Scott Merzbach |

NORTHAMPTON — Early next year, passenger rail service is slated to return to Northampton for the first time in more than 25 years, a development that Mayor David J. Narkewicz says could be a “game changer” for the city.

With the city’s Passenger Rail Advisory Committee meetings often packed with residents and strong enthusiasm for completion of the so-called Knowledge Corridor project, Narkewicz sees Northampton benefiting from the Amtrak Vermonter’s daily presence. “We view that as an important economic development engine that will bring more people to Northampton,” Narkewicz said.

The $83 million project, which includes 49.8 miles of upgraded Pan-Am Southern tracks between Springfield and the Vermont border, and new construction of passenger platforms in Northampton, Holyoke and Greenfield, brings with it the potential for more tourists visiting Northampton and more residents commuting to their jobs.

Funded through $73 million in federal stimulus money and $10 million from the state, initially the Amtrak Vermonter will continue to only offer one round trip a day, ending at its northern terminus in St. Albans, Vt. But the train will be significantly faster, with speeds 65 to 70 miles per hour on the rebuilt tracks and the elimination of the 50-minute detour through Palmer and Amherst in use since 1989. {….}