10 episodes

Train Time focuses on 21st-century passenger rail in conversation with legislators, business leaders, and rail experts. Train Time is hosted by Karen Christensen, founder of the Train Campaign.

Train Time Barrington Institute

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

Train Time focuses on 21st-century passenger rail in conversation with legislators, business leaders, and rail experts. Train Time is hosted by Karen Christensen, founder of the Train Campaign.

    West-East, North-South with Rep Smitty Pignatelli

    West-East, North-South with Rep Smitty Pignatelli

    On this episode of Train Time we're talking to Rep William (Smitty) Pignatelli about his advocacy for new connections for western Massachusetts. Host Karen Christensen explains, "I'm delighted to welcome my own representative, Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox, to Train Time. Rep Pignatelli has been a great advocate for regional equity, in transportation as well as in many other areas. He wants to see rural areas like ours get a fair shake. With all the recent news about the infrastructure bill, we have a lot to talk about, including West-East Rail." As Rep Pignatelli wrote recently in the Berkshire Edge, "Infrastructure revitalization is critical for regional equity: The goal is not regional equality — it is regional equity, giving Western Mass residents the same diligent action on infrastructure that is the focus at the other end of the state."
    State Representative Wm. Smitty Pignatelli is a lifelong resident of Lenox, Massachusetts and a graduate of the Lenox Public Schools. Smitty, as he prefers to be called, was named after his father’s best friend, William Smith, who was killed during World War II. After graduating from Lenox Memorial High School in 1977, Smitty became a licensed Master Electrician and worked in his family’s electrical contracting business for twenty years. Smitty took over the full operation of the business at the time of his father’s retirement in 1991. Smitty left the family business to his brother Scott, in 1998, when he was offered a position as the Business Development Manager for Lee Bank. While at the bank, he attended Babson College School for Financial Studies, graduating in 2001. Longing to serve the people of his beloved Berkshire District, he decided to leave the bank to pursue his dream of public service and run for higher office. Smitty won the seat of State Representative for the 4th Berkshire District and is currently serving his eighth term in the House of Representatives.Smitty was first elected to the Lenox Planning Board in 1987 and served on that board for five years. In 1992, he was elected to the Board of Selectmen, and was elected Chairman on four different occasions, serving until May of 2003. Smitty also served from 1995-1999 as a Berkshire County Commissioner including two years as Chairman of the board. With over 30 years of public service experience, Smitty has also been involved in many local associations. He is a member of the Berkshire County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, a past board member of the Berkshire County Arc, the Board of Directors of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the Berkshire County Red Cross and is a former President of the Lenox Historical Society.

    Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we have added an introduction and done some editing.
    Tue, 11/30 11:24AM • 21:30SPEAKERSKaren Christensen, Smitty Pignatelli
    Smitty Pignatelli 01:50Good morning. Pleasure to be here with you.
    Karen Christensen 01:53Terrific. Train Time, has, you know, ranged far and wide. But this feels really like bringing it back home talking about, you know, the part of Massachusetts that that you and I both know, and love. You for much longer because I think you were born here.
    Smitty Pignatelli 02:11Yep. Born and raised. My father was born and raised. So in fact, my grandfather immigrated from Italy, came to Ellis Island and got to the Berkshires by rail. So we've had a long history of 140 years in the Berkshires.
    Karen Christensen 02:25Wow. I didn't realize it was that long. So that's, that's a perfect beginning for this because we are talking about, we are talking about bringing back connectivity to this region that we lost some years ago as many parts of the country and many places and other countries have lost. And obviously, th

    • 23 min
    On the Move with Rep Christina Minicucci

    On the Move with Rep Christina Minicucci

    Today's Train Time conversation with Massachusetts State Representative Christina Minicucci ranges widely. We talked about issues that affect the travel choices of people in Rep Minicucci's district, and in fact pretty much everywhere: frequency, reliability, and cost. We talked about trains, of course, but also about bike and hiking trails and safe streets. These other ways of getting around, as well as the car driving that continues to be part of most Americans' lives, need to be considered when thinking about getting people onto trains.

    Christina Minicucci serves as the State Representative for the 14th Essex District of Massachusetts, which straddles the Merrimack River and includes parts of Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and North Andover. Christina is a passionate advocate for progressive policy with a focus on food security, education, clean water, and public transportation. Christina can almost always be found participating in community events or enjoying her love of the outdoors.


    Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but please be aware that the time-stamps may not be a perfect match to the published podcast.

