All aboard the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Christmas express
Photo Gallery | Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service
ADAMS — 'Twas the weekend before Christmas and all through the land, riders on the Berkshire Scenic Railway were feeling quite grand.
The Hoosac Valley Service chugged along amid holiday fanfare, young and old relaxed with hardly a care.
"It was very realistic, the conductors in costume — I loved the feel of an old-fashioned train," said Sarah Connell of Pittsfield.
"I loved the cookies and hot chocolate," added Ben Thorne referring to goodies railway volunteers handed out after the hourlong excursion.
On Saturday and Sunday, Thorne and Connell were among the more than 700 other men, women and children to take railway's nine-mile, round trip via downtown North Adams aboard a single Budd Company car — passenger rail car with its own engine. The Budd car interior was decorated with tinsel, colored lights and filled with Christmas music. In North Adams, Santa Claus boarded the train greeting all the children and handing out small gifts as the train returned to Renfrew Street.
Railway volunteer Nicholas Pandaleon enjoyed himself as much as the passengers.
"It gives you a feeling of what trains used to be," said the 15-year-old train buff from Millbrook, N.Y.
After a four-year hiatus, the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum resumed service thanks to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation buying the 4.6 miles track along the route from a privately owned railroad company. MassDOT officials only gave railway officials the go ahead last week and the nonprofit tourist attraction couldn't wait to get back on track, offering four scheduled departures each day from Renfrew Street.
The timing couldn't have been better as nearly all eight trips were sellouts, according to railway president and general superintendent Jay Green.
"That combination of Christmas, Santa Claus and trains is magical this time of year," he said.
The Lenox-based railway also needed the revenue the train trips generated to continue building up their bottom line. The all-volunteer organization was allowed to operate Columbus Day weekend in October as their checking account had dipped below the $1,000 mark. The railway had been dormant since 2011, no longer able to use the Housatonic Railroad tracks in South Berkshire, where the passenger service had operated since its inception in 1984. Railway officials switched gears and looked to the northern end of the county to resume operations.
Kevin Chittenden, of Pittsfield, a 30-year railway volunteer train engineer, was glad to be back at the controls.
"It's a labor of love," he said.
The railway's Hoosac Valley Service will likely operate one weekend a month during the winter, boosting the schedule as the 2016 summer tourist season approaches. By springtime, railway officials hope to have ready for visitors a newly constructed platform behind the Brien Center parking lot in North Adams
Amenities can't be set up at the North Adams end until a source of electricity can be brought in, which Green said the Scenic Railway, city, state, and National Grid are collaborating on.
Local officials will also continue to work with state leaders to fund the construction of a final 0.6 mile stretch of railroad into downtown Adams, where the town has constructed a train station for the scenic railway. Currently, the Hoosac Valley Service is operating out of a stationery caboose and Pullman car parked on the tracks by the old Adams train station, now the offices for John Burke Construction.
Green thanked Burke for allowing the railway temporary use of the company location and for Adams providing a police officer to help passengers cross Route 8 from the Renfrew Park parking lot to reach the railway on Renfrew Street.
Green noted Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum wants to expand its volunteer total of 40 and now is the time to join as training is held during the winter months. Those interested can go to the railway's Facebook page or two websites: hoosacvalleytrainride.com or berkshirescenicrailroad.org
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