The value of the public hearings on possible locations for passenger train depots in Berkshire County goes beyond the pros and cons of the sites that are suggested. It is critically important to keep public discussion of train service alive, as the process is a long one and the public’s focus will help assure that elected officials maintain their focus as well.
The input sessions are part of the BRPC’s federally funded study that will continue through the summer. The Housatonic Railroad is exploring restoring passenger service from Danbury, Connecticut, to Pittsfield. Ideally, the county could be reconnected to New York City, as it was for decades, by service from Danbury to Grand Central Station via Metro North.
It would cost an estimated $200 million to upgrade the rails between Danbury and Pittsfield, a project that would take several years to complete. Private and public financing will be necessary over the long haul, and while Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is an advocate of this project and has designated $113 million for it, the governor’s term concludes this year and there is no guarantee that his successor will be as supportive as is the part-time resident of Richmond.
Passenger rail is grievously underfunded by Washington as Republicans have little use for mass transit and congressmen of all stripes are beholden to the campaign contributions from the oil companies heavily invested in automobiles. Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will refers to railroads as "19th century technology," but while trains were invented in the 19th century, 21st century technology has led to highly efficient, high speed rail. Unfortunately, most of those trains are running in Europe and Asia. (It is worth noting that Mr. Will is famously a fan of baseball, a 19th century sport.)
With thousands of airline flights being delayed and canceled because of the latest winter storms, setting the stage for days of airport chaos, passenger rail looks particularly good this week. The U.S. needs more of it in general, and the Pittsfield connection to NYC specifically must gain and sustain momentum. The next public hearing on station sites is Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at Lenox Town Hall and more will be scheduled by the BRPC.