Reporter Katie Warchut gives a number of possible solutions. First she asked the obvious question: why can't the trains from New York turn in New London? Amtrak spokespeople poured cold water on that one: they would have to have an engine on each end, which is impossible. Considering that they already do some push-pull operations, I'm skeptical. ConnDOT offers the possibility of increased Shore Line East service between New Haven and New London. NARP executive director Ross Capon suggested bustitution.
I was intrigued, though, by this sentence in Warchut's article: "Amtrak trains from New Haven will make their normal runs to Springfield, Mass." By "normal runs," I'm assuming that she means Amtrak will continue to run their six diesel shuttles between New Haven and Springfield. But it got me thinking: what if?
What if it were simply unacceptable to have one of the busiest train routes in the country shut down for four days straight? What if Amtrak were committed to keeping some minimal level of service?
The most obvious solution is that the line from New Haven merges right into the old Boston and Albany mainline, which is still used by Amtrak for the Lake Shore Limited. This Inland Route has been regularly used in the past for trains between New York and Boston, as recently as 2004. How many passenger trains a day could CSX squeeze into their schedule? How many freight trains would CSX have to suspend if Amtrak sent all their Northeast Corridor trains to Boston along this route?
The second solution is that the Northeast Corridor tracks connect at New London to the Connecticut Southern Railroad, which hooks up with the CSX line at Palmer. It's not that practical because the junction at Palmer is not set up to allow direct connections in that direction; the Vermonter trains have to make an awkward switch in the opposite direction, and any service from New London to Boston would have to make a similar switch. Also, Palmer is only twenty miles east of Springfield.
There used to be a cut-off line between what is now the Connecticut Southern at Willimantic, CT and the former Milford, Franklin and Providence Railroad into Boston. Sadly, that was abandoned in 1959 and is now partially converted into a rail-trail. Even I recognize that it would be pushing it to displace a rail-trail and re-lay sixty miles of track to avoid four days of interruption. Of course, it would have other benefits too, but it'd be incredibly expensive to do it between now and May.
There are ten trains a day in each direction between New York and Boston. The two alternate routes, via Hartford and via Willimantic, are both single-track for most of the way and shared with freight trains. They have also not received the kind of upkeep and reconstruction that the Northeast Corridor mainline has - no Acela speeds here. Still, they could do for four days. Here's my suggestion:
- Run five of the ten round-trips along the "Inland Route" through Hartford.
- Run five Shore Line East trains between New Haven (or Stamford) and New London, connecting with the "Inland Route" trains.
- Run one additional Vermonter service through New London and Willimantic instead of Hartford and Springfield.
- Run two round-trip New York-Boston trains through New London and Willimantic.
It would be a smaller number of trains, and it would be slower and more awkward, but it beats bustitution. And it sure beats nothing, doesn't it?