WILLIAMSTOWN >> "North Adams was a railroad town," points out Jay Green, president of the Berkshire Scenic Railway, "unusual in that it was served by two railroads," one east-west, one north-south.
North Adams is once again a rail town served by two railroads, PamAm Southern carrying freight east and west, and the Hoosac Valley Line of the BSR, carrying passengers in season from North Adams to Renfrew and back, an hour-long, eight-mile round trip.
According to BSR's historian, Jack Trowill, the Pittsfield and North Adams line began service in 1846, making it one of the oldest railroads in the area. In the '30s you could take a train from North Adams to Grand Central Station, New York, via Pittsfield and Chatham, N.Y., in less than five hours.
Around 1949, passenger trains were discontinued in favor of Budd Railway Diesel Cars (RDCs), self-propelled coaches seating 90, two per day, one to Chatham and one to Albany, N.Y. You can ride a similar RDC this summer.
Furthermore, Green notes, while the Adirondack and the Catskill scenic railroads in New York State are under some pressure from people wanting to convert their rights-of-way into bike paths, leaders here have determined that scenic rail and bike paths can be companions, sharing the same corridor from Adams north. Work already begun on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension also benefits the remaining one mile portion of the scenic rail line needed to get it south to the new station in Adams, a converted car wash adjacent to the Visitors Center.
New views to be seen
As Green — who in his other life serves as the Amtrak stationmaster at Rensselaer, N.Y. — points out, both rail and bike rides are scenic, following along natural portions of the Hoosic River in the valley between the Hoosac Range and Mt. Greylock. Their joint corridor provides views of the sinuous course of the river and of the animals that inhabit its shores — views hard to see from roads.
Trains depart from 98 Crowley Avenue, just off Ashland Street, south of American Legion Drive, Saturdays and Sundays from May 28 to Sept. 18, at 10 and 11:30 a.m., and at 1:30 and 3 p.m.: $12 for adults, 10 for seniors and veterans and $8 for children 4-12 years. In addition there will be Friday evening cabarets and special holiday excursions, including the Tinseliner, a '50s-themed Christmas experience unique to BSR, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays post-Thanksgiving. Further information is available at www.hoosacvalleytrainride.com.
The Welcome Center, a rail car parked in North Adams in which tickets will be sold, contains historic photographs gleaned from the North Adams and Adams historical commissions of the industries the Pittsfield and North Adams Railroad once served.
BSR still operates its museum in Lenox and hopes at some point to again offer excursion trains in south county as well as the Hoosac Valley service.
At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.