For Immediate Release - August 20, 2014

Governor Patrick Announces Agreement In Principle to Purchase Knowledge Corridor Rail Line

Line Will Increase Economic Competitiveness, Access to Transportation Across Western Massachusetts

Knowledge Corridor Announcement & Rail Trip

Governor Patrick rides a Pan Am Railways train along with Secretary Davey and David Fink, President of Pan Am Railways, from North Adams to Greenfield to survey a portion of the Knowledge Corridor. (Photo: Eric Haynes / Governor’s Office)

GREENFIELD – Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 –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 also 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, VT, and Washington, DC 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 1980’s and was rerouted southeast to Palmer, where trains reverse direction and head west to Springfield. 

"It is clear that the residents of western Massachusetts are hungry for rail service," said Congressman Jim McGovern. "Today's announcement, coupled with state and federal investments to rehabilitate the Knowledge Corridor line, will make such service a reality."

"As an outspoken supporter of increased rail travel throughout New England, I am pleased the Commonwealth has agreed to purchase the rail line that runs along the Knowledge Corridor," said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “The completion of this segment of track will lead to increased passenger and freight service from the Pioneer Valley to the Vermont border. Not only will this project will help improve our transportation infrastructure, it will also grow the local economy. It's exciting news for Western Massachusetts.”

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.

"There has been sustained interest in improving rail service in New England and throughout the Northeast corridor and this is an important step toward that goal," said Senator Stan Rosenberg. "That interest is driven by the economic development and job growth potential of freight and passenger rail, and by environmental concerns. This is just one more reason to be excited about the future of rail in our region."

“I am thrilled to learn about the Commonwealth’s agreement to purchase the Knowledge Corridor rail line and the ongoing restoration of the Vermonter to its original route through that Corridor,” said Senator James T. Welch. “The restoration of this route will greatly benefit Western Massachusetts by decreasing travel time for passengers and alleviating some of the congestion on our roadways, as well as increasing access and travel to our cities along the route.”

"I would like to commend Governor Patrick and Secretary Davey for their leadership and commitment to expanding modern and reliable mass transportation in Western Massachusetts,” said Representative Peter V. Kocot.

"This major investment in improved rail service brings exciting opportunities for both new transportation options and enhanced economic development possibilities to the communities along the rail corridor,” said Representative Stephen Kulik. “ The state's acquisition of this rail line, coupled with the initiative to develop future local passenger service which the legislature included in this year's Transportation Bond, is an exciting development for resident's who are interested in seeing regular passenger rail service return to our region. I thank Governor Patrick and Secretary Davey for their steadfast commitment to both this Knowledge Corridor project, and for increasing transportation options for our citizens."

“I am thrilled by today’s announcement to purchase this track,” said Representative Ellen Story. “The Knowledge Corridor project will be a boon to the entire Western Massachusetts region, and also a significant improvement in the train service.”

"I am heartened by the emphasis this Administration has placed on improving and modernizing public transportation all across the state,” said Representative Aaron Vega. “We in Holyoke are grateful for the support we have received in creating a Transportation Overlay District and an Urban Renewal Plan and we are ready to welcome Passenger Rail Service to the heart of our downtown."

“This is a great opportunity for Western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley and Greenfield,” said Robert Pyers, Economic Development Director for the Town of Greenfield. “The original concept of the ‘Knowledge Corridor’ was to link the regions’ common interests and economic connections to market our area in a way that is competitive with other parts of the country. We sought to brand the region such that site selectors and real estate consultants from around the country would know who we are and what we are. The transportation development that the Governor is proposing will essentially provide the infrastructure to accomplish that. It is important that this valuable resource be controlled by the government for the public benefit and not by private industry.”

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