle with only the Vermonter and couple SPG Regional trips daily still needing to summon the diesel/electric change from the yard. And AMTK/MNRR, after decades of bad blood, are on much more cooperative terms than ever before. So in theory the Inlands to Boston don't need a cab car at all if MNRR agreed to dropping the cab requirement for the Shuttles. (NOTE: pre-2004 Inlands ran pull-only, but those were thru slots from D.C. like the SPG Regional and not Boston-extended Shuttles like NNEIRI turning at New Haven). The one-seat BOS-MTL trip wouldn't need a cab to begin with, since it goes straight through end-to-end.

It's only *genuine* short-turns like the Valley Flyer's Greenfield reverse (however long that lasts before being supplanted by Knowledge Corridor CR) or any East-West patterns that stub out in Pittsfield instead of running all the way to Albany that would need cabs. And those are extreme trace service patterns when the NNEIRI's service baseline was 8 Inland round-trips (waivable cabs), 1 BOS-MTL, and 1 Lake Shore Ltd...none of which have an outright physical requirement. With the tiny share of the pie made up by any additional Western MA short-turns above-and-beyond the NNEIRI baseline, you'd be able to run those services on the same number of replacement-level cabs the Shuttles currently run on. And honestly, Pittsfield short-turning is a crappy long-term proposition vs. running thru to Albany and being able to "Lake Shore"-lash up to a Toronto slot or something much more useful, so the permanent world order for SPG Hub probably won't require any AMTK cabs at full buildout. If they have to seed-start some Pittsfield short-turns as a mea culpa to Berkshire County for E-W making too many up-front promises it never intended to keep, I would hope that's only a temporary arrangement before thru-to-Albany (and hookup to the cross-Empire juvenation machine) being a final goal. But they can probably seed just fine with Pittsfield turns on borrowed cabs for however many years it takes to bring thru-to-Albany online.
 
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