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On another note: High-Speed Rail

The proposed map of the US national high-speed rail system is here.

Three comments:

1)  It’s been a long time since it was possible to hop on a train from Williamstown to Albany,  New York City or Boston.   One of the greatest things we could do for the town and the College,  is make that happen.   50 minutes from a North Adams terminal,  to downtown Boston,   in a comfortable chair with WiFi.

2)  There must be a Louisville-Nashville-Atlanta route. Without it Nashville remains a provincial town and most of the South is 3-5 unnecessary hours out of the loop.

3) Dallas-Mexico City.  Mexico City-Dallas.  Four hours.   Formally recognize AMLO and Ebrard’s governments and negotiate directly with them.

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#1 Comment By Larry George On April 18, 2009 @ 9:31 am

I understand that there is a proposal to put Midd back on the line, and that folks in Vermont are actively pursuing it (they already have two good north-south lines).

Of course, there wouldn’t be a station in Williamstown anymore as Os Tower was using it for his storage company. (Os died just recently, by the way. I think he was about 90. What a faithful son of Williams!) I guess they could build a new one, or just put a shared station in North Adams.

Think of how great a train connection would be not only for Williams, but also for tourism (including skiing, the theater, and the museums). When I was young, people would take the “theater train” from North Carolina and Virginia to New York, see a play, stay overnight, shop, and return home. It was a beloved tradition. Groups of old friends living in different towns would meet up and use the train rides for socializing and catching up with each other. Wouldn’t it be fun to book together for rides on the “reunion train”?

#2 Comment By Parent ’12 On April 18, 2009 @ 9:47 am

How does someone living in Williamstown get to the Albany train station?

If one doesn’t have a car, is there an inexpensive alternative, like a jitney?

#3 Comment By JeffZ On April 18, 2009 @ 9:51 am

Amen amen amen amen amen.

#4 Comment By sophmom On April 18, 2009 @ 10:01 am

P ’12:

Here are the different ways in which my son has made that trip: a ride (hard to arrange and undependable), a zipcar (only good if you are returning rather than heading out on a trip), a taxi( prohibitively expensive), his car (not a great alternative as it is on it’s last legs)…

….and all the reasons why the train would be fantastic! I can’t believe there isn’t one now. Are the lines in?

#5 Comment By Parent ’12 On April 18, 2009 @ 10:10 am


A train between Williams & Albany would be fantastic, but I doubt it would happen during the time we have Ephs-in-residence.

I think something like Williams Transport should run a jitney there on late Friday afternoons & back on Sundays. It could be for students, faculty, & even local residents.

There must be residents who want to travel not just to NYC for the weekend, but even Montreal, Philadelphia, & D.C.

#6 Comment By sophmom On April 18, 2009 @ 10:27 am

P ’12:

I believe a bus is arranged during the busiest holiday times. I know my son has taken it from school to Boston. It is an incredibly long ride, and the schedule is very limited.

#7 Comment By Rechtal Turgidley, Jr On April 18, 2009 @ 11:38 am

Rail travel and Williamstown! The Boston and Maine! The wonderful old station –

Williamstown Railroad Station, Cole Avenue and North Hoosac Road
The only stone masonry on the Boston & Main line, the Williamstown station was built in 1898 to replace a wooden structure that was burned.

A distinguished building in a Richardsonian Romanesque style, it was the first experience of Williamstown for thousands of Williams College students.

For many years, the adjacent rail yard to the northwest was one of the busiest on the railroad with freight trains being constituted here for trips through the Hoosac Tunnel to East Deerfield.

How true this was for generations of Turgidleys!

And of course a Williams connection. Patrick B. McGinnis took over both the BM and the New Haven in the early ‘50’s. So turbulant was his tenure at both roads that his time is recalled as ‘The McGinnis Era’.


On campus was his namesake, a wonderful young man in the great class of 1957. A glimpse could sometimes be caught of Mr McGinnis’ customized Chrysler Imperial with the drop-down rail bogies to be able to take the right-of-way rather than the highway.

