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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Passenger service from NYC to western Massachusetts takes a step toward reality NEWSWIRE

Passenger service from NYC to western Massachusetts takes a step toward reality NEWSWIRE

By Dan Kittay | March 8, 2019

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Amtrak P32 No. 713 leads train 290, the Ethan Allen Express, south out of Albany-Rennselaer toward New York Penn Station. The track coming in from the lower right is where trains from Pittsfield would arrive, and then, with a new engine, head south.
Dan Kittay
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An effort to establish “one seat” train service from New York City to Berkshire County in Massachusetts took a large step forward recently, when the group overseeing the effort issued a 40-page report calling for a two-year pilot program to begin in 2020.

The Berkshire Flyer would start as a seasonal, weekend train running between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, Mass. The key connection point would be Amtrak’s Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y., station, where the north-south Empire Corridor connects with the east-west line to Boston. One train would run from New York to Pittsfield on Friday, and another would run the opposite way on Sunday. The service would run from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends. A ticket would cost about $70 each way.

The pilot project grew out of a desire to boost tourism in the western part of Massachusetts, says state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

“One priority has been linking the region with regional economic centers,” Hinds says. The area is home to attractions such as the Tanglewood music venue and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Berkshires officials had for years contemplated establishing passenger service to New York City using Housatonic Railroad tracks that run from Pittsfield through Connecticut, Hinds says. Estimates to bring the line up to code for passenger rail service were $300 million.

About two years ago, Hinds says he learned that since Amtrak connects Pittsfield to Albany- Rensselaer through the daily Lake Shore Limited, it might be possible to use those tracks to run trains that would continue to New York City. He introduced legislation in 2017 directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to create a working group to study the feasibility of service that would use Empire Corridor tracks as the backbone for service to Pittsfield.

“They reported back that it was, in fact, feasible, would be beneficial economically, and would require no new capital investment for the infrastructure,” Hinds says.

Hinds says DOT then told the group it would need to answer questions before a pilot could be established: 1.) How would the group handle the “last mile,” when someone arrives in Pittsfield without a car and needs transportation; 2.) What is the plan to market the train; and 3.) What is the financial plan?

The just-released report contains the group’s answers. It identifies car and shuttle availabilities, marketing strategies, and the costs for the pilot. The group projects it will cost $421,561 to start the program in June 2020. That would be offset by ticket revenue of $184,000, leaving $237,561 to be raised elsewhere. Hinds says he’s hopeful a combination of federal, state, and local funding will be obtained to launch the program.

The group is also working to determine a sponsor for the program, Hinds says. This would be an entity that would be the point of contact for companies such as Amtrak and CSX Transportation, which owns portions of the trackage, as well as governmental agencies and private companies that will be dealing with the project. The working group included a representative from Amtrak, who has indicated that the railroad could work the Flyer into its schedule.

The sponsor will also be key to marketing the program, says Thomas Matuszko, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, one of the local groups that is helping to coordinate the project. Given that the pilot program is set to last for two years, “in order for it to continue on, there has to be the ridership. For that to happen, there has to be some pretty strong promotional efforts going on,” Matuszko says.

21 thoughts on “Passenger service from NYC to western Massachusetts takes a step toward reality NEWSWIRE

  1. MassDOT also has the East-West Study ongoing for a Boston-Springfield-Pittsfield corridor service — logically they should go all the way to Albany were there is a big station, maintenance facility, crew base, and a metro area of a million people. Its also the state capitol. There are trains to Montreal, Vermont, Central NY, Western NY, Toronto, and New York City.

    Others agree with me, I’ve been banging the drum on this one, but so far NYSDOT shows no interest and MassDOT has yet to see the logic in either — as far as I now. There is a public meeting in Springfield next Tuesday — so I hope to learn more then.

    MassDOT: East-West Rail–0caHvA

  2. So is anyone questioning the fact that the State of Massachusetts under Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration wasted over $12 million to buy the Housatonic Railroad and then spent another $21 – $35 million (depending on the news source) upgrading the line for future passenger rail service that will probably never happen? Coincidentally, the Governor has a residence in the Berkshires.

