PITTSFIELD -- Gov. Deval Patrick believes that Massachusetts can absorb the cost of restoring passenger rail service through Berkshire County on the Housatonic Railroad, but that the state of Connecticut's participation is necessary for the link to link all the way to New York City.
Accompanied by three Housatonic Railroad Co. officials, Patrick and state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey rode the Berkshire County section of the railway Monday morning from the state line in Sheffield to Pittsfield's wastewater treatment plant on Utility Drive.
First proposed in 2010, the project would restore passenger rail service on the Housatonic Railroad along the 90-mile corridor between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn.
"I think we can afford the Massachusetts end," Patrick said after stepping from the train. "But I want to be clear. In order for us to warrant this investment on the Massachusetts side we have to get Connecticut to participate as well. Because I think the maximum potential is to go all the way to New York not just the Connecticut line."
Patrick said the trip gave him a chance to see "the real potential" in re-establishing passenger rail service through Berkshire County, which was discontinued in April 1971.
"I think the potential economic impact is considerable, and the opportunity for job creation and quality of life is considerable," he said.
In January, Patrick announced that his administration would support $113.8 million toward upgrading the rail line to passenger service as part of his proposed $13 million transportation bond bill. The entire cost of upgrading the rail line is estimated to be $200 million.
A economic study conducted by Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard in 2011 found that passenger trains running from Pittsfield to Manhattan could increase economic output by $344 million in the Berkshires during the first 10 years of construction and service. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is currently conducting a study of the project that has included two public hearings this summer.
Patrick said on Monday that it would take roughly three years to restore passenger service along the 90-mile corridor.
"A lot of work needs to be done on the track bed that we rode today from the Connecticut line on up," he said. "I understand there's the same amount of comparable work that has to be done on the Connecticut side."
According to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's study, regional planning organizations in Connecticut have applied for some federal funding toward the project, while some state funding may be available.
Housatonic Railroad Co. President John Hanlon said the Canaan, Conn.-based railway has been discussing the matter with Connecticut officials, but said there are financial constraints within that state.
"I think they're looking at those," he said. "I think it's in the process of maybe changing at the moment."
Regardless of the financial issues, Hanlon said interest in the project is just as strong in Connecticut as it is in Massachusetts.
"In Litchfield County, you have a predominately daily commuter market," Hanlon said. "As you transition up into the Berkshires, you have more of a nontraditional commuter recreation market. So they're kind of different, but they play real well together.
"There's some real, real strong interest in Connecticut," he said.
Davey described the restoration of passenger rail service through Berkshire County as "definitely feasible."
"We believe that working with the Housatonic Railroad and our partners in Connecticut that we can make a reality of it," Davey said. "But first things first, and the first thing is making the investments in the rail."
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