Report on Trains Returning to Northampton

Hey, Western Mass, the trains are coming back! Beginning late 2014, train service will return to Northampton, MA and Greenfield, MA, when trains heading north from New Haven, CT and Springfield, MA will follow the route of the Connecticut River on up to stops in Vermont.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation rail service officials and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission presented plans for the service at a meeting before the Northampton rail service advisory committee appointed by Mayor David Narkewicz on Tuesday, July 7, 2012. The

The Vermonter train is the service which took the place of the former Montrealer which ran this same route but continued across the border into Quebec, Canada.

So what does this have to do with bikes? Two different points of interests to cyclists:  bikes on the trains themselves; the impact of the new trains on existing bike routes.

How cool would it be to take the train either north or south on this route and be able to bring your bike along? You’d have transportation at your destination without need for taxi, or car rental. So does Amtrak allow bikes on trains? Well, that depends on the specific train. There is an official Amtrak policy on bikes on trains with a corresponding chart showing the number of bikes allowed:

We offer several options for transporting your bicycle with you on your Amtrak journey.

  • Bicycles stored onboard in bike racks.
  • Bicycles as checked baggage in a box or other secure container.
  • Bicycles as checked baggage secured by tie-down equipment (not in a box).
  • Folding bicycles brought onboard as carry-on baggage. Availability varies.

I raised the question of whether bikes would be allowed on this train service and was told that would be something discussed later. The MassDOT reps said, while Amtrak runs the service and would determine what is allowed, that the state would be supportive of bike service because it would be in line with state policy encouraging alternative forms of commuting.

After the meeting, several people in the audience came up to me and told me they had also come to the meeting wanting to hear about bike service on these trains and were glad that I had raised the issue. One of those people was a co-owner of Ride-Noho, which does cycling vacations and skills camps out of Northampton. His business would use the service to get customers to Northampton for rides, and to get to ride destinations.

As to the train infrastructure impacting local cycling, well, I’ve got four words for you:

The Tunnel Is Coming!

The tunnel under the rail tracks along the Northampton section of rail trail along King Street. This connection will allow cyclists to avoid dragging bikes across the tracks behind Taco Bell (illegally) in order to connect to the Norwottuck Rail Trail across the Connecticut River. DOT officials said the actual placement of the tunnel would take one week, but the accompanying grading and lighting would take longer.

This was just the first meeting of many, but I’m glad bikes are on the table from the start. I should also tell you that several committee members are people who will place emphasis on bikes being included in the planning and implementation of this service, including Craig Della Penna, a frequent commenter here and someone who’s understood for a very long time the importance of all of these pieces coming together.

I’ll be following this as it develops.


About Pedal Paradise

Cyclist, Mom, Travel Nut, Bike Riding Empower-er!
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7 Responses to Report on Trains Returning to Northampton

  1. Patrick B says:

    This the first I’ve heard about adding a tunnel under the tracks. I’m really glad to hear it. With low speed and infrequent freight trains it is still dangerous. Much higher speed and cumulativly more frequent passenger trains would be a more dangerous combo.

    • Patrick,

      I’m glad to bring you this good news! Local cycling advocates have had this tunnel on the desired list for years, but weren’t getting far with the train company. Fortunately, the investment in the “Knowledge Corridor” passenger service gave the state some leverage with the train company to negotiate putting in the tunnel. You’re absolutely right that the tunnel is a necessity with the increase in numbers of trains and speed of trains coming through. As the parent of two cycling kids, I’ll be much happier when the tunnel goes in – especially thinking back to the days when I was pulling either a trailer or a trail-a-bike behind me.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really appreciate that!


  2. Mistinguette says:

    I really appreciated this update!

    • Mistinguette,

      Thanks! The promise of trains in late 2014 is so exciting for us. That long drive to New Haven to catch the train to NYC is such a drain, especially the return part late at night. I think this train service will be really good for our local economy, bringing people here from other points as well. I’m going to stay on top of these developments because they are really important for our area.


  3. gold price says:

    Quick update: Greyhound seems like the way to go. You can ship from many more locations (right here in New Haven, as opposed to going to Newark), they take packages up to 100lbs and the rates seem cheaper than Amtrak too. I think I am going to try which is a service that uses Greyhound, but lets you ship more stuff, gives slightly better rates, and also offers door-to-door service if you want it. Between that and Virgin America’s very generous baggage allowance, I should be all set! More than 7 weeks until I actually make the move but this seems like it should work well. (Too bad – I would rather have my money going to support Amtrak but they aren’t making it easy with the strict 50lbs maximum and their unwillingness to pick up anything in New Haven. I’ve never understood why the Amtrak window at Union Station/New Haven is often staffed if only one train lets you check baggage. I’d thought it was for Amtrak Express but apparently not).

  4. Johanna says:

    The link for the Official Amtrak Policy on bikes on trains isn’t working. Any way you can fix it? *Love* the news about the tunnel!!

    • Hi Johanna,

      Amtrack redesigned the page and changed the url. I’ve updated the link. Should work for you now.

      I agree this is way cool news about the tunnel coming. How much easier trips between Hadley/Amherst and Northampton will become!


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