Editorial: New Amtrak route shows promise, but pieces still missing

August 24, 2015

Are these trains — Amtrak’s Vermonter and other north-south service — bound for glory? If so, wishing won’t make it so — and it may be time for officials to stop salivating over the potential for economic development. Only patient and continued public investment in routes, schedules and rolling stock will make a difference in reviving travel by train.

In its first five months on a new route through western Massachusetts, the Vermonter increased its ridership by 67.5 percent, officials reported this month. That is to say: 3,964 more people used new station stops in Northampton and Greenfield from January through May this year than used the former Amherst station in the same time period last year, when the Vermonter jogged east into the Palmer area before continuing north toward St. Albans, Vt.

That is a healthy increase, but it isn’t a surprise. The service got a lot of news coverage in the years it took shape, with a rush of headlines in the weeks leading up to its launch late last year. Many of the initial riders were probably satisfying their curiosity about what it’s like to get on a train in Greenfield or Northampton and ride all the way to Penn Station in New York City, or continue on to Union Station in Washington, D.C.

The novelty of being able to do that probably appealed to many of those initial riders. The test is whether they liked the experience enough to repeat it. (It would have been quite an embarrassment if ridership had not increased, after the investment of tens of millions of dollars in track improvements as part of the multi-state Knowledge Corridor project.)

As the first measure of the new route’s value, the figures reported this month are worth a close look. They break down, over 21 weeks, to about 69 riders a day, or perhaps three dozen people embarking daily in the two stops in Hampshire and Franklin counties, with the same number getting off.

Read the full Editorial Opinion in the Daily Hampshire Gazette by clicking here.

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