NORTH ADAMS — Landmark Federal Credit Union and the city of North Adams have reached a lease agreement for the land that will become the Berkshire Scenic Railway's northern platform.
The agreement, finalized earlier this week, will allow for construction of a temporary platform that abuts the rail line and sits behind the Brien Center's parking lot accessed via American Legion Drive.
The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, a registered nonprofit, will be on the hook for the $3,000 payment of the lease. The city will construct the platform using its Department of Public Works and material leftover from renovating the rail line and other construction, according to Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Construction of the platform, which is seen as a temporary solution to allow a North Adams terminus to the Hoosac Valley Service's rides between Adams and North Adams, is expected to begin within the week and last three to four days.
"For right now, it's the only place," said Alcombright. "[The Hoosac Valley Service] is still in its infancy; it's basically a soft opening."
With the largely state-funded project now several years in the making and backed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Hoosac Valley Service expects to provide slow-chugging weekend, holiday and other themed scenic rides between Adams and North Adams.
Although it provided rides on Columbus Day weekend with great success through a temporary agreement, the Hoosac Valley Service has not operated since then and is far from complete. In addition to construction of a platform in North Adams, the Scenic Railway still needs to acquire rights to a majority of the railroad, and a roughly one mile stretch of rail will be built in Adams to bring trains to the new Adams Station on Hoosac Street.
In its initial test runs on Columbus Day Weekend, the Hoosac Valley Service ran trains beginning at Renfrew Street to North Adams and pulled in close to $7,000, according to Jay Green, the Scenic Railway's government affairs director. With no platform in North Adams for passengers to exit onto, the train simply stopped at the end of the line and headed back to Adams.
For city officials, who see passengers coming on and off the train in North Adams as a potential boon to the local economy, a platform has been a top priority.
With a lease now in place, the city has also come to terms "in principal" with the Brien Center to use its parking lot on weekends and holidays, according to Alcombright.
Despite this marked progress, the Hoosac Valley Service will not resume rides until the state officially acquires the existing rail lines from PanAm Railways or another temporary agreement is struck between the two parties. An agreement between the MassDOT and PanAm for transfer of the railroad ownership is currently under federal review, according to Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for MassDOT.
"The transfer of the rail line's ownership from PanAm to MassDOT is now before the Surface Transportation Board, which is the federal entity that authorizes the transfer of railroad properties," Verseckes said. "The process to gain the STB's signoff on a sale can be lengthy."
Green said the Scenic Railway and MassDOT hope to have a final decision from the board by Dec. 15. If approved, Green said the Hoosac Valley Service could squeeze in a weekend of scaled-down holiday rides, which would help restore the Scenic Railway's dwindling coffers.
"We would just make sure that the public understands that we would not have had time to do something that's elaborate," Green said of the holiday rides.
The longer the Scenic Railway waits, the more precarious its financial position becomes, as the Columbus Day ride revenue was only a "stop-gap measure," according to Green.
"The week before we operated before Columbus Day we had $500 in our checking account; that's how close it came," Green said.
Despite the delays, Green remains confident the Hoosac Valley Service will be a success and notes that the Scenic Railway hasn't been forced to sell assets to stay afloat and has met its financial obligations.
"As soon as that agreement in place, we'll have access to the track pursuant to our operating agreement and we'll be fine," Green said. "We feel there's a bright future for the project."
Green advised those interested in the Hoosac Valley Service's progress to follow its Facebook Page, which will be finalized when the railroad agreement is officially approved and rides are scheduled.