New Commuter Rail Line Brings Cities like New Haven, Hartford and Northampton Closer
By Jared Shein and Callum McLaughlin
There is now a new way for Pioneer Valley residents to get to New York, D.C and stops along the way. The new Valley Flyer Amtrak service began running on August 30th, 2019 and extends Amtrak’s northeast service to Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Service between Greenfield and New Haven makes scheduled connections to Amtrak and Metro-North at New Haven Union Station.
The Flyer connects to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor rail line at Union Station in Springfield and goes to New Haven, Hartford, New York and eventually Washington D.C.
Amtrak Ridership Up
The completion of the new line comes at a time when Amtrak’s services are growing in popularity, especially in Amtrak’s most popular region, the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak Ridership on the Springfield-New Haven route showed a 26.5% passenger increase from 286,477 in 2018 to 362,442 in 2019, the company is hoping its new Valley Flyer service will increase demand even more.
The Valley Flyer is a great option for transportation to Connecticut, New York, and D.C as it can be more convenient than driving, and allows you to relax or do work during the trip.
“This is my first time on the train,” said a New York man on the Flyer, “But it’s definitely much more convenient than driving.” Amtrak is also one of the more dependable options for travel in this area, as fellow rider Cat Moller from Astoria, New York remarks, “I ride the Amtrak because it is dependable; it always shows up on time.”
Cat was taking the train to New Haven for business, but it is equally convenient and dependable for traveling to visit family or friends, and also makes a good mode of transportation for day trips.
A Day Trip to New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is a great day trip destination. Most tourism in the town is related to its mainstay Yale university, but there are many other activities for all age groups to enjoy, as well as a thriving food and music scene.
My colleague and I took a day trip to New Haven from Greenfield to check out the Valley Flyer service and the town.
We started our day on the 9:15 train out of Greenfield MA station. The station isn’t much more than the train platform, but it does offer a very reasonably priced parking garage right across the street (we parked there for the whole day and it only cost $2.50!).
We boarded the train in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a small town about a half-hour northwest of Northampton. The train to New Haven was already waiting in the station when we got there, and when we got on a conductor (in full suit and jacket) greeted us and took our tickets. We boarded and settled into the train car for the 3-hour ride.
The seats were comfortable. They were nothing fancy, but they were big and spacious with ample legroom, and a few “booths” of four seats for families, or people traveling in larger groups.
As we rode the train I decided that it feels much better than driving as well. I could read my book, stand in the aisle and stretch my legs, and there’s a bathroom that eliminates the usual road trip need to have to stop every hour. It took us about three hours to get to New Haven, which is about an hour and a half longer than a trip by car, though overall the experience feels like much less of a hassle than it would have been if we drove.
Union Station in New Haven
We arrived in New Haven and exited the train into Union Station. The station was originally opened in 1920, and despite recent renovations, it has kept its old school charm, with polished stone walls, high vaulted ceilings, and rows of wooden benches.
We exited the station and headed out on a quick 15-minute walk to our first destination, the Yale University Art Gallery. One of the nicest things about New Haven is how close together everything is. Over the course of the whole day, we never had to go more than two miles to get to our next destination.
Walking to the City
We walked beside the highway and through the center of town, past small shops, churches, and the town green. The Art Gallery is right by the entrance of the university and admission is always free. We strolled in, put our backpacks in the (free) lockers and made our way into the exhibits.
The museum was much bigger than I expected. There are four floors, each with multiple exhibits, and the building’s maze-like layout makes it seem even bigger.
There are lots of corners, staircases, and outdoor exhibits; we could’ve easily spent the whole afternoon.
The Gallery currently plays host to a number of interesting exhibits. We walked through temporary exhibits on Indigenous North American art, Ceremonial Dress from Southwest China, and paintings by William Baily, and permanent collections of African art, ancient art, and Asian art.
The train ride and strenuous hour of art viewing had me quite hungry by lunchtime. Lucky for me New Haven is home to a quaint Little Italy that features the world-famous pizza joint Frank Pepe’s.
One of my good friends used to live in New Haven and has been bugging me to go for a number of years now, and I excitedly let him know of my plans while remaining skeptical about whether pizza would be able to live up to its billing.
Famous Since 1925
Frank Pepe was an Italian immigrant and opened his pizzeria in 1925 after working at different bakeries in the area for a number of years. Pepe started small, working with a crew of a few family members for many years, before word of his Italian style, thin-crust pizza spread by word of mouth.
Frank Pepe’s now has a fantastic reputation and multiple locations in the northeast.
We walked around a bend into Little Italy and passed pizzeria after pizzeria until we came upon a long line of people. We knew we had made it.
The OG Frank Pepe’s location actually has two pizzerias, the bigger more modern building, and the old original building, now dubbed “The Spot”. The new building had a line out the door, but The Spot had a nice welcoming takeout counter, where we ordered ourselves a nice cheese pie (you can’t buy individual slices, but they do have a wide range of pie sizes).
Pizza in the Park
We took our pizza around the block and sat down in a small park. We cracked open the box and dove in. The first bite was fine, but the second was better, the third even better, and the fourth better than the third.
I was stunned by how much I like this pizza. The crust was light, crisp, and charred just the right amount. The pizza also had a subtle, complex, nutty flavor that made every bite interesting. More importantly, however, the pie was light, and I didn’t feel the bogged down, drowsy feeling I usually have to contend with after eating half of a (small) pizza.
Definitely lived up to the expectations, 5 out of 5 stars. If you are ever in New Haven, Frank Pepe’s is a must.
Indoor Ropes Course
Our next stop was the local Jordans furniture for a fun activity. The New Haven Jordans is home to IT, the largest indoor ropes course in the world. The course features multiple levels with challenging bridges, ziplines, climbing walls, and a simulated free fall.
We strapped ourselves into our safety harnesses and wobbled and ziplined along. The course was mostly inhabited by kids and pre-teens, but we still had a good time.
IT is a great place to visit on a family trip and is just a short mile and a half from Union Station.
Another Train Ride
After the course, we walked back to the train and rode back to Greenfield. The day had been nice, and the train comfortable. It’s nice to have Amtrak service back in town in the Pioneer Valley. Whether you want to visit Connecticut or New York on a trip, or to go home, or to visit family the Valley Flyer is a great, dependable option.
Jared has traveled to many places in the US and the world including Argentina, Panama, Thailand, Israel, and Ethiopia. He enjoys sightseeing, hiking, and other traveling activities, but he also enjoys the space for contemplation that being on the road offers. In his free time, he likes to read, play sports and bake bread.