$175 million rail bill brightens hope for Pittsfield-Danbury line
BOSTON -- It's been more than 40 years since folks in Berkshire County could ride a train from Pittsfield to Danbury and connect to a line for New York City, but a new transportation bill could change all of that.
The bill, which cleared the Massachusetts House of Representatives, allocates $175 million for several rail projects in the state and could potentially be used to open the proposed Pittsfield to Danbury line, Springfield to Worcester and Boston to Cape Cod lines.
Right now, the Pittsfield to Danbury proposal is in the planning stages. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) is conducting a federally funded study of the feasibility of the project.
Last year, Gov. Deval Patrick announced that he would support more than $100 million in funding for the rail project. The total cost has been estimated to be $200 million or more. In addition, improvements would also have to be made in Connecticut.
There hasn't been passenger service on the route since 1971. Presently, the Housatonic Railroad Co. operates freight train service on the Pittsfield to Danbury rail line. There were two reported derailments on the line last year.
Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, believes the project is "still a way's away." He is skeptical the state will actually fund the project.
He said that a lot of improvements to the line are necessary to upgrade it for passengers. Railroad crossings would be needed and new or upgraded stations would be necessary. In addition to Pittsfield, stops could include Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge in Berkshire County.
Ultimately, the BRPC would need to present a plan to the state for approval, in order to get funding from the legislature and governor, Pignatelli said.
Pignatelli said the state might need to buy out the Housatonic Railroad Co. in order to get the project completed, and negotiations would be needed. "A lot of hoops have to be jumped through," he said.
BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns was unavailable for comment. Assistant Director Thomas Matuszko said he was unfamiliar with the project or any approved funding.
A separate Amtrak line which stops in Pittsfield goes to Boston, Albany and Chicago.
The transportation bill also provides $1 million to repair the Route 7 Bridge which spans the Housatonic River in Great Barrington.
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