There is a little railroad in Massachusetts that can best be described as “The Little Railroad That Could.” This railroad, most commonly known as the ex-Boston and Maine Connecticut River Mainline, runs from East Deerfield yard in Deerfield MA to Springfield MA under Pan Am Southern and Springfield MA to New Haven CT under Amtrak. On its way, it passes through old industrial giants such as Holyoke and Springfield MA and Hartford CT.
The railroad now is a shadow of its former self north of Springfield. While not fully abandoned, the conditions are quite poor. Passenger trains cannot run on the line per FRA rules, and speeds rarely top 10-15 miles per hour. Train crews often must stop the train and manually flag crossings, even those with lights, for fear the rusty rails may prevent the flashers from working correctly. It is often joked that crews don’t have to stop the train because they can jump off and run down to the crossing and beat the train.
Some customers like Yankee Candle have found other shipping services; but, a few customers have stuck it out. PCA in Northampton MA, Sullivan’s Scrap in Springfield MA and Mt. Tom electric plant receive shipments. Pan Am Southern, the line operator from Greenfield to Springfield services other companies south of Springfield, but that part of the line is well maintained by Amtrak.
This is the railroad that could; this is the railroad that could bring new life to western New England. The line has been slated to receive new life through the Knowledge Corridor project and relocation of the Vermonter back to this line. Amtrak, Massachusetts and Vermont are paying to rebuild the line north of Springfield. It is also hoped that additional service may run on the line supplementing the Vermonter.
This is an excellent start; but the real key to prosperity is jobs. There are track side properties either ready to be rehabbed, or easily torn down and rebuilt. The state could offer tax incentives for companies to move to the region and create jobs. PAS also has intermodal rights as far south as New Haven. Combine new manufacturing jobs from online properties with intermodal operations in southern CT not only do you create jobs but you improve safety by removing trucks from I-84 and I-91. All of this could happen without disturbing Amtrak’s operations and with additional double tracking even accommodate New Haven-Hartford Commuter rail.
This is the plan for the little railroad that could, but it needs buy in. It needs buy in from Mass and CT to offer the tax incentives for business to move, it requires a commitment from PAS to run quality and reliable operations and it requires a commitment to good dispatching to make sure everything runs smoothly.