To the editor of THE EAGLE:
In response to your Jan. 22 editorial on train service, the proposed rail service from New York City to Pittsfield poses some interesting questions. I attended one of the initial meetings at Monument Mountain Regional High School, where the Housatonic Railroad was soliciting input on the amenities that should be included in the stations, plus possible station siting.
In the most recent meeting, focused on the possibility of locating a station near the center of Great Barrington, some of the station disadvantages were listed -- lack of parking, increased traffic, limited infrastructure capacity, station located near residential neighborhoods. All of these present sizable obstacles. Add to this noise pollution -- ask the people who live near the track what they think about the train whistle sounding eight-plus times a day as opposed to twice.
This is only one of several sizable issues in regards to this proposal. Most prominent are the issues of ridership, the economic costs, and the question of who this service would be beneficial to. The railroad cites a study that estimates two million rides a year. I think this is a very inflated figure. We have a fairly small population base here in Berkshire County. How often would you or anyone you know use this? Once every few months?
Do we need this to "potentially’’ entice more visitors to the area? We have a fairly robust tourist economy now. I am not opposed to trying to increase the visitors here, but does this serve our local population? There is no way that the ridership would support the daily cost of operation.
In Connecticut, there is an existing service called Shoreline East, which runs between New London and New Haven. It has many commuters that use it on a daily basis. The state of Connecticut subsidizes the operational cost, which makes sense for this service, as it is along the congested I-95 corridor. Do we expect Massachusetts to pay for the daily operational costs? If there was a large need for this service, maybe it would make sense. There is not even a small need.
Another huge issue is that Connecticut has no commitment to spending money on restoring the track, and unless it feels that it makes sense to that state, this service will never happen. It seems to me that Housatonic Railroad would like Massachusetts and Connecticut (read taxpayers) to pay for this rather expensive project.
The Eagle states that "21st century technology has led to highly efficient, high speed rail." This is true where the track is mostly straight over flat land (like the Metro North line to Wassaic). The proposed line runs largely parallel to Route 7 and the Housatonic River between Canaan and New Milford, which is somewhat hilly, and quite curvy. Even with improved tracks this will not be a high speed train. Pittsfield to N.Y. would take four hours. Extending the Metro North line north to Hillsdale would be a much more feasible alternative when one looks at the topography.
Many people when asked about the trains say, sure, that might be nice. That in itself is not enough of a reason to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on mostly empty trains sounding their whistles in our towns and in our neighborhoods many times a day.