A new, 5-mile Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum rail line linking North Adams and Adams hinges on state action while stakeholders still hope trains will run between the two communities by May 2014.
The rails intended for use in the venture comprise two sections, with separate owners.
Pan Am owns the first, 4 miles of track used by Specialty Minerals and Holland Co., which the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) needs to purchase in order to realize Berkshire Scenic's hopes. It starts near American Legion Drive in North Adams and ends around the Burke Construction building at 6 Renfrew St. in Adams.
"The biggest thing we're waiting for is the state to actually buy the railroad [between North Adams and Renfrew Street]," Berkshire Scenic Director Jay Green said last week. "As soon as that happens we'll know what needs to come next."
The other section the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) owns -- 1 mile of track that goes from Burke's building into downtown Adams.
The purchase of the first 4 miles is a trickier business than one might think.
"The bottom line is, purchasing railroads takes a considerable amount of time," said MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes in an email.
As part of the purchase agreement, MassDOT will renovate the tracks and the two businesses -- Specialty Minerals and Holland -- can continue using them. Berkshire Scenic plans to operate just on weekends and holidays, which doesn't conflict with either of the businesses' schedules.
But the purchase involves considerable research into titles dating back to the 1800s and much financial figuring between MassDOT and Pan Am.
Verseckes continued, "Because we haven't finalized the true cost for the purchase and the necessary upgrades to the line, we don't have an actual figure at this time."
Green said if the state purchases the track by the year's end, Berkshire Scenic could and would begin operating it between North Adams and Renfrew Street. Taking the trains into downtown Adams, he said, would require another few months.
Those involved with the project face another hurdle in planning for the North Adams' stop-off point.
Green and city Mayor Richard J. Alcombright both pointed out that Adams -- which applied for federal funds to redevelop a three-bay former car wash at 4 Hoosac St. into a train station -- faces "much" more favorable circumstances.
On the city's end, no such structure exists. The track would end somewhere in the area of the city-owned land behind the Brien Center on American Legion Drive. Rides couldn't continue into Western Gateway Heritage State Park because it would involve crossing Pan Am's main line, which the company will not allow.
The obvious question, in attempting to establish a tourist attraction: How to welcome the riders?
"At least a platform area," Alcombright said Tuesday, "covered on top, maybe period-looking."
Green said one of Berkshire Scenic's old railcars could be renovated into a sort of museum or welcoming station to sit at the North Adams stop.
"We have a lot of creative ideas," Green said. "We just need access to the track."
The city must also make way for extra tracking in the area behind Oasis Plaza for train storage and maintenance.
Some feel the city needs to do more to facilitate the line.
A Berkshire Scenic volunteer working on the project who wished to remain anonymous contacted The Eagle concerned by what he viewed as a "profound silence" on North Adams' end of the planning -- a view he said many of his colleagues shared.
The state, he said, "isn't likely to build a train station there of any sort."
He added, "They don't seem to be moving forward. If someone's going to drop the ball, it's going to be North Adams."
Alcombright, on the contrary, said he felt "pretty comfortable" with where the project stands.
He said the state -- by offering to buy the rail and help both communities prepare for its operation -- has demonstrated ample backing.
"I don't think a couple hundred grand here and there is going let this thing rest," he said.
Adams will partner with DCR in readying the second section through town, which hasn't seen a train pass in many years. Extra tracking on that end is planned near the Rite Aid Pharmacy on Columbia Street.
Town and city officials have expressed hopes of attracting tens of thousands of riders per year with the new scenic ride, viewed by the state as an economic development project.