The Case Against The Knowledge Corridor Rail System

In response to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission's (PVPC) "Knowledge Corridor" study, which advocates re-routing Amtrak's Vermonter rail service via the Massachusetts towns along the Connecticut River to increase its speed and number of passengers, Blake Lamothe, the chair of the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, has been promoting his "Population Corridor" plan for rail service.

His plan, Lamothe says, is to capitalize on improving and expanding an existing rail infrastructure, whereas the PVPC plan is "hypothetical" and, Lamothe says, "will become a failure for the state." The PVPC plan attempts to improve only north-south transit, but the Palmer plan tries to improve it in all directions. Not counting Springfield (which figures in both plans), the PVPC plan serves tens of thousands of people who live in the towns along the river; the "Population Corridor" plan was given its name because, says Lamothe, it would serve several times that many who live between Boston and Springfield, Amherst and New London, Conn.

Opening Palmer to passengers, Lamothe estimates, will cost about a million dollars and could be completed in months, as opposed to the $30 million, multi-year PVPC plan. While he is not against an eventual rail route that takes passengers through Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, Lamothe points out that most successful passenger services began after freight service had already been successfully established. The all-but-abandoned line along the Connecticut River is vulnerable to flooding, and nearly every bridge and the approximately 54 rail crossing would need to be updated or replaced. Lamothe says he thinks the cost would be closer to $100 million.

Further, the towns along the river are already served by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus system (Greenfield will soon be building a $12.8 bus transit hub), which does not exist in the places Lamothe's plan seeks to serve. PVPC plans to incorporate the busses into the train system, but Lamothe says they will be two publicly funded transit systems in competition with one another.

Finally, Lamothe points out that the PVPC's "Knowledge Corridor" plan began as a response to the state of Vermont's desire to speed up transit through Massachusetts and attract more passengers. (Vermont currently pays for Amtrak's Vermonter run from St. Albans to Washington, D.C.) While this might be an understandable goal for Vermont, Lamothe asks, "Why would [Massachusetts] support such a huge in-state investment to save out-of-state travelers [time] passing through our state?"

Author: Mark Roessler

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