Patrick B McGinnis may have been responsible for the decline of passenger travel in the northern Atlantic states. However, he brought great graphic design to the logos and communications materials of both roads, such that the ephemera are now sought-after collector items.

McGinnis was also the first to put the Talgo Train on US rails.


Railroads can be profitable carrying large cargos very long distances or large cargos very short distances. It is much harder to make a profit carrying very few cargos very short distances.

Rechtal Rurgidley, Jr
Quark Island, Maine

#8 Comment By student10 On April 18, 2009 @ 11:39 am

Actually, the bus to Albany only goes to the airport, so those of us still hanging on to rail travel suffer. However,its schedule is much more expansive than the buses to Boston. However, as a Vermonter, the number 1 lack in transportation is directly north. In order to go home towards Burlington, I would have to take a bus or train to Boston and then back up. However, there is already a train station in Pittsfield. The train to Boston is cheaper than the school’s shuttles, but is notably unreliable.

#9 Comment By hwc On April 18, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

Explain the “vision” part of this to me.

I can take the Acela high speed express rail from Boston to Philadelphia. Takes 5 or 6 hours depending on the train. Cheapest fare is $80 one way.

I can fly Southwest Airlines to Philadelphia. All flights take 90 minutes. Cheapest fare is $69 one way.

Why would anyone in their right mind take the train? Wouldn’t our tax dollars be better served connecting major cities with their airports by mass transit and upgrading the air infrastructure (like air traffic control) so that private airlines can provide better, more reliable low cost service?

#10 Comment By anon On April 18, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

True high speed rail between anywhere within a 1/2 hour of Williamstown and NY and Boston would solve a lot of Williams’s issues with faculty retention due to lack of spousal employment. It would be great. It will never happen.

#11 Comment By Chris ’10 On April 18, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

There are Peter Pan buses that go to Albany bus station, but it involves changing buses at Pittsfield. I did it once on my way to Syracuse (and had to change at Albany too), and I remember having an hour layover at Pittsfield, so if possible, it’s probably just better to get a ride to Pittsfield. I believe buses leave from the Williams Inn every day at 10 and 4, although I’m not sure of the corresponding Pittsfield to Albany times or prices. Probably not terribly convenient, but it’s another option.

#12 Comment By Larry George On April 18, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

Student10 – The proposed line for Midd would go from Bennington to Burlington. It won’t happen in your time, but wouldn’t it be great?

To answer your question, hwc, a lot of people find train travel much less stressful than air travel. For me, it is often cheaper and takes less time when I factor in the whole experience: an easily accessed central station on mass transit (vs. an expensive, time-consuming ride in a cab or needing to pay high parking fees at the distant airport), much less time in security clearance and much less of a mandated early show up time, and the train takes me to the central city, mass-transit-accessible station on the other end, rather than the distant airport. And I can walk up and down the aisle as much as I want, bring food and liquids, and visit easily with my traveling companion, enjoy the views, and avoid the dry air, dirty air, and pressure on my ears. The train also accommodates larger bags without having to check them in (saving time) and there is no charge for the normal amount of baggage. I can check my bicycle without having to have it specially boxed, and it doesn’t cost a fortune. And I get to keep my shoes on and my belongings in their regular pockets.

The line that Maine put in (with funds that it and every other state lacking train service received from the Feds in the last century), running up to Portland, has been extremely successful. I hope that there will be similar passenger train revitalization successes in other parts of the country.

#13 Comment By ’10 On April 18, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

hwc: several points.

a) Acela is not true high-speed rail. Boston to Philly is about 315 miles by road; a modern TGV or Shinkansen train would cover that distance in two hours or less.

b) Add an extra hour to flight time to account for checking in at the airport, going through security, and boarding the plane, assuming no delays, and then maybe another half hour on the other end to collect your bags. Trains have much less overhead, maybe fifteen minutes total, and are much less likely to be delayed.

c) Trains tend to be far more comfortable than a non-first-class flight. Bigger seats, better amenities, cell phone service, and you can see the countryside out of your window.

d) Trains can make intermediate stops with far less overhead than planes. A high-speed rail line running Boston-NY could also pick up/drop people in Hartford and New Haven at the cost of maybe five minutes per stop. Williamstown will probably never have a commercial airport, but it could easily have a train station.

