Connecticut River Railroad
The Connecticut River Railroad in western Massachusetts in the United States was formed in 1845 by the merger of the Northampton and Springfield Railroad (chartered in 1842) with the unbuilt Greenfield and Northampton Railroad.
Investors from Boston joined forces with business owners from Northampton and Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as from Hartford, Connecticut, in building a rail line from Springfield north along the Connecticut River to Northampton. While the line was under construction, the rail company merged with another company building a line from Greenfield, Massachusetts, south to Northampton. The two companies became the Connecticut River Railroad (CRRR).
The line opened between Springfield and Northampton in 1845 and by the following summer was extended to Deerfield, Massachusetts, and then to Greenfield in November 1846. In 1849, the line was extended further north to the Massachusetts-Vermont state line, where it met the Brattleboro line of the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad (which later became part of the Fitchburg Railroad). This allowed the CRRR to provide rail service between Springfield, Massachusetts and Brattleboro, Vermont.
For over 40 years, the CRRR operated on its own and acquired a vast network of rail lines north of Brattleboro to Canada. These included New Hampshire's Ashuelot Railroad, which had been acquired in 1877, and the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad in northern Vermont, acquired in 1887. The days of independence came to an end when the Boston and Maine Railroad leased the CRRR in 1893. With a main line from Springfield, Massachusetts, north along the Connecticut River to the village of White River Junction in Hartford, Vermont, the B&M became a major route between Montreal, Quebec, and New York City. The line was host to a mix of local and long-distance passenger and freight service. It became part of the route for crack New York-Montreal trains as early as the 1860s, and was acquired by the massive Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893.
Three branch lines were built off the CRRR, all of them in Massachusetts. The Chicopee Falls (1845), Easthampton (1872) and Deerfield (1906) branches were built and served the railroad until two of the three were abandoned by Guilford (now Pan Am Railways). The Chicopee Falls line was let go in 1983, and the Easthampton line was wiped out in 1984. The Deerfield Branch is still in service, connecting the main CRRR line to large switching yards on the old Fitchburg line.
Decline of service
Long-distance service over the line ended in October 1960, with local service between Springfield and Brattleboro lasting several more months. In 1972, Amtrak began running the Montrealer, which ran along the line at night, stopping at Northampton but not Holyoke or Greenfield. The Montrealer was discontinued in 1987 due to poor track conditions on the line.
Service resumed in 1989 after Amtrak seized control of the line in Vermont from the Boston and Maine Railroad, but the train was rerouted over the Central Vermont Railway through Massachusetts and Connecticut to avoid the still-dilapidated Conn River Line because Guilford Rail System refused to improve poor track conditions. A stop was added at Amherst to replace Northampton. The Montrealer was replaced by the daytime Vermonter in 1995, using the original route through Connecticut but still avoiding the Conn River Line in Massachusetts.
The original CRRR main line between Springfield and Northfield continued operating as part of Pan Am Railways' main network of freight lines in Massachusetts. Until reconstruction, the line operated at FRA-exempted levels, and trains may not exceed 10 miles per hour (16 km/h). Due to these conditions, there are only a few remaining online customers. One of the largest customers, Yankee Candle, despite being on the other side of the road, receives wax shipments via truck from a competing railroad's depot further south. The line is part of the Pan Am Southern system, a recent merger between Norfolk Southern and Pan Am.
Reconstruction and resumed service
In order to shorten travel times on the Vermonter and add additional local service to serve the populated Connecticut River Valley, the Conn River Line is being rebuilt with $73 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money and $10 million in state funds.
A 100-person Norfolk Southern Railway work crew began major track work on July 7, 2014, intending to complete the line's upgrade over the summer. The arrival of the NS crew allows the Pan Am crews (who had previously started the track work) to focus on grade crossings and other work on the line.
Commuter rail service has been proposed for the corridor, running between Springfield and Greenfield with four daily round trips. A 2014 state transportation funding bill included $30 million for acquiring used MBTA Commuter Rail rolling stock and new locomotives for the service. However, commuter service cannot start until the state finalizes a $17 million deal to purchase the line from Pan Am.
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- Knowledge Corridor - Restore Vermonter Project - MassDOT's homepage for this project