Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service preserves history, mystique and 'just plain fun' of riding the rails
Photo Gallery | Hoosac Valley Service for the Berkshire Scenic Railway
NORTH ADAMS — With a blast of a whistle and a hearty yell of, "All aboard," the Berkshire Scenic Railway capped off Labor Day weekend in its first full season of train tours since 2011.
Riders on the Hoosac Valley Service departed from the North Adams station all day Monday for a 10-mile, one-hour excursion between North Adams and Adams.
Riders climb aboard a rail diesel car, or RDC, which has the benefits of neither needing electricity nor a separate engine to propel itself.
The cars were in heavy use in the mid-to-late 50s. "We're trying to evoke that heyday," said President and General Superintendent of the railroad, Jay R. Green.
Even with air travel commonplace and technology on the verge of delivering self-driving cars to the masses, rail travel still holds a certain mystique for people, said Green,
"It's the romance of it," he said. "The sounds, the atmosphere, it's just plain fun."
A rider named Morgan, from Maine — who found time to get some knitting done during the trip — was in the area visiting Jiminy Peak and found information about the rail tour online when looking for things to do in the area.
"How do you say no to a train?" she said.
She agreed the ride itself and the atmosphere is nostalgic, and made her consider the early days of trains when the country was just beginning to become connected via rail travel.
Knowing the tragic end of many of those who helped build that railroad and the Hoosac Tunnel lends notes of sadness and scariness to the history, which made it that much more interesting.
Once passengers are on board, a crew of four volunteers runs the train at a cruising speed of about 10 mph.
Despite being volunteers for the nonprofit railroad, Green said they all receive full training in the train's operation.
Riders are taken on a 10-mile route between the Hoosac Range and Mount Greylock, over a section of the Hoosac River and past Southview Cemetery.
"It's more than just scenery," Green said, noting the one-hour round trip also takes riders past neighborhood backyards, a quarry and other industrial sites, all part of Adams' and North Adams' pasts as mill towns.
Part of the appeal may be the ability to turn control of the trip over to someone else. No navigating, no need to keep alert for street signs or upcoming turns. Just an opportunity to stare out the window and let the Northern Berkshires roll by.
After a couple of minutes, brick and steel give way to rolling hills, crowded woods and open fields.
Each 30-minute leg is narrated by one of the crew members, outlining the history of the significant sites along the way and of rail travel in the region.
The train stops at a pair of crossings to allow one of the conductors to disembark, stop approaching traffic and signal the train when it's safe to proceed before climbing back on board.
At the end of one leg, the crew takes only a minute or so to get the train ready to travel back in the opposite direction.
During Monday's rides, the first signs of summer ceding its hold on the Berkshire flora could be seen as the first clusters of leaves begin to reveal their colors.
As fall approaches, the railway plans on taking advantage of the fall foliage, with trips anticipated through the end of October.
Scenic trips and special "twilight" excursions are expected with added history and ghost stories of the tunnel and the cemetery, Green said.
After a break, the rail line will reopen in late November with a holiday-themed trip, said Green.
The Tinseliner Vintage Christmas Experience will evoke the Holiday zeitgeist of the mid-1950s when the RDCs were in heavy us.
Rail cars themselves will be appropriately decorated, Green said, and he hopes to be able to encourage homes and businesses along the route to also decorate to enhance the experience for the riders.
Details regarding scheduling and upcoming events can be found at Hoosac Valley Train Ride's website, www.hoosacvalleytrainride.com.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.