#14 Comment By Dick Swart On April 18, 2009 @ 3:38 pm


Length of total flight time on and off the ground including transportation to and from the airport, and the security check-in time plus strip-search (body-cavity probe is a perk)?

Logan v South Station or Back Bay, PHL v 30th Street Station and convenience?

Productive time during travel? Comfort? Rating of total experience?

Pardon me. Roy, Is that the cat that ate your new shoes? (long punch line to elaborate set-up)

ooops – while I was writing, many others have answered as well.

In that case: Roy Rogers buys new cowboy boots. While he and Pat Bradey, bumbling cook and sidekick, are sleeping out on the range, a cougar passes by and snags the boots. Later that day, sidekick, spotting cougar with chewed boots in evidence asks ” Pardon me. Roy …”.

#15 Comment By Ronit On April 18, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

It might be possible to lobby for a North Adams stop on a line that connects Boston with the Empire route (which, by the way, should be extended to connect to not only Rochester-Buffalo but also Toronto – those three cities already form something of a metropolitan zone), with a convenient connection at Albany to trains going downstate. You can get to North Adams easily, even if you don’t have a car, with the Berkshire Transit local buses (or a stop could be added to the weekly shuttle service).

However, given the small number of people in Williamstown and North Adams, and even though I am a huge fan of high speed rail, I think the more realistic solution for the near term would be to have a non-terrible bus service to Boston and NYC (especially one that doesn’t involve standing around for hours in Pittsfield or the Port Authority Bus Terminal). Bolt Bus is a great model of what can be done here – comfy, clean buses with wifi that stop in convenient locations in NYC, DC, Boston… It’s probably more economical than a train, in that it requires no large upfront investments.

Peter Pan has direct buses from Williamstown to NYC (you get to the PABT at the other end) – not great, but not terrible. The Peter Pan buses to Boston and Albany involve stopping in Pittsfield. As the bus terminal in Pittsfield closes at some ungodly early hour, taking the evening bus back from Boston means you will be waiting outside (in the cold) for an hour and a half. This sucks.

#16 Comment By Dick Swart On April 18, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

Is there a model like this on the East Coast? Seattle to Cabo with all points in between. While on board, the 60’s live!


#17 Comment By hwc On April 18, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

Just to clarify:

In the aftermath of 9/11, are we counting the lack of security screening on Amtrak trains, which run through our biggest cities, as a plus or a minus?

#18 Comment By hwc On April 18, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

I suspect Bolt Bus is non-union and thus able to compete effectively on both quality and price.

#19 Comment By nuts On April 18, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

No body cavity searches on high-speed Acela? Then forget it.

But seriously, I prefer high speed train travel to jets. They handle weather better, you have more room to do work, there’s much less hassle and it takes about the same amount of time door-to-door Bos-NY, which could be improved if they fixed the track bed.

I once spent three days cycling Paris to Tours, somewhat leisurely, and 1 hour 20 minutes on the TGV getting back to Paris. It was fantastic and there was no extra charge for the bicycle! (It was boxed.)

#20 Comment By sophmom On April 18, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

Train trips can be terrific, high-speed or not. I actually saved this article, “Riding the Rails”, from the NY Times back in March. I can personally vouch for the Glacier Express in Switzerland:

This breathtaking, seven-and-a-half-hour journey from St.-Moritz or Davos to Zermatt through a Swiss alpine wonderland rollercoasters across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and over the Rhone and Rhine Rivers and the 6,670-foot-high Oberal Pass. The postcard views include the Matterhorn.

It’s story-book-like in the way it winds through the mountains.

#21 Comment By Ben Fleming On April 18, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

In the aftermath of 9/11, are we counting the lack of security screening on Amtrak trains, which run through our biggest cities, as a plus or a minus?

Oh it gets worse. Guess what else runs through our major cities? Roads. Hundreds of streets, each more unpatrolled than the last. Free for anyone, no matter how suspicious-looking, to drive on. I mean, someone can just pilot a van right down Broadway in New York, and it’s literally illegal for the police to stop them without probable cause. What a security nightmare!

