The new trainsets will be entering revenue service 2021 and the current Acela fleet with be retired by the end of 2022.
Holyoke, Massachusetts is located just north of Springfield, MA. In its day, the city was one of the largest suppliers of office products in the world and got the nickname “The Paper City”. In August 2015, passenger railroad service returned to the city after Amtrak re-routed its “Vermonter” service on the Conn River Line. The re-route would shorten the ride by 25 minutes and eliminate the Amherst Station on the old route.
Connecticut River Railroad Station
A little over 1,000 feet up the track from the new Holyoke Depot Square Railroad Station you can see the Connecticut River Railroad Station. The station was built in 1885 and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson designed 9 New England railroad stations, including Palmer’s Union Station. In 2014, Connecticut River Railroad Station was cited as one of Massachusetts’s top ten most endangered historic sites. Currently, the station is owned by the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company. Right now there aren’t any plans to restore the station. – See photos below of the Station
Holyoke Express Office
Next door to the Connecticut River Railroad Station is the Holyoke Express Office. This office used to handle packages coming on and off the trains.The building was built in the early 1900s. – See photo below
Re-routing the Vermonter line would have been a great opportunity to restore this historical landmark and bring new life into this railroad station; the property even has the space to accommodate parking. Looking at the 2011 Holyoke Station Feasibility Study, restoring this station was one of the options on the table. Looking over the report, it would have cost a little over $3 million to restore the station and up to $1 million for the platform. A full station renovation including the platform would have cost anywhere between $5 to $6 million dollars, and with only two passenger trains traveling daily through Holyoke, it didn’t quite seem worth it.
The MBTA wants to expand train service to western Massachusetts, and it would be nice to revisit the idea of using the historical landmark, but it is highly unlikely because they already invested $3.2 million on the new Depot Square Railroad Station. If only the timing was better, with Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail service coming to Holyoke, it would have been nice to see this historical landmark restored and used as a railroad station again.
An old but true story:
My brother-in-law Tom and I were up in the Munising area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan some 35 years ago and went out to Munising Junction to try and catch the Soo switch job we had heard was going to be there that afternoon. Munising Junction is where the LS&I’s isolated Munising branch interchanged with the Soo, the LS&I having abandoned its own line between Marquette and there years before. (The LS&I line was sold to the Soo Line later on, and it is all CN there now.)
3 days earlier I had bought a brand new 4WD Ford Bronco II SUV. It had rained for the last 5 days straight. We figured we could get to the junction thru the mud with this fancy new 4WD but after a hundred yards or so it sank deep into the muck and we just dug it in deeper and deeper by spinning the tires. We got in so deep that we could not open the doors and had to climb out the windows.
Of course, it started to rain again, and there was no way to close the windows after we climbed out so my brand new truck was filling up with water. I climbed back in and got the one window closed to stem the tide but when we arrived back the interior was soaked.
We were a good 8 to 10 miles out of town and since this was the days before cell phones we started hoofing it to town. My brother-in-law’s brother Dan lived in Munising (and worked at the paper mill which provided most of the traffic for the Munising Branch) so we figured we would borrow some shovels to dig out the truck. 3 hours later we made to his house it just as Dan arrived home from work.
When we got to Dan’s house we were soaked to the skin, cold, wet and hungry. We ate a huge dinner, got some dry clothes then got in his pickup truck to go out and rescue my poor sunken Bronco. All the while Dan was laughing at his silly brother and I for what we did and that we drove 500 miles to watch trains. Some people just don’t get it.
After digging for a couple hours we were no closer to getting the truck out of the mud. It oozed back as fast as we could dig it out. We went back into town and bought a couple hundred feet of wire rope and some fittings and with Dan driving his truck and Tom and I pushing my truck we finally got my poor truck unstuck. It made a loud “plwapp” sound as the suction of the mud gave up. Thankfully both trucks had frame hooks. If that hadn’t worked I considered hiring the LS&I crew to come out and pull it out with the plant switcher. I kind of think they would have probably declined that but a couple cases of beer might have convinced them.
