By Danielle Eaton
A new train service from Greenfield to Springfield is expected to begin soon and will offer Pioneer Valley residents a new way to get around.
The Valley Flyer train, which will be run by Amtrak, is slated to begin service on Aug. 30 and will offer stops in both Northampton and Holyoke. From Springfield, riders will be able to go on to stops in Connecticut and even New York City via the CT Rail if they so choose. However, if a rider would choose to do that, they would need to purchase an additional ticket at Union Station.
The Valley Flyer will offer people the option to take a train two times each morning going South from Greenfield and two times each night going North from Springfield. This is in addition to Amtrak’s Vermonter train, which already runs through Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield once a day. The train will run just one time each way on weekends and holidays, however.
State Rep. Lindsay N. Sabadosa, D-Northampton, described the train as “comfortable” and confirmed they would have bathrooms. According to the Amtrak website, food and refreshments will not be offered to guests during the short trip.
The schedule and ticket prices for the train service were released a week before service was expected to begin. Trains are slated to leave Greenfield at 5:45 a.m. and 7:35 a.m. Train riders can expect the trip to take about an hour each way and cost either $18 or $26 per ticket.
Other tickets are less expensive. The cost of a ticket between Greenfield and Northampton is $10, from Northampton and Holyoke is $9, from Springfield to Holyoke is $11, and from Springfield to Northampton is $13. The prices are identical to what Amtrak charges those who use the Vermonter train to travel to those locations.
From Union Station to Berlin, Conn., which is 39.6 miles, will cost a rider $8 for a one-way ticket, while Amtrak will charge a rider $18 to ride the Valley Flyer a similar distance of 39.1 miles from Greenfield to Springfield.
Co-Founder of advocacy group Trains in the Valley, Ben Heckscher, told Reminder Publishing elected representatives in the Valley are working hard to change this. He said, “Ideally we want to get to the point where what’s happening in the Hartford line where the price is fixed. We’re not there yet.”
The Valley Flyer may not be permanent, as it is part of a pilot program.
Patrick Beaudry, manager of public affairs for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), said once the CT Rail started up, legislators and the PVPC “began thinking how we can work with the stakeholders involved to extend trips further up the valley.”
They worked with Amtrak, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Eventually, Beaudry said MassDOT agreed to fund the service as a two-year pilot program and look at ridership to determine if they would continue to provide the service beyond the fall of 2021. For MassDOT to continue offering Pioneer Valley residents the train service, each year the Valley Flyer will have to garner 24,000 new riders.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Greenfield, believes meeting the goal is possible, but it will take some work on elected officials’ end. He said, “I definitely think it’s possible, It’s all of our job to promote the service and to understand the service and that it’s available, and that there’s a want for this.”
Heckscher echoed this, and said,” I think it’s attainable, it’s going to take work and marketing efforts. You’re going to get people incentives, but I think it’s attainable. You’re just going to have to work hard to get it done.”
Sabadosa believes the service will see the ridership needed simply because of excitement.
There are still some kinks to be worked out in terms of what Beaudry described as “last mile connectivity,” or how people get from the train station to their final destination or home.
“We need to think about last mile connectivity, we need to think about how people are getting to these platforms,” he said. “What we are excited about is that there are Valley Bike stations at Union Station and the Holyoke Platform. It’s really about connecting all those mobility options.”
Greenfield and Northampton riders, who largely rely on local but transportation options such as the PVTA and FRTA, may see some complications with last mile connectivity. The last train going North is scheduled to arrive in Greenfield at 12:38 a.m., a time past when the FRTA offers services.
State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, called this a “funding issue.”
“We’re going to have to fight for in the next budget. We’ll have five or six months of data. We’re going to have to find the funding to couple another pilot program,” said Vega.
Despite some issues that still may need work along the way, elected officials are all in agreement about the opportunities this will provide for Valley residents.
In addition to job mobility, Vega said it also opens up other opportunities such as tourism.
“ If I want to go into Northampton and then be able to come back the same day that’d be great,” said Vega. “I think about with Celebrate Holyoke . . . hopefully next year we’ll be able to utilize that.To not worrying about parking is a great way to do that. Environmental impact, just going back and forth in the Valley, this is how we address that.”
He continued, “One more key in that growth when we talk about the five colleges, they’re [professors] ability to look at Holyoke as a viable place to live and take a train to work would be huge. Hopefully we can capture that in the pilot.”
Sabadosa said she hopes the Valley Flyer keeps the conversation about public transportation in Western Massachusetts open and ongoing. “The legislator’s job is to continue to reach out to those agencies and people to make sure we’re on the same page and to say Western Mass. is here and we want public transportation too.”
Danielle Eaton can be reached at [email protected].