After years of hearing rumors of the Amtrak Train "The Vermonter" extending service to include Union Station in Northampton, MA, the day has finally arrived! We realtors at Maple and Main Realty, have been speculating and wondering how this new development will effect real estate inventory and value in the Pioneer Valley. We will certainly continue to remark upon this change, and it's effects, as time marches on. In the meanwhile, it is very exciting that we can now take a train from NYC to Vermont, and beyond. Though, it seems (based upon the attached article from The Daily Hampshire Gazette), that we can expect some delays, and some glitches still to be worked out. Nevertheless, this is great news!
Back on line: Amtrak’s new Vermonter draws capacity crowd for first public run
Photo Credit: Jerrey Roberts
NORTHAMPTON — With years of planning, construction and preparations leading to this day, a collection of eager passengers braved the cold Monday at Union Station to wait for the first passenger train to and from Northampton in decades.
Ruth Klepper of Florence was one of the first passengers to arrive at the station off Pleasant Street. Thirty minutes before the Vermonter was supposed to arrive, Klepper was standing on the platform waiting.
Not only was she among the first passengers to arrive to greet the train, she was also one of the first ones to buy a ticket, which she bought in person in Springfield, she said.
“I like trains. I always do go by train and this is the first, so I definitely had to get on this one,” Klepper said, bundled up and holding her suitcase.
She was headed for Brattleboro, Vermont — $18 one way — where she planned to stay for a few days and come back on New Year’s Eve. Previously, if she wanted to catch the train, she generally drove down to Springfield to do it.
“To get to Springfield, it’s taxi to the bus, bus to the train, it’s terrible,” she said. Now she doesn’t have to do that, she said.
A few minutes later, the Wheatley family arrived. Justin and Laura Wheatley had their two children, 5-year-old Owen and 2-year-old Layla, along to ride the train with them to Brattleboro.
“We just thought it would be so much fun to do this on the very first day of service, and with two little children we thought that would be an easy first trip,” Laura Wheatley said.
Justin Wheatley said he has always enjoyed riding trains and the children like playing with trains.
“There is just something magical about them,” he said.
The family, who now live in Northampton, used to live in England, where Justin Wheatley is from, and took many more trains there, they said.
In Brattleboro, they planned to stay the night and return the next morning, also by train.
Grace Campbell, a freshman at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, was getting on the train to return to school for a few days. She planned to visit her roommate for her roommate’s birthday, she said. If the train was not running, Campbell would have her parents drive her there, a four-hour trip one way.
Campbell did take the train when it was in Amherst, which is closer to her home in Belchertown, but she is happy that the train will move quicker now, she said. The train also had plenty of room for Campbell’s skis, which she brought with her to school.
Campbell’s mother, Ellen Campbell, said she would eventually like to take the train up north, as well.
“I want to go to Montreal,” she said.
Looking at her phone, Grace Campbell read an email that said the train was going to be nearly an hour late. Few complaints could be heard, however, as most were so excited to ride any train at all.
Bob Jeffway Jr. said he was watching the tracks get laid down for the past two years near his office in South Deerfield, and decided he had to ride the first train. He boarded at Northampton and got off in Greenfield, where his parents picked him up.
“There’s probably more buses and it’s probably less expensive, but I do like trains and you can just get on and go, and now they’ve got wireless and power,” said Jeffway, who lives in Leeds.
The train soon arrived, only about 10 minutes late, and people gathered to make a line to board from the platform. Campbell kissed her dog, Bear, goodbye.
President on board
The doors opened and passengers from points south spilled out. Among them was Eric Olson, who traveled from Northampton down to Springfield by train that morning, got a drink and rode back, he said.
Passengers filled nearly every seat on both sides of the train cars. Passengers getting on in Northampton squeezed in where they could.
Though most passengers likely didn’t know it, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph H. Boardman rode the train along with them. In a special car near the back of the train, Boardman answered questions about the future of the service to Northampton, Greenfield, and eventually Holyoke.
On the platform and beyond, many people have expressed interest in commuter service with multiple trains traveling north and south through Massachusetts, but Boardman said commuter service would likely take a big investment of money.
“Just because we sell out a train does not mean we’ve covered all our costs,” Boardman said. “Unless there’s a policy decision that goes along with that expansion, it’s not going to happen.”
At the same time, Boardman said this country needs to spend more money on infrastructure to keep up with other countries in rail, air traffic and highways.
“We spend billions globally on defense and we argue locally about millions,” Boardman said.
Boardman said the inaugural run was going well, and the train being late did not surprise him, with the volume of passengers getting on and off, as well as the conductors getting oriented with the new route.
Overall, the benefits of the train service would be mostly economic development, Boardman said.
“This line connected to the northeast corridor is probably the biggest advantage you could have,” he said.
Behind the president’s car was a theater car. Set up like an actual movie theater, the car’s rear wall was a floor-to-ceiling window, which allowed for a view of the track the train passed by. Rear-facing seats held company executives watching the show. Such seats are not open to the public because they do not meet train safety standards, according to an Amtrak spokesman.
After a short ride, the train arrived in Greenfield at about 4:50 p.m., nearly a half-an-hour late after stopping for so long in Northampton. Passengers staying on board to points north didn’t seem to notice, as most of them had their laptops, phones or books, or were taking naps in their seats.
Off the train, Tupshin Harper had ridden up from New York City, where he lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He grew up in Greenfield and was excited to be able to take the ride he just took.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for years since I first heard that they were making this change maybe two or two and a half years ago,” Harper said.
He vowed at that time to be on the first train up from New York, and he kept his promise, he said.
This spring, he plans to move up to Greenfield from New York, and is looking forward to making the return trip, he said.