The holes were the tires were were knee-deep and my poor truck (with less than 700 miles on the odometer) was coated with mud in places Mr. Ford had never intended. We went to the local National Pride and $8 in quarters later (comparable to $30 or so in today’s quarters) most of it was gone. There was a ton of mud on the floor of the wash bay and I felt bad so we got a snow shovel and cleaned out the mud. There was still mud on (and in) the muffler and catalytic converter however and it stunk horribly as it burned off over the next couple of days. (Try burning a pile of dried mud sometime, you will catch my drift…).
We spent the next few days around Munising and SSM before heading over to Marquette and chasing the LS&I all over town. When we got back to Chicagoland I brought my truck to a restoration place who cleaned the interior as to avoid mildew issues later. I then went to the tire store and bought a set of decent M&S tires for the next trip.
1) 4WD just lets you get stuck further away from civilization.
2) Crap tires don’t help in mud.
3) If you get stuck, stop spinning the tires, that just digs a deeper hole.
The trip worked out well though. We got great shots of the RS-3 (1604) working the plant at Munising, and it’s mate (1608) sitting at Eagle Mills. We got a boatload of great shots at the dock in Marquette and at Eagle Mills, some Soo stuff, including a GP-30 and a peek in the roundhouse at Marquette . We listened to Alcos and GE’s working the dock job from the campground in Marquette a couple nights and climbed up the hill overlooking Lake Superior at Presque Isle Park. We took tons of pics of LS&I’s Alcos and first generation GE’s.
I love the U.P. and especially the LS&I but this turned out to be a bit more adventurous than we planned.
I rode the CapeFlyer a few weekends ago and it got me thinking about the relaunch of a local version of Amtrak’s Cape Codder.
What is the Amtrak’s Cape Codder?
The Amtrak’s Cape Codder was a seasonal service that ran during the summer months from July to the end of September. Amtrak provided this service between New York City and Hyannis for 10 years, from 1986 to 1996. The Cape Codder would make one trip from New York City to Hyannis on Friday evenings, with two return trips back to New York City, one on Saturday morning and one on Sunday afternoon.
– Below is the timetable for the 1996 Cape Codder
Cape Codder 2.0
Since the CapeFlyer is such a success, I was thinking the MBTA could provide a similar service starting in Wickford Junction, RI to Hyannis, MA. Using a similar route to the Cape Codder starting in in Wickford Junction. Below I will give an overview of each station stop and how it would be a great asset to the “Cape” train.
Wickford Junction (MBTA Station)
Wickford Junction is a beautiful train station that has 1,100 parking spaces in a four story parking garage. This station has been in the news quite a bit since it opened in 2012 because of the lack of MBTA passengers using this station. I think train service should start here, and it would attract users from Connecticut and southern RI. Charging a reasonable weekend rate to customers or offering free parking would attract passengers to this station.
– Below are photos of Wickford Junction
T. F. Green Airport (MBTA Station)
This stop would provide a link between air and rail transportation to Cape Cod south of Boston. There would also be a large 24-hour parking area.
Providence (MBTA Station)
This is one of the MBTA’s busiest stations outside of the Metro Boston area. This station would provide a connection between the “Cape” train and Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Acela services. This would also provide people that live within the city without a car a way to get to Cape Cod.
Attleboro (MBTA Station)
This station would attract customers from the southern I-495 beltway because it is close to the I-95 and I-495 junction in Mansfield. There is ample parking on the weekends.
Just north of the Attleboro Train Station, the “Cape” train would then go on the Middleboro Secondary, making it way through Taunton, Lakeville right into the Middleboro wye making its way to the MBTA Middleboro/Lakeville Station. I’m not sure about the current track conditions of the Middleboro Secondary, the train may need to operate at restricted speeds. It’s been 20 years since passenger trains have been on these tracks. This is the same route the Cape Codder made. After this point I would have the “Cape” train make the same station stops as the CapeFlyer.