Also, one guy tried to put a bomb in his shoe once, so clearly I should have to take off my Adidas every time I go through Penn Station. That makes sense.

#22 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On April 18, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

When there were wonderful trains in the 50’s on the Boston and Maine between Troy and Boston they would occassioanlly hold the train in Williamstown for President Baxter. His secretary would call the station and tell them Phinney was in route and there would be a 3 or 4 minute delay as some student drove him to the station.

#23 Comment By anon On April 18, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

“In the aftermath of 9/11, are we counting the lack of security screening on Amtrak trains, which run through our biggest cities, as a plus or a minus?”

Given that most airport “security” screening is nothing more than empty gestures to make people feel safe (that one gallon plastic bag is sure to stop an explosive substance; no terrorists would EVER think to smuggle in dangerous substances in a prescription bottle; etc., etc.), yes, I call it a plus.

#24 Comment By Ronit On April 18, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

How long do these aftermaths last, anyhow?

#25 Comment By Parent ’12 On April 18, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

The reason I’m “lobbying” for a regular jitney between Williamstown & Albany-Rensselaer train depot is selfish. However, I think students & other Williams affiliates would take advantage of it. At a bare minimum there must be people who’d like to get away for a weekend without having to drive & park their car in the city.

My son once took the Peter Pan bus from the Williams Inn to NYC & it took about 5 hours with stops in Pittsfield, etc. It was when he returned from an overnight visit before he decided to go to Williams, so it wasn’t a deal breaker. (One could easily make the drive in 3 hours.) There doesn’t seem to be a non-stop route. (btw, Williams Transport is not only economical but fits the break schedule well. As I recall, 1-way is about $30 vs. at least $50 on PP)

I believe the train between Albany & NYC, plus the drive between Williams & Albany, is faster, & could be cheaper with a Williams sponsored jitney than the PP bus.

AND, I love traveling by train in Europe. I would create itineraries from the Thomas Cook time schedules. Ages ago on the last day of a rail pass my companion & I made a huge loop within Switzerland, simply gorgeous views.

#26 Comment By Vermando ’05 On April 19, 2009 @ 3:11 am

Agreed that a more reasonable place to start would be a decent connection to Albany-Rens train station. This would be especially helpful to alumni who live in New York and don’t have cars, of which there are obviously quite a few.

#27 Comment By JeffZ On April 19, 2009 @ 7:49 am

HWC, I think folks hit most of the major points, so forgive me if much of this is redundant. But to start with, nice to have your snide, patronizing tone (not to mention your reflexively anti-Obama attitude) back, I thought for a second you might have decided to provide some productive input to this blog sans the attitude!

Lots of people in their “right minds” prefer train travel, despite lack of a true high speed rail system in this country. Just check Amtrak from DC to NY on any weekend, absolutely packed. I am one of them. Reasons why a high speed rail is FAR preferable to plane travel, both for individual travellers and for our society as a whole, in the long run:

(1) environmental impact — train travel for cities between 100-500 miles apart is worlds more efficient than car travel or air travel

(2) energy indepedence — see (1)

(3) airlines with lots of short routes are financially unsustainable and the costliest routes are the routes cities that could be serviced by high speed rail between mid-sized cities — far more efficient way to travel

(4) there is only so much air space that can be flown simultaneously and especially in pockets of cities where train travel could work, delays and accidents will only become more frequent as we need more planes to accomodate growing number of passengers

(5) while terrorists could strike any form of transit, when was the last time a train was flown into a building?

(6) as noted above train travel is far more comfortable and pleasant an experience than plane travel, for a multitude of reasons: better food, far more spacious, no lost luggage or delays retrieving luggage, internet access, ability to move around, etc. etc. etc.

(7) true high speed rail would enable faster transit over routes covering several hundred miles than plane travel when all timing is considered

(8) true high speed rail would spur economic development and increase economic mobility of human capital by allowing folks to easily live 100-200 miles from where they work without having inordinately long commutes (and with a commute that allows them to work comfortably with computers, blackberry access, etc.).

