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First High-Speed Train Trip Celebrated In Western Mass


A new era of train travel has arrived in western Massachusetts. High-speed passenger service has come to the region because of new tracks, crossing signals and other upgrades paid for by the multi-billion dollar economic recovery bill passed by the Congress in 2009.

The inaugural run of an Amtrak train on the rebuilt north-south line known as the Knowledge Corridor was captured on video posted on Facebook by the Whately Police Department that shows the train racing through the Christian Lane crossing in the town.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and a host of federal, state, and local officials took the inaugural train ride Monday from Springfield to Greenfield.  For the first time in decades passenger trains will stop in Northampton, Holyoke, and Greenfield where there is a new $15 million transportation center.

Gov. Patrick, addressing about 100 people who had come out to meet the train in Greenfield, said the Amtrak train idling outside the station was a “beautiful sight.”

" Use the line. Use the line," Patrick implored the crowd.

  The Amtrak Vermonter, with two trains per day, will start traveling on the new line on Dec. 29th.

Patrick implied future additional service will depend on passenger use statistics.

The Commonwealth purchased the rebuilt Knowledge Corridor rail line from Pan Am Southern Company for $17 million in a move officials said makes use of the line by commuter trains possible, if funds to operate such service can be secured.

The new tracks are state-of-the-art rails fused together to reduce noise and allow for trains to reach top speeds of 70-80 mph. 

Mary MacInnes, administrator of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, said the inaugural trip was a good ride.

" It was a very smooth ride. We had someone measuring the speed and in places it went up to 79 mph, so that is not too bad."

  The ceremonial first trip on the high-speed rail line had the atmosphere of an old whistle-stop tour, according to some of the participants, with people waving at rail crossings and from backyards as the train sped past.  A marching band heralded the train’s arrival in Northampton.

There was a groundbreaking for a new passenger rail platform in downtown Holyoke. Mayor Alex Morse said people are anxious to use the new train service.

"When I go around the city and talk about projects happening in Holyoke the one that spurs the most excitement is the passenger rail platform and the restoration of train service. I am optimistic it will be used."

The new line was constructed with $73 million in federal money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which was intended to stimulate job creation following the Great Recession.

Massachusetts Congressmen Richard Neal and James McGovern and retired Congressman John Olver were all onboard for the inaugural train trip.  All three Democrats strongly defended the controversial use of stimulus money for high-speed rail.

McGovern called the western Massachusetts rail project an economic driver.

"Public investments like these  nourish our communities, they create jobs, fuel the economy, improve livability. They made a difference."

 The two year project to build the high-speed rail line put 200 people to work, according to federal officials.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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