The schedule would be very similar to the CapeFlyer, with a Friday night train making a round trip between Wickford Junction and Hyannis. Saturday and Sunday service with a morning train heading Hyannis and PM train returning back to Wickford Junction.
– Below is a photo of the CapeFlyer Crossing the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge
South Coast Project
If the South Coast Project takes the Middleboro/Lakeville commuter rail line as the connecting line between New Bedford and Fall River, a good amount of the Middleboro Secondary track would be upgraded for this project. Also adding one or two more stops for the “Cape” train.
The MBTA states that it has surplus passenger coaches and locomotives. They could take a couple of the best F40PHs and overhaul them like they did with the 1056 and 1062. From what I understand this was cheaper than buying new locomotives.
The idea would use current stations and track that are already there. I would make this a one year trial service like the CapeFlyer, running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I think this trial run wouldn’t be costly and it would bring activity to these stations on the weekends.
I really enjoy photographing trains. One can spend hours waiting for a train to pass. I remember as a child spending hours waiting for Amtrak’s Cape Codder to make its way through Middleboro, MA on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes the Cape Codder was delayed and I had no way of knowing. With a smartphone and the right app/websites, however, they can help us track the trains. I’ve found two amazing tool for tracking Amtrak trains across the country.
Amtrak Location Map
This map will show you trains across the USA. On the map, each train is numbered by its corresponding train schedule number. The numbers on the map are color coded by their on-time status. By clicking on the train number you can see the name of the train, speed, destination and on-time status.
Check out a similar system for MBTA Commuter Rail
Amtrak Mobile App
Using Amtrak’s official mobile app you can search by schedule train numbers or stations and get projected station arrival times. This app is also great for buying tickets and looking at train schedules too.
I tend to use both the website and the app to track trains when I’m out photographing Amtrak trains. I would still recommend have a scanner in hand, that is also a huge asset when tracking trains as well.
In May of 2013, the Capeflyer service was launched by the MBTA to bring passenger rail service back to Cape Cod. This was something they would try for a year to see how it would go. After being quite successful, this service became permanent, and runs every weekend during the summer between Memorial Day and Labor day.
Over the past three years, the CapeFlyer has made many improvements. CapeFlyer trains make limited stops on the Middleboro/Lakeville Line, which include: Braintree, Brockton, and Middleboro. Not having to make every stop on this commuter rail line has shortened the trip from Boston to Hyannis. Along with those changes, a downtown Wareham stop was added. Improvements to railroad crossings and upgrades for some of the railroad tracks south of Middleboro/Lakeville station were made. The cafe car has concessions provided by Blonde on the Run Catering.
On Friday, July 15, 2016, I thought I would take another ride on the CapeFlyer three years after the test run. I haven’t been on the train since the test run on that sunny spring Saturday, May 18, 2013. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Railfans, politicians, and MBTA top officials were onboard for the CapeFlyer’s maiden voyage. Although I hadn’t been on the CapeFlyer since, I’ve been reading about the service over the years. I’ve made multiple trips to the Cape to photograph the train. Like many railfans, I enjoy photographing the train as it makes it way over the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay, MA. One of my photographs even made it into the Mystic Valley Railway Society’s 2015 Calendar.
CapeFlyer: 3 Years Later
After work my dad and I made our way into Boston to retake the trip we did 3 years ago. We got a quick bite at South Station and made our way to track 11 where you board the CapeFlyer. There was a large group of people waiting to board the train. Once the boarding call was made, we made our way to the six coach train set with one locomotive on each end. The train set includes a cafe car, bike rack car, and four passenger coaches. No double deckers coaches were in the set. We departed South Station right at 5:50PM, and made our way south to Cape Cod. It wasn’t your typical commuter rail passenger with business casual outfits; the passengers were dressed for a weekend getaway. Most people had carried on a bag for a weekend stay. It wasn’t your typical commuter rail passenger crowd.