    Karen Christensen, Christina Minicucci
    (times reflect place in final, edited interview/podcast)

    Karen Christensen 01:44
    Good morning. I'm so pleased to have you with us, Representative Minicucci. Or Christina, if you don't mind.

    Christina Minicucci 01:51
    That's great. Thank you, Karen. Thank you for having me today.

    Karen Christensen 01:55
    Yeah, it's Thanksgiving week. It's a little bit quiet. But it's of course, it's the I think this is in the United States, the busiest travel, typically the busiest travel time of the year. So we're going to talk about travel and transit. And, you know, I thought it would be I would like to hear just a little bit about your district and about the things you've seen over the past year and a half or so in terms of people getting around or people not, you know, having a real change in not needing to get around so much.

    Christina Minicucci 02:34
    Sure. Well, I am from the opposite side of the status view. So in the upper northeast corner, right up on the New Hampshire border. I represent three gateway cities, Lawrence, Mizzou, and in April as well as North Andover, which is a suburb of Boston. We're about 24 miles from Boston. So a little too far to run unless you're a marathoner. But close enough that we have a fair number of commuters. Yeah, the three the two of the three cities also sit on route 93. So we do have a fair number of car commuters from there. But North Andover and Hazel also sit on route 495, which is our primary artery into Boston, which if you're familiar with our and the state, very, very busy, very congested road and isn't really a direct route to Boston. So for us a commute from hay roll or North Andover by car in the height, you know, when we're not in COVID times is at least an hour and a half. There have been days with that. It's taken me two hours. If there were an accident to go 24 miles. Yeah. And one day I came in, I showed up at the statehouse and one of the very few days actually drove my car there 12 times since I've been in office. And I said, if I were an elite marathoner, I would have just beat myself for two hours, and I said, an elite marathoner would have beat me today. And so yeah, but usually we're good hour and a half to Boston. So I personally, since I've been in office, I've relied very heavily on the commuter rail, even though it's not the quickest, it's still 45 to 50 minutes for me to get in on the commuter rail. It's at least I can get things done, and the time isn't completely wasted for me. So I might be reading a book for pleasure, but a lot of times, yeah, take up my computer and sit and work on, you know, a document l

    • 29 min
    Best of Both Worlds: Trains & Trails

    Best of Both Worlds: Trains & Trails

    On this episode of Train Time, Tom Sexton, NE Regional Director for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, explains the growing movement to combine passenger rail service and multi-use trails. While many people think that trails mean no trains, the reality is that the two forms of transportation work well together, and offer benefits to both rail service providers and to the walkers and cyclists who enjoy the expanding network of trails. Examples abound, and Tom points out ways this design approach could be applied more widely on existing and new or restored rail lines.


    Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but please be aware that the time-stamps may not be a perfect match to the published podcast.

    SPEAKERS: Tom Sexton, Karen Christensen; recorded Tue, 11/9/21 11:14AM • 24:36

    Karen Christensen 01:43
    Tom, good morning. How are you?

    Tom Sexton 01:45
    I'm well, thank you.

    Karen Christensen 01:47
    Glad we could do this. Although I must admit, I think back to the time when you came to Great Barrington, we were live at St. James place with people all around the room. This is a little bit different.

    Tom Sexton 02:01
    Yeah, I'm I'm intrigued. I haven't done one of these quite in this in this matter before.

    Karen Christensen 02:07
    But it gives us a chance to talk about something that's actually important, interesting and surprising. to a larger audience. I remember when you came to Great Barrington and spoke about rails with trails, how surprised and energized people were, by the end of that, because it was like, their eyes were wide open, they'd never thought of it. So that's, that's what, why don't you tell us, I think the thing that's better known as rails to trails, and this is, of course, train time, we're talking about Rails most of the time, so. But you bring it a different perspective on rails and trails.

    Tom Sexton 02:57
    Yes, most people think of rail trails, that's the, you know, that's the product when you're all done developing a corridor and, and the actual trail part of it. But rails with trails are a subset of, of the, the 24,000 miles of rail trails, we have in the United States, and we're finding that many more rails with trails are coming online. And overall, it's really smart to share rights of way these corridors, these linear corridors, they're harder to create every year, because there's more stakeholders. United States, the planet is getting denser, it's hard to just draw a line on a map and say, we're going to go from A to B. And we'll work it out on the way that was easy. When across the Great Plains, and you didn't have to relocate people in other services and go under or over. And now, it's, it's a different story. So to look at totally, we need to share rights of way these these corridors with with each other, it doesn't matter if it's a highway, or utility, or a railroad, it's really not a good and it's not the highest and best use of that piece of property. to only have one user, it's very inefficient. And it's cost a lot more to maintain and manage that corridor. When you have only one entity, if you're sharing, if you're sharing with a utility, or you're sharing with a rail. There's there's more entities that share in the acquisition, and, and the the maintenance of it, and the operation and management manage of it. But it's really it's difficult sometimes, because it's a different way of doing business. And unfortunately, some people just are slow to come around, but we have a lot of rail trails, which share for utility rights of way. It could be sewage, it could be electrical fiber optics, etc. And this is basically the same concept when we share with an active railroad.

