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May 8, 2017

Amherst-Palmer railroad opportunity on track

The Town of Palmer is currently making efforts to reinstate passenger rail service through Palmer,as well as to keep Amtrak, a company that services the town of Amherst, active for economic revitalization.

The town prepared a PowerPoint presentation, which was presented to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation by Palmer representatives. The proposed project is to reinstate a passenger loading station in Palmer.

Palmer, known as “The Town of Seven Railroads” officially ended rail passenger service on April 30, 1971, when, due to bankruptcy, Penn Central Railroad turned over operations to Amtrak, which excluded passenger operations in Palmer.

According to the presentation, which was sponsored by the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, “Rich railroad heritage has left behind an active and pivotal set of rails that serves as the HUB in all directions.”

Amherst currently has passenger loading stations, and the Town of Palmer, according to the representatives, wishes to have one such station in between Amherst and Boston for more convenience to the community and for the ease of access to the surrounding towns and area.

With a revived passenger station, the town’s representatives said they wish to improve Palmer’s economy with possible tourism and better access to public transportation.

As well as the new loading station, several other ideas were proposed, including a parking lot, which would be set at either $5 or $7 per car each day. The lot would be built in the Water Street field and would cost an estimated $400,000 without security.

Another idea was for the creation of the “River Edge Railroad Theme Park”, which would attract more people and provide entertainment for the community. According to the representatives, the Palmer Department of Public Works would be torn down and relocated to a more centralized area to make available land for the amusement park.

According to the railroads’ website, www.sevenrailroads.com, The Palmer Rail Coalition, which consists of local and regional officials whose mission is to restore rail passenger and commuter service at Palmer meets regularly to discuss possibilities that are available.

The Palmer representatives added that the town is also looking into possibilities that the river could be utilized for.

The presentation stated that the project will be beneficial in the long run because there is an estimated short development time and minimal improvements to be made on the station. The town already consists of many railways, most of which are utilized by trains that already pass through.

Since the end of passenger loading in Palmer, the “Steaming Tender” restaurant, located right next to the rail lines, was built, and has been featured on shows like “Good Morning America” and “Phantom Gourmet”.

Although there has been no passenger loading and disembarking, according to the town’s representatives, trains do run through the town and the railroad infrastructure has be maintained by Amtrak, New England Central Railroad, the CSX Corporation and Massachusetts Central Railroad Corporation.

The proposed project has already gained support from several towns, including, Amherst, Ware and Warren, as well as the support of state representative Todd Smola, state Senator Stephen Brewer and Lt. Governor Timothy Murray.

There are several hurdles that the project will encounter, according to Palmer’s representatives, some of which include the budget. The total estimated cost, according to the PowerPoint, would be just under $2 million, which the town would not have the money to be able to finance.

In addition to the proposed ideas, Palmer representatives said the town’s officials have been attempting several other projects to revive their economy, including the proposition to build a Mohegan Sun Casino in the general area off the Mass Pike.

Before any ideas can be followed through, the representatives added, Palmer official’s have to convince Amtrak and Lake Shore Limited that there is potential in stimulating the Western and Central Massachusetts economy, as well as a good amount of revenue to be gained.

There is no word on the future of this project or when it would take place.

Tim Jones can be reached at timothyj@student.umass.edu.

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