(9) ask folks you know (if any) who live in Japan or European countries with high speed train if they regret investment in that infrastructure — this stuff has been tested and it works, and given that we can learn from their experiences and improved technology over time, our high speed transit could even be better.

I am no expert on this subject so I am sure I am missing many reasons. But if there is one single area that I would put stimulus dollars into first, it would be high speed trains — few other plans can simultaneously spur both short term and long term economic growth, increase safety and comfort for a huge number of Americans, bring life to moribund mid sized cities in an economic funk by bringing them into the orbit of larger cities, reduce our energy dependency (especially by reducing auto use), reduce our collective time commuting, and help the environment all at once. It makes so much sense, it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened in the cooridors Obama’s plan outlines already.

#28 Comment By JeffZ On April 19, 2009 @ 7:54 am

Oh, and I missed lots of the other points that were covered above in my summary (far more convenient due to additional intermediate stops, easier to stop to drop off a desperately ill passenger, less susceptible to weather-related delays, etc.). And to address your Bolt bus point, there is no comparison. Busses can safely travel at 60 mph and are major poluters, unlike high speed trains which can average three times that speed and are far more environmentally efficient (not to mention, can accomodate far greater number of passengers).

#29 Comment By sophmom On April 19, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

For anyone who has not taken the train from Albany to Manhattan, it’s a beautiful ride, goes right alongside the Hudson.

#30 Comment By Rechtal Turgidley, Jr On April 19, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

E. M. Frimbo, the world’s greatest railroad buff, has recalled in ”All Aboard with E.M. Frimbo” the plush days on the 20th Century when he would ride to Albany and back simply to have his hair cut and face shaved by the train’s resident barber.


#31 Comment By sophmom On April 19, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

Ah, Recht…though I can’t fully appreciate the idea of a shave on the train, I am one of those rare women who will stop for a shoeshine in the airport.

#32 Comment By student10 On April 19, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

On a similar note, sophmom, the train from Albany to Montreal, although incredibly slow (It takes about 6 1/2 hours to get there) is (according to one of the conductors I talked to on one of my many rides along this route) one of the most beautiful train rides in America. It runs along Lake Champlain and through the Adirondacks for most of the ride. It’s definitely worth the $40 I paid and the extra time if you like a scenic view.

#33 Comment By sophmom On April 19, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

S ’10:

I’d like to visit Montreal, and that would be a fun way to do it. My son made the trip from school on one of those long weekends, but they drove. He loves trains, and $40.00 is a bargain, even if it is longer. Besides, you can actually get work done on a train while enjoying the trip.

#34 Comment By Ronit On April 19, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

For anyone who has not taken the train from Albany to Manhattan, it’s a beautiful ride, goes right alongside the Hudson.

Indeed. You can also enjoy the Hudson if you take the MTA Metro North up towards Cold Spring or Garrison – lovely views of the Palisades, of West Point, and a great way to get to Breakneck Ridge for hiking. Particularly spectacular in the late afternoon as the sun sets behind the Palisades.

Another scenic (but long) ride is the daily Amtrak Lakeshore train from New York to Chicago. Goes right along the south shores of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Probably the loveliest way to get to Chicago or back, if you’ve got a day to spare

#35 Comment By Parent ’12 On April 19, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

Ronit, & anyone who likes MassMoca-

I totally agree about Metro North to Garrison. I’ve not gone further, but I believe the train makes it to Beacon where the Dia Foundation is now. Great space for modern art. They have some wonderful Serras.


#36 Comment By sophmom On April 19, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

Garrison is beautiful, or at least it was when I last saw it. I had friends who had a place there. It originated from the late 1700’s, or maybe early 1800’s, and it was right up the hill from an inn called The Bird and Bottle, also so old that there wasn’t a straight board or beam in the place.

#37 Comment By frank uible On August 12, 2009 @ 6:19 am

Hitch hike – very inexpensive, conveniently scheduled (any time night or day), portal to portal or using other transportation links at the discretion of the traveler, potentially scenic, sometimes speedy, lacking dependence on baggage handlers, absence of submission to metal detectors and other security checks and often with interesting travel company.

