PITTSFIELD -- Regional planners and a Connecticut-based railway want county residents' help in identifying possible sites for one or more train depots should north-south passenger rail service return to the Berkshires.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Housatonic Railroad Co. will soon host two public meetings regarding the feasibility of passenger rail stations along the Housatonic's rail line from the Connecticut border to Pittsfield.

The first meeting is slated for June 26 at Lenox Town Hall, followed by one on July 10, Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington; both to run from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

BRPC officials say the public input sessions are part of a $240,000 federally funded study to determine where and how many train stations are needed.

"Do we want one larger station or several smaller ones? Too many stations close together would slow travel time," said Gwen Miller, a BRPC planner.

Miller noted the study would also examine the re-use of several former train stations such as ones in Stockbridge, Lenox and Great Barrington.

"They are in the mix, but do they meet operational needs? And there are land-use and zoning issues that must be addressed," she added.

Based in Canaan, Conn., the Housatonic Railroad Co. has already assessed the viability of passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn. From Danbury, riders could connect to Grand Central Terminal in New York City via Metro North Railroad.

Two years ago, Housatonic Railroad commissioned a study conducted by Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard. He determined that passenger trains running to and from Manhattan could increase economic output by $344 million in the Berkshires during the first 10 years of construction and service.

Railway officials have estimated $200 million would be needed to improve the rails, a project that would take several years to complete. In January, Gov. Deval L. Patrick announced his administration would support $113.8 million toward the rail line upgrade as part of his proposed $13 billion transportation bond bill. The long-term funding plan would pay for road, bridge repairs and other transportation projects across Massachusetts.

Despite a nearly 40-year absence, BRPC planners are bullish on promoting a north-south passenger rail service in Berkshire County.

"National studies and ones done in New England show this generation is more willing to take [alternate] transportation and less likely to drive," Miller said.

If you go ...

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Housatonic Railroad Co. are hosting two public input sessions regarding potential sites for passenger rail stations, if passenger train service is restored along the existing Housatonic rail line from the Connecticut border to Pittsfield.

The meetings are scheduled for June 26 at Lenox Town Hall and July 10 at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, both from 6:30-8 p.m.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.