The commonwealth of Massachusetts plans 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.
“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 Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. “Through this agreement, we are realizing the renewed value this infrastructure can have in creating economic opportunities throughout the region.”
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation blog, the agreement 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, Vt., 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. 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 consisted of the replacement of approximately 95,000 crossties, new continuously welded rail, new active warning signals and crossing gates at 23 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.