The Patrick administration recently announced a $500,000 grant for improvements to the New England Central Railroad (NECR) in Amherst. The railroad is matching the grant with $1,052,597. The purpose of the grant is to help support economic growth, which the railroad has been doing for Amherst and the Pioneer Valley for over 150 years.
The grant will be used to make improvements to the railroad will be made near Station Road, where two freight train derailments occurred in 2011. NECR runs from the northern end of Vermont to New London, Connecticut and serves customers in Millers Falls, Belchertown, Monson, and Palmer. Amtrak’s Vermonter line uses the same track for passenger rail service, which runs from northern Vermont to Washington D.C.. This train stops at an historic depot on Main Street.
“As part of the Massachusetts State Rail Plan, we are focused on increasing access for freight rail service to support regional economic growth,” said Lieutenant Governor Murray in a press release announcing the grant disbursements for rail projects throughout the commonwealth. “By investing in these projects, we are upgrading the Commonwealth’s [sic] freight rail network which not only attract new business and jobs, but also promotes a more efficient transportation of goods and services.”
A railroad can be a mixed blessing to home owners. Although rail service spurs economic growth within a community and provide a greener transportation solution, nobody wants to see or hear one go through their backyard. Selling a home along railroad tracks can be a challenge. I’ve sold two homes with trains going right along the back boundary of their respective properties. Regardless, Amherst has benefited economically from the railroad for over 150 years.
Rail service to Amherst dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad―whose founders included Emily Dickinson’s father Edward―was completed laying an extension from Palmer, according to an 1896 history of Amherst. The railroad was later extended from Amherst to Millers Falls, where it joined another railroad in the 1860’s.
On May, 3, 1853, Emily Dickinson watched her father Edward Dickinson greet the first passengers of the new railroad, “from her secluded post”. The railroad didn’t bring the revenue that its investors had hoped at the time, one biographer noted. “Nevertheless, in many ways, it is still Emily Dickinson’s father people must credit today when they step aboard Amtrak at Amherst Station and step off at Penn Station, New York City, or even when they visit Amherst and hear the low moan of the whistle as a train slowly passes through town,” (Emily Dickinson: A Biography, p. 60)
The Amherst depot located near Main Street is one of the oldest where Amtrak stops in the northeastern United States. Crowds of students on their way to area colleges are often seen walking down Main Street after such stops.
It was not until 1887 that the Massachusetts Central Railroad, which crossed the state, came through Amherst. It was the Massachusetts Central Railroad that was eventually converted to the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
If you are planning on buying or selling a home in the Amherst area, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129.