Residents of the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts now have additional rail travel options available with the Valley Flyer, a relatively new service sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), and operated under contract by Amtrak. The seeds for this new service were planted when MassDOT completed reconstruction of the “Connecticut River Line” from Springfield, Mass., to just south of the Vermont state line in December 2014, enabling Amtrak to re-establish Vermonter service on the historic route of Amtrak’s Montrealer through Northampton, Mass., which had been rerouted in 1987 due to poor track conditions. It was “temporarily” re-routed first via New London and Palmer, and later, as the Vermonter, via Springfield, Palmer, and Amherst, Mass. With the original route back in use, service was terminated at Amherst and restored at Northampton, with additional station stops inaugurated at Holyoke and Greenfield, Mass.
While the MassDOT project set the stage for the Valley Flyer, the June, 2018 expansion of train service between New Haven and Hartford, Conn. and Springfield, Mass., known as the CTrail Hartford Line, was the key to making Valley Flyer service a reality. But the Valley Flyer also had an additional champion, a grass-roots group known as Trains In The Valley, which was founded in 2016, and whose mission is “To advocate for improved and expanded passenger and freight rail service in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts.” Their advocacy for the Valley Flyer service aided in its creation and its continued operation. MassDOT paid Amtrak $1.0 million annually for two years starting August 30, 2019 to operate the Valley Flyer, before a determination was to be made in the summer of 2021 on whether to continue its operation.
ABOVE: Amtrak train 461 is about to blow by the Keets Road crossing in South Deerfield, Mass., February 12, 2023. —Doug Manson
North America, and indeed much of the world, went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic starting in early 2020. Rail service, amongst other transportation modes, was significantly curtailed, including the Valley Flyer, which was reduced to one train in each direction each day. The regular Valley Flyer schedule calls for two trains in each direction daily, with a different schedule weekdays and weekends. The service is supplemented by Amtrak’s Vermonter which operates daily as well, but which was suspended during the heart of the COVID crisis. It wasn’t until July 2021 that the Valley Flyer was restored to its original frequency, as was the Vermonter.
The Valley Flyer’s schedule is designed to enable passengers to access Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor services, as well as Metro-North New Haven Line and CTrail’s Shore Line East service, with the key goal of a round trip to New York City and return in one day. That’s a lot of traveling for a day trip, but for those who want or need to do it, the Valley Flyer provides this ability. The new service also provides connections to other cities along the Northeast Corridor…