Berkshire railroad study sees four communities as best depot sites
PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield, Lee, Great Barrington and Sheffield have been identified as the best places to host rail depots if passenger service to New York City is restored.
The four communities were chosen based, in part, on being at least 10 miles apart, said Brian Domina, senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
"Overall trip time between depots is crucial as too many stations along the way slows travel," said Domina, author of a BRPC study on the issue.
The sites also have the advantage of being centrally located within each community, with the exception of Sheffield.
BRPC officials on Wednesday will host the first of two public meetings to discuss their preliminary findings of the $240,000 federally funded study to recommend the optimum sites for the depots. Wednesday's meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the Great Barrington Fire Station; the second meeting will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield.
Domina expects the final report to be complete in August, followed by a 30-day comment period and a last public meeting before the study wraps up at the end of September.
Efforts are underway to re-establish a rail link between the Berkshires and New York City, via Danbury, Conn., on the existing Berkshire Line.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation last week announced it had purchased the Berkshire Line from the Canaan, Conn.-based Housatonic Railroad Co. for $12.13 million as part of the $131 million set aside for the project in the state's most recent transportation bond bill.
The deal allows Housatonic to continue to use and maintain the tracks for its freight service.
The intermodal center, which is at the northernmost point of the existing line, was the obvious choice for a Pittsfield station, Domina said.
"Hopefully modifications can be made to the intermodal center to accept [train] passengers and link them up to public transportation," he said, referring to the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which operates a bus station at the center.
In addition, train depots are recommended for an unspecified site on downtown Lee's west side and the historic former train station behind Great Barrington Town Hall.
A fourth depot could be built on vacant land in Sheffield, near the Connecticut line, provided one isn't located across the border in North Canaan, Conn.
"Downtown sites are the most challenging and most beneficial," he said. "The one in Lee has the potential to be a catalyst for downtown development on the west side."
Domina noted developing cost estimates for the depots wasn't part of the study.
MassDOT plans an initial $35 million worth of track improvements that will permit the operation of passenger trains but serve freight trains until the Connecticut portion of the project is completed.
A final round of track improvements will be required along with improvements on the Connecticut portion of the line prior to the start of passenger rail service.
Railway officials have estimated $200 million would be needed to improve the rail line.
A date for the beginning of passenger service is dependent upon completion of the upgrades in both states, according to state transportation officials.
A study conducted by Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard determined that the restoration of a passenger rail link to New York City could increase economic output by $344 million in the Berkshires during the first 10 years of construction and service.
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