I-Team investigates ridership and cost of the “Vermonter”

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – It cost you the taxpayers $130 million to revamp Amtrak’s Vermonter line in western Massachusetts.

New stops were added in Northampton and Greenfield in December. Since then, the 22News I-Team has been tracking the ridership and how much money we’ve spent to find out if it’s worth the price tag.

For the last four months, Amtrak’s “Vermonter” line has been running on its new schedule. The high-speed train travels back and forth from Washington D.C. through western Mass. and ends in Vermont. It always stopped in Springfield and soon, a stop is coming to Holyoke.

Once the new route started, the 22News I-Team started watching, how many people are riding and how much money we’re spending.

Here’s what we discovered, so far:

  • $73 million federal stimulus dollars were spent on infrastructure improvements from Springfield to the Vermont state line.
  • Another $17 million state dollars were spent to buy the line from PanAM Railways, to make it a now publicly owned track
    and an additional $40 million was spent for supplemental repairs not included in the federal spending.
  • In all about $130 million dollars were spent.

Question is, are people riding? “The actual ridership is higher than projected,” said the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Tim Brennan. He says so far, he’s happy.

Our investigation revealed in the first two months, 1,181 hundred riders have gotten on and off at the new Greenfield stop and more than 2,624 hundred at the Northampton stop. To compare that to something, before the Amherst stop shut down there were just shy of 2,765 riders in its final two months. Thats a thousand or so more people who took the train after Amherst closed and the two new stops opened.

The numbers are higher than Brennan expected, although he admits, more people will typically ride when something is brand new. Checking back in a year from now will be the real test.

We need a longer period of time though to talk about a trend, we also dont know the results of when the bridges are all done and the train can maintain speed, Amtrak will change the schedule to show a potential patron how much time savings will be achieved.

Transportation leaders are only hoping ridership goes up once the I-91 viaduct construction gets underway and MGM’s construction picks up. They’re hoping people will start commuting to work this way.

It’s how Leeds’ Richard Turnball gets to work in New York, although he’s not sure it can be considered a local commuter train yet. “The problem is, there’s only one train a day from Northampton.  So, if that means your work schedule, that’s great, if not, I guess you do whatever it is you normally do,” Turnball said.

The stop in Holyoke is expected to be ready to go by Fall of this year, Amtrak will update schedules as all the improvement work is complete over the next year or so.

As the improvements are made Brennan says you’ll notice a change in speed.

Right now, heading north is faster than the southbound route. That’s because that’s where some of the bridges are under construction.

Here are the numbers of the new stops compared to Springfield. We’ll also post numbers from March when they’re released:

January FY15 January FY14
Code Station Name Total Total
GFD Greenfield, MA 692 0
NHT Northampton, MA 1,347 0
SPG Springfield, MA 315 218
February FY15
Code Station Name Ons Offs Total
GFD Greenfield, MA 224 265 489
NHT Northampton, MA 582 695 1,277
SPG Springfield, MA 185 111 296
This is a project 22News will continue to follow for you.

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