    This deal never felt right to me.,554579

  3. Read the headline ” … a step toward reality”. Maybe “…a step toward implementation”. Not a “reality”. We had a discussion on this forum a week or so back about multiple frequencies per corridor. I don’t think a train a week qualifies.

    What is needed is two trains daily Boston to Albany, plus two trains daily Boston – – New Haven. Anything less it’s pointless to have the corridor.

    Benjamin ….. Good post about how to actually run a railroad, like with crew bases and such. MassDOT could pay the entire state share for both states for Boston to Albany.

  4. My apologies for the errors in my previous posts. I did mean the Desert Wind not the Pioneer. And of course it was not discontinued by the Democrats under Jimmy Carter but instead was discontinued by the Democrats under Bill Clinton.

  5. A July, 1964 Official Guide shows New Haven had service between NY GCT and Pittsfield via South Norwalk, Danbury and Canaan. No. 144, The Berkshire, left GCT Fridays only at 5.27 PM, arrived Pittsfield 9.57 PM. On Monday-Thursday 144 ran GCT-Danbury with a bus connection to Pittsfield. There were other services including Saturday and Sunday trains. .

  6. This is, of course, doomed for failure. They shouldn’t even waste their money trying. Who in their right mind would spend the time to take the train west to Albany, sit in the station for 30 minutes while the locomotive changes ends and then travel south to New York. The more sensible solution is to drive from Pittsfield to New York directly or, if you don’t want to drive to New York itself (who does), then drive to the most convenient Metro North Station, park your car and take the train from there. Going north you would have to reverse the same time consuming process. For those in New York it would be far better to use your own car (or rent one) and drive north. Probably you could find a station in one of the on-line towns that has an Enterprise rental location and they’ll come and pick you up. If you are taking the wife and two kids it’ll be alot cheaper to drive than spend $560 for the four of you round trip by train. Plus once you get to Pittsfield you’ll need a car to see the scenery and attractions of the Bershires. There is very little in Pittsfield itself.

    Amtrak’s history of short distance trains to vacation spots is not good. Remember the Cape Cod service, now gone. Remember Amtrak’s service to Atlantic City, now gone. No attempt to serve Las Vegas other than via a LD train, the “Pioneer” which was cut by the Democrats under Jimmy Carter. Private operators have tried with service to Reno and Atlantic City and all are no longer around. People will drive these routes because they are short distances, cheaper and more convenient by automobile. Leave when you want and go where you want. Better to spend the money on something more reasonably apt to draw more riders like Springfield – Boston. Hopefully this boondoggle will die a quick death as it should. More pandering by a politician looking to say “look what I did for you. Vote for me”.

  7. Robert McGuire claimed, ” the “Pioneer” which was cut by the Democrats under Jimmy Carter. “

    Reality: Added during the Carter administration.

    Carter Administration: January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981.
    Amtrak Pioneer: June 7, 1977 to May 10, 1997.

  8. Bill said, “Las Vegas was served by the DESERT WIND, not the PIONEER. It too was discontinued in 1997.”

    I was giving

  9. Wouldn’t it be better to just extend one or two empire service round trips all the way to Boston?

  10. Bill said, “Las Vegas was served by the DESERT WIND, not the PIONEER. It too was discontinued in 1997.”

    I was giving Robert the benefit of the doubt. Thought he was talking about two separate things…the train to Las Vegas AND the Pioneer. But he was actually wrong on both. The Desert Wind wasn’t competitive in the Los Angeles-Las Vegas market….most of the ridership out of Las Vegas was to and from the east, i.e. long distance.

    I apologize for the previous truncated post where I clicked in response to a pop-up….

  11. I’m afraid I kind of have to agree with Mr. McGuire’s gloomy assessment, though not entirely for his reasons. The problem is that the woke folk in New York City and generally downstate won’t use it, and they have the money and the political clout Those of us who actually live in western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut — have neither. It’s not that the downstate folks would actively oppose it — but they won’t support it, either.

    Indeed, they won’t use what’s there: there’s a good MetroNorth station in Wassaic, New York, and there’s also the Albany-Renssselaer station (which is really nice) on Amtrak’s Empire Service, but those are for the commoners. The folks who have the money and time to vacation in the Berkshires will find a way to get their luxury SUV to pick them up…

    Even so, I wish this endeavor good fortune — I’d love to see it.