It was a quick ride on the Middleboro/Lakeville position of the line, only making station stops at Braintree, Brockton and Middleboro/Lakeville, with average speeds of 70 mph. Once we made our way south of Middleboro/Lakeville station, the track was upgraded and top speeds were 50 mph. We made station stops at the new Wareham Station and Buzzards Bay. Once we cross the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge it was a non-stop trip to Hyannis. Once we cross the bridge on the Cape side, speeds averaged 30 mph. At this point the sun was setting and the view of the many marshes and cranberry bogs was amazing. We had a few speed restrictions, but we were only six minutes late pulling to Hyannis.
We had about a 40 minute layover at Hyannis before making our return trip back. We left right at 9PM. Only the cafe car and one passenger coach were open. Before we crossed the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the conductors turn off some of the lights so we could view the Cape Cod Canal as we passed over it. Traveling round trip on the CapeFlyer cost about $40 per person from Boston to Hyannis. I would say it was money well spent compared to spending hours in traffic. Leave the driving to someone else.
What started out to be a year-long experiment became a huge hit. The CapeFlyer had a total of 334 passengers heading southbound that evening. The CapeFlyer is a complete success. Everyone seem to be happy, from the passengers to the train crew!
Railfanning the CapeFlyer
About a year or so I drafted up a railfan points of interest sheet for the CapeFlyer. During this trip I made some edits and thought I would share it with other railfans. The original sheet was made up for my good friend and fellow Train Aficionado blog contributor Jonah Soolman. – Click here to download.
Friday night was the most ideal night for me to make a quick round trip on the CapeFlyer. The Friday night train departs South Station at 5:50PM and makes it way south to Hyannis in a 2 hour and 20 minute trip. Once the train arrives in Hyannis at 8:15 there is a short layover of 45 minutes before it departs Hyannis at 9PM to head back into Boston. Saturday and Sunday service trains depart Boston early in the morning and return back in the early evening. This makes for an all day layover in Hyannis.
For this railfanning trip, I would recommend bringing a camera and scanner. There are a few scanner frequency changes along the route. I brought my BC125AT and my Nikon D5200 with me.
Approaching and leaving South Station
– Amtrak Road Channel 160.9200MHz CSQ
Quincy to Middleboro/Lakeville
– Middleboro/Lakeville Line 160.7250MHz CSQ
South of Middleboro/Lakeville Station to Hyannis
– Mass Coastal Railroad Road (Dispatch) 160.4250MHz CSQ [Repeater]
– Cape Cod Canal Control 163.4125
Early this May, I was able to head out the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. I wasn’t able to make the trip up to Maine last year, so I made a point to go up on opening weekend. While there I got my yearly family membership so I plan on going a few more times this year. My dad and I spent a few hours at the Museum and discovered a trolley inside the middle bay of the Highwood Car barn that we had never rode. The Cleveland Railway #1227 a yellow center entrance trolley retired from service in 1959. The Seashore Trolley Museum acquired the trolley back in 1984 and it took them 25 years to restore this trolley built in 1914.
What is the Train Aficionado Podcast
The Train Aficionado audio podcast will be where we talk about everything that rides on rails from trains and trolleys to transit. Host and railroad enthusiast Jonathan Higgins will bring his blog to life with in depth interviews and discussions with railfans, model railroaders, transportation experts, and museum/excursion directors. If you love trains and railroading this is the podcast for you. Podcast will be posted right here so stay tuned!
We are looking for you!
Looking to promote your scenic railroad excursion, railroad club, or railroad museum? We would love to talk about your railfan destination or group. Our readers are always looking for new places to go and see. – Contact Us
Wednesday night, I attended a two hour meeting about the upcoming schedule and fare changes to the Providence/Stoughton Commuter Rail Line. After I got back, my daughter asked “why do people care so much about trains?” I didn’t give her my full answer, but this blog post will. Prior to attending this meeting, I started to do research on the fare increases, and how much it will cost to the daily rider for the monthly pass holder. I also looked at the 114 page “Ridership and Service Statistics 14th Edition 2014 Report” put together by the MBTA, and started to take in all the numbers involving this commuter rail line.