#38 Comment By JeffZ On August 12, 2009 @ 8:12 am

Frank, you forgot: get mutilated, cut up, and left in the woods to rot … or maybe I am just the product of overprotective parenting …

#39 Comment By frank uible On August 12, 2009 @ 9:02 am

I should have included amongst the virtues of hitch hiking exciting risk taking and an opportunity to exercise one’s courage. One can’t reasonably expect to live forever. The intrepid die only once. At any rate I have always looked more like the cutter than the cuttee.

#40 Comment By Larry George On August 12, 2009 @ 11:52 am


A Boston & Maine train, stopped in Williamstown (on Cole Avenue), photographed by John Hyde in August of 1944.

And never underestimate the romance of the long whistle, echoing through the valley, the promise of adventure, and dozens of train songs completing the mood.

#41 Comment By Larry George On August 12, 2009 @ 12:00 pm


With daily service to Boston and Troy — same vintage, same source

#42 Comment By Rechtal Turgidley, Jr On August 12, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

What a wonderful picture of the Electro-Motive Corporation 567 diesel! EMC later became a GM brand when GM management, which owned both EMC and the Winston Engine Company, changed the name to the Electro-Motive Division.

The 567 diesel developed in 1935 was the principle competitor to steam and was quite successful in converting many lines from steam to diesel for passenger trains, freight trains, and yard switchers.

Electro Motive Corporation was ready to convince railroads to apply diesel locomotives in freight service. Following the concept of main constructor Richard Dillworth, a new freight locomotive called FT (F = freight, T = “twenty-seven hundred horsepowers”) with 2XBo’Bo’ wheel arrangement had been designed in 1938, based on the 16-567 engine (1000 kW at 750 rpm) and the D8 main generator.

Its bogies were designed by Martin Blomberg. Each unit weighed 110 tons. The cab and the booster units were connected by a fixed coupler. The appearance of the locomotive was a new design, similar to E-s but with a shorter (“bulldog”) nose.

This appearance became legendary in American locomotive design. The first two cab-booster sets had left the factory in February 1939. In November, the two sets connected together (A-B-B-A) to produce 4000 kW started to run a 11-month demonstration tour on the lines of 20 railroads of 35 states. During this time they’d ran 83764 miles without problems. In some cases the diesel engines had run for 5 days continuously.

This tour was readily successful and proved the advantages of diesel traction in freight service. Santa Fe Railroad was the first to order 2 sets of FTs in 1939 for testing. Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1000 FTs were sold to different railroads.

Thus the appearance in Williamstown in 1944 with the B&M livery.

#43 Comment By Larry George On August 12, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

Rech –
Was there a stamp?

#44 Comment By Rechtal Turgidley, Jr On August 12, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

Larry –

Indeed! This 33¢ “All aboard” series from August 1999 commemorates great trains. You will notice that the passenger version of the EMC 567 with its more steam line nose is featured.


#45 Comment By hwc On August 12, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

Here’s what runs on the line today. This shot taken just a hundred yards before the locomotive enters the east end of the Hoosac Tunnel, having just come off the bridge over the Deerfield River:


And the tunnel:


Having emerged from under the mountain in North Adams:


#46 Comment By Henry Bass On August 12, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

Patrick McGinnis(whose son Pat III was in the class of ’57 and lived in Lehman West) made a heroic effort to revive rail travel on the B & M. His most adventurious effort was buying a huge fleet of ultramodern Budd cars, the forerunner of light rail. Each Budd car could be run inependently being electrically powered with a little cabin for an engineer in every car. You could run one as a train or hook 3 to 6 or so together. The Williams faculty was ectastic.Travel to and from Williamstown was never so pleasant. But, alas McGinnis had spent much too much money and the public response was not overwhelming. And so the B and M was soon a basket case. But, McGinnis’s problem was not a lack of boldness. Indeed, I think McGinnis’s failure
stood as a cautinary tale to anyone considering reviving railroads, that you were probally going to fail. This was the begining of the end of passenger service in America.