  12. Boston to Albany is going to be a tough nut to crack. It is very slow especially west of Springfield and with most of it having been single tracked reliability will be very questionable. East of Springfield may have potential. There is greater population density and the line though still sinuous is not nearly as bad as it is west of Springfield. The New York Central did operate RDC’s over this eastern portion in two hours back in the 50’s. With some additional super elevation on the curves and 80 mph speeds where possible one hour 50 mins. may be possible.
    This would be competitive with Mass. Pike travel time though not quite as fast. It would seem to have potential. I do not see any potential west of Springfield.

  13. Tanglewood is in Lenox, Massachusetts, close to Pittsfield. If a concert-goer family needs a rental car to get to Tanglewood, they can rent a car at Albany-Renssalaer and get to Lenox much faster than schlepping a train to Pittsfield and renting a car at Pittsfield.

    Three trains a week stinks. One train a week during only part of the year stinks twenty times worse. The Tanzanian State Railway would be embarrassed at one train a week during only part of the year.

    The proposed route is roundabout.

    This is some of the most beautiful territory in the world (especially on the New York State side of the state line) but no one is going to take a once-a-week train to see it.

  14. The proposed routing of The Berkshire Flyer via Albany-Rensselaer between Pittsfield and New York’s Penn Station evokes the circuitous route of Santa Fe’s The Texas Chief from Houston to Chicago. The train went southeast from Houston Union Station, then southwest through Richmond, Texas before finally proceeding north and then northeast to Chicago.
    Upgrading the Housatonic Railroad line south from Pittsfield is more expensive, but will be beneficial in the long term with competitive schedules on a direct route thus attracting greater revenues.

  15. I realize that rail and vacations once went together hand in glove, like Northern Pacific to Yellowstone or FEC/ ACL/ SAL to Florida. Now most people either drive all the way or they rent a car. There are people who can’t drive (elderly, disabled) who want to go to Tanglewood and do go to Tanglewood. That’s all of us at a certain point in our lives, you, me, everyone.

    The question is, how do trains fit into that equation for a person who can’t drive a rental car. A train is always a three-seat ride, with the person/ the family and their luggage making two transfers. One must get from home to Penn Station. One must get from the Pittsfield Station to a hotel. Then the hotel must arrange a shuttle to Tanglewood before the concert and return after the concert. I would love it if anybody – elderly, blind, etc. could get to Tanglewood, as at a certain point in my life that will be me. I just don’t see this train a week accomplishing that.

    Taanglewood around 1963 was the first time I ever drove a long distance. The family packed up my Uncle Lewis’ Citroen. Lewis handed me the keys. In Massachusetts at the time, drivers ed was required to be on a standard transmission so I knew how to drive a stick shift. But nothing had prepared for the complexities of the Citroen and its he-man clutch pedal that felt like driving a tank. Quite a ride!

  16. It’s obvious that the purchase / consumption of recreational marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts!

  17. Charles Landrey’s statement below is spot on. The only way this will work is if the Berkshire County towns are served directly. Pittsfield is not the destination and is too far from the most likely destinations of travelers to expect courtesy vans to operate. Without vans to meet passengers at stations this does not have a chance. Towns such Kent, Cannen, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox Stockbridge and others south of these are the locations that must be served directly and none are according to this proposal. This is a turkey and will fall flat. Only a rebuilding of the New Haven’s Berkshire line above Danbury has any chance and could be combined with Metro North trains south of Danbury achieving some economies of operation. In Fact it would seem that Metro North is the logical operator of the line.

  18. Test for customer base by just using a cab car coach and run out on the Castleton Bridge and change direction. If the volume is there, built the one mile of wye connection to the Connecting Railroad and run without change of direction. Going out of the way to Renssealer is just a delaying waste of time.

  19. I have another suggestion for Amtrak , It would be great that during baseball season Amtrak could run a train or trains from Albany Rensselaer to Yankee Stadium and back, this would save gas and help the enviorment , also the price should include tickets at a discount . I believe this would go over big very big .

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