    Karen Christensen 05:56
    And how has this evolved? The I assume that, that rails to trails that when railroad lines were closed

    • 27 min
    Connecting Dots to Connect the Lines

    Connecting Dots to Connect the Lines

    Ben Heckscher sees transparency as one of the keys to building back better

    At Union Station in Springfield, Massachusetts you can buy a ticket to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. But you cannot buy a ticket to get you to Fenway Park in Boston.

    With the Infrastructure Bill finally passed by Congress, we turn to Ben Heckscher, co-founder of Trains In The Valley, to talk about what this long-awaited funding could mean for transit projects in western Massachusetts. Will East-West (or West-East) routes become a reality? Will Bay Staters finally be able to take a train to see the Sox?

    Ben also explains the process he went through, including filing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, when he realizes the extent to which Amtrak is operating without public accountability and the kind of transparency we expect from government agencies. Stay tuned for some surprises!

    Perhaps borrowing from his experience reporting on NYC’s tumultuous Second Avenue subway project, Ben shares his findings about the Amtrak board on the Trains in the Valley website. His work to increase the transparency of Amtrak, our national rail service, is especially timely, since Amtrak, thanks to the Infrastructure Bill, is going to receive its largest injection of public funding ever.

    Ben Heckscher is the co-founder of the local rail advocacy group Trains In The Valley, a non-profit organizing efforts for continued rail improvement and expansion in the Pioneer Valley. Ben founded the group, along with Zane Lumelsky, in 2016 after relocating to western Massachusetts. Previously, Ben published the well-regarded blog: The Launch Box, which focused on the highs and lows of constructing the long-awaited Second Avenue subway line in New York City. With a degree in Electrical Engineering, Ben spent the majority of his career working in the telecommunications industry in the U.S. and in Germany where he enjoyed Europe’s well-developed rail-system. However, his first introduction to trains was via his grandfather who worked for The Budd Company who manufactured stainless steel train cars in Pennsylvania.

    • 40 min
    Riding the Downeaster with Wayne Davis

    Riding the Downeaster with Wayne Davis

    Wayne Davis is renowned for his success in building support for the Downeaster, an exemplary passenger train service that runs from Boston to Maine. He's also known for his continued efforts to strengthen the coalition of rail advocates across New England. In this podcast, Wayne tells his story along with his colleague Bruce Sleeper, who helped write the legislation that brought the Downeaster to life. That service, run by the  Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, has become a beacon to rail advocates, and because the planned East-West service in Massachusetts mirrors it in many ways, this is a particularly timely program.

    Wayne Davis was CEO of BankEast Mortgage in Maine after having been a senior vice-president of several Maine banks andr nine years as Finance Officer for the Maine State Housing Authority. He joined the Rail Passengers Association in 1988 and became vice-president in the early 1990s shortly after forming TrainRiders Northeast. He was appointed by US Senator George Mitchell to serve on the National Commission on Inter-modal Transportation (created by the first President Bush) and for several years traveled from coast to coast as a commissioner. That led to professional relationships with the FRA, FTA, urban mass transit folks in USA and Canada. TrainRiders Northeast has worked closely with Amtrak top management for thirty-three of its fity years.

    F. Bruce Sleeper is an attorney based in Portland, Maine. He served as a chair of the former Commercial and Consumer Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association and served as a member of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority from 1995-2000, and helped to prepare the legislation which created the Authority.


    Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but please be aware that the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the published podcast.

    SPEAKERS: Wayne Davis, Bruce Sleeper, Karen Christensen; recorded Tue, 10/26/21

    Karen Christensen  01:36

    Wayne and I, before we started, were talking about the about how awful it is to have to drive. We are definitely people who prefer to take the train if we can, but you two have have been at this for really quite a long time with notable really very well known and very, very important results for your state and our region. So I am dying, as I know our listeners are, to hear how you did it. How did you get started restoring train service to Maine?