Top 10 commuter rail inbound boarding stations (April 2013)
1 Providence 2325
2 Salem 2122
3 Beverly 2058
4 Lowell 1770
5 Mansfield 1707
6 Attleboro 1665
7 Anderson 1502
8 Worcester 1475
9 South Attleboro 1462
10 Framingham 1299
The public MBTA hearing on the upcoming schedule and fare changes started a little after 6PM. At this point, I’ve been to a handful of these public hearings. Normally there is someone who makes opening remarks and then someone presents the topic at hand with a powerpoint presentation.
MassDOT and MBTA Presentation
Michael Berry, a Legislative Director at MassDOT, said the opening statements and Corey Lynch Deputy Director of the Railroad Operations at MBTA did the presentation. Lynch presented a handful of generic slides about the upcoming changes and how they will overall benefit the commuter rail user. Yes, I said generic; the slides weren’t geared directly to the Providence/Stoughton line. It would be my guess that they are using this same slide show at each public hearings across the state. Lynch said the goal is to improve service on the line, but it will come with a cost: in this case that cost is eliminating station stops and changing train times.
Corey Lynch Deputy Director of the Railroad Operations
Michael Berry Legislative Director at MassDOT
Lynch also stated that there would be a reduction on interlined trains. A train set may start its day on the Providence/Stoughton line then during the mid-day the train set may be used on a different line operating out of South Station before returning the Providence/Stoughton line for the PM peak service, but not anymore. The MBTA has found that running interlined trains has made issues affecting multiple lines. Let’s say “train set A” is working on the Worcester line and they are having signal problems. “Train set A” is 20 minutes late inbound to Boston. Once “train set A” returns back to South Station, it becomes the outbound Providence train. Now this 20 minute delay has carried over to the Providence line. It’s almost like dominos, once a delay happens, everything keeps getting pushed back more and more.
The MBTA is standardizing the “Peak Box” throughout the hold system. AM peak service would be between 6AM – 10AM and PM peak service would run between 3:30PM – 7PM.
Rail Traffic Controller (RTC)
When putting together new schedules, the MBTA uses Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) software. This software simulates everything from signals to station stops. This helps the MBTA see if the new schedules will work.
Feedback from the Commuters
Both Berry and Lynch stated that this public hearing would be used to get feedback from the riders. This feedback is then used to finalize the changes on the line affected. The presentation lasted about 20 minutes give or take. About a handful of local officials started off the feedback process. They all pretty much stated the same thing: fare spikes for lousy service, problems with the rescheduled train times, and a huge outpouring of negativity for the plan to eliminate stops at Ruggles station inbound and outbound on both the AM and PM commutes. One of the politicians stated he got over 100 calls already about the Ruggles station.
Once the presentation and the politicians had their little speeches, it was the commuters’ turns to address their concerns and issues. I’m going to summarize the 50 plus commuters’ concerns and issues below:
- Overcrowding – Most peak trains are standing room only. Conductors are not able to punch tickets or view passes/mobilepass. One commuter rider stated she has a 10 ride pass, and she was able to use that same pass for 10 months. A 10 ride pass is good for 5 round trip rides. The MBTA states this has been an ongoing issue and they have hired 30 more conductors across their 12 commuter rail lines. That means that one or two extra conductors would be on the Providence/Stoughton line trains.
- More coaches/double decker coaches – Currently, the MBTA is running 6 to 8 coaches on most trains. Some of the trains sets are running single level coaches.
- Higher fares for slow service – The Providence/Stoughton line is plagued with delays almost daily. During this two hours meeting, people were getting alerts about 20-40 minute delays on the line. One commuter said that the MBTA operates on its own time, not real world time.
The Biggest Concern – Ruggles Station
The biggest concern by more than 75% of the people that spoke was about Ruggles station. Here is some background about Ruggles.