    Bruce Sleeper  02:20

    Well, I think I think the first thing and the the easiest way to start is to say we've been doing this since the last century Train Riders was formed in 1989. And I was not involved in the formation, the initial formation, I joined a little bit after that, but So Wayne Can, can can speak about how it was originally formed. Because that's an interesting story in and of itself. But it's 1989 to 2021 is a long time. My kids, my kids were being born back then. And at this point, my youngest turns 30. In in a week.

    Karen Christensen  03:09

    So they've grown up with with trains. Well, Wayne, since you were there from the very beginning. Tell us how what about the gestation the birth of this effort?

    Wayne Davis  03:21

    Well, the birth was my background was in banking, and a CEO of a mortgage company. And one of my little stock pieces was if your two family, you live somewhere where you need two automobiles, if you could get rid of one of them, you might be able to afford a mortgage. But when you were calculating the eligibility, if you need the two cars, you might not be able to have the home, you have to make a choice. So you should pick a house that's somewhere near public transportation, like a train station. So I was I did enjoy trains, but I hadn't been here. But I my job as President of the Mortgage B

    • 33 min
    Kevin Ellis on “The Embarrassment of Amtrak”

    Kevin Ellis on “The Embarrassment of Amtrak”

    An Amtrak trip from Vermont to New York made Kevin Ellis angry. But not in the way a difficult flight or terrible traffic can make us angry. A trip that could have been, that should be, a pleasure was instead deeply annoying. And he was embarrassed to think that this was the best America has to offer visitors from other countries. There was sadness, too, and deep frustration with the way we've neglected trains over the decades, "By Hartford or New Haven, you are wondering how this country ever got to the moon or invented anything."

    Kevin echoed the thoughts of many Americans we have heard from over the years. While not directly involved in train advocacy (yet!), Kevin's article, "The Embarrassment of Amtrak," has been widely circulated among those of us working to promote passenger rail. He speaks eloquently for all train riders who want to see Amtrak and other passenger service operators create a world-class US rail network. Those concerned about the decline of rural America should consider this:

    If this train took under four hours, it would be packed with people back and forth to NYC. It would bring New Yorkers to Vermont to spend their tourist dollars, buy homes and inject commerce into our Covid economy. They would get off in Springfield, Vt., rehab a house for under $200,000, and go to work at the Black River Innovation Campus with the fastest internet in the country. They might go to Putney, or Dummerston, or Brattleboro and start businesses. 

    This is exactly the perspective that created and continues to energize the Train Campaign. Read the full text of Kevin's article here.

    Thanks to Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) for underwriting Train Time.

    Kevin Ellis is a co-founder and partner in Ellis Mills Public Affairs, a consulting firm offering political strategy and communications counsel to companies and nonprofits nationwide. Kevin co-founded Ellis Mills after 22 years at KSE Partners, LLC, a leading government affairs and communications firm. He has led advised on government strategy, public relations, and crisis communications, including the historic same-sex marriage campaign in 2009. Kevin’s clients have been in telecom, transportation, health care, farm-to-plate agriculture, and education. He serves on the board of directors of Chelsea Green Publishing, a leading environmental and sustainability publisher, and the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier.


    Note: This transcript was created using AI and is imperfect. For purposes of quotation, please check the actual recording! It is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but please be aware that the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the published podcast.

    Tue, 10/26 7:39PM • 22:26

    SPEAKERS: Kevin Ellis, Karen Christensen

    Kevin Ellis, Karen Christensen

    Karen Christensen 01:48
    Kevin. Good morning.

    Kevin Ellis 01:50
    Good morning, Karen, how are you?

    Karen Christensen 01:52
    It's delightful to have you here. So to speak. from Vermont. No, you are in.

    Kevin Ellis 02:02
    I'm in. I'm just outside of Montpelier, the state capitol
    Karen Christensen 02:07
    Great. I'm in Western Massachusetts. Well, your blog post about the embarrassment of Amtrak was rather widely circulated, which is how I came across you. So can you tell us how you came to write that? I mean, you obviously have a blog. What inspired you? And then I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, because you basically summed up a lot that other people have been talking about, and that's important now.

    Kevin Ellis 02:39
    Sure. Well, it began I was I, you know, Vermont is far away from everything, right. So that's, that's the greatness of living here. But it's also the difficulty. So whenever you have to go to New York to take care of an elderly parent as I had to, in that instance, you're always faced with fly drive, or train. And, you know, and it just struck me that all the choices are bad, y

    • 25 min

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