This intermodal station is location in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. This station services MBTA’s Orange Line Subway system and the following commuter rail lines: Franklin, Needham, Providence, and Stoughton trains. With only 3 platforms, it is hard to service 4 commuter rail lines. There are plans in the works for adding a fourth platform. A $20 million grant was awarded to the project back in 2014. Lynch states the project should be complete within 2 ½ years, and the MBTA says the reduction of trains stopping at Ruggles is a temporary inconvenience until the fourth platform is added.
Eliminating this stop affects a lot of people working in the medical field. Ruggles Station is the closest to the Longwood medical area. There were nearly a dozen medical professions that spoke up at this meeting, and they are also concerned about their patients who will be affected by this as well. People that need to get to this area of Boston would need to be dependent on 2nd mode MBTA transportation such as the bus or subway, extending their already long commute.
Keeping passengers informed?
According to commuters that use Ruggles station, nothing was posted by the MBTA about this public hearing. Some commuters took it upon themselves to post signs promoting the meeting. Two women that use the commuter rail daily to get to their jobs in Attleboro and Providence started a petition to stop the schedule change. In one day, they had over 130 passengers’ signatures, most of them were hearing about the major changes to the schedule for the first time. I was hearing the same thing over and over again about how the MBTA is doing a poor job informing passengers about the major changes coming in May.
This wasn’t the main topic of discussion at the public meeting, but here is what it would look like for a customer using the Mansfield Station (Zone 6).
Why do people care so much about trains?
Getting back to my daughter’s question… Over 1 million people depend on the MBTA to get them from point a to point b. Most are commuting daily to work so they won’t need to drive into the city, or they don’t have a car so this is their primary mode of transportation. Commuters work their schedules around the MBTA’s services, and in most cases it’s convenient, as long as it operates at 100%. Huge changes to service or scheduled times create huge problems for the system user.
I heard from a single mother of 3 kids who uses the service to get to and from work. Bypassing the Ruggles stop would make her commute longer and her kids would need to be at daycare later. The Ruggles stop seems like a minor change to a train schedule but it comes with huge consequences for its riders. This single mother’s daycare cost for her kids will go up and she will have less family time each night because of the elimination of the Ruggles stop. I’ve heard many similar statements from others that spoke that evening; this one change affects thousands of commuters like her.
- I think the MBTA needs to review the schedule changes and offer a few more trains stopping in Ruggles.
- Since this line is overcrowded, they should be using train sets with 8 double deckers coaches, rather than single decker trains and train with few then 8 coaches. I just saw article today about a surplus of locomotives and cars going to a commuter rail project in Springfield. Shouldn’t we take care of the current lines before expanding service elsewhere?– Read the article
- The MBTA should be posting information at every single station about these public meeting so people know about them.
- This public meeting was a one-sided discussion. The MBTA states that they are recording all the concerns and issues address by the riders for later review. I’ve been to a few of these meetings and this is the first time I’ve been to one where it wasn’t a two-way conversation. I think people would feel better if someone answered their questions.
- If they are going to reduce service to the Ruggle Station, they should make it a fair balance between 4 of the commuter rail trains stopping there.
- I understand the MBTA needs to balance their books, and not collecting the fare isn’t helping their problem. This wasn’t the first time I have heard about this ongoing issue. If they were collecting the fares, they wouldn’t need to raise them.
- What is there to pay more for? The service isn’t improving the Providence/Stoughton Line, instead it’s plagued with delays almost daily. The day after the meeting, I heard a call over the scanner from the inbound Wickford Jct saying that Train #808 was stopped at Attleboro Station due to a mechanical problem.
I was able to drive over the station to take photos and a video. See photos and a video below showing Train #808 smoking at Attleboro Station.
Train #808 was experiencing a head end power (HEP) failure. The train was able to pull out of Attleboro Station with the HEP system shut down. This system provides electrical power to the coaches, including the lights, heating, and air conditioning. Once the train pulled out of Attleboro Station, the MBTA Mechanical Department recommended removing the filters to restore electrical power back to the coaches. This would be the temporary fix to the problem.
I will keep a watchful eye on this. The new schedules take effect on May 23. You can still voice your opinions about the changes on the Providence/Attleboro Line by e-mailing the MBTA.