Council hears update on stations for proposed rail link to Metro North
PITTSFIELD -- The Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center is the logical choice for a railroad station to serve passengers traveling a proposed new line linking Pittsfield and New York City.
That was the consensus voiced during a presentation before the City Council on an ongoing study of rail station options in the county. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is conducting the $240,000 federally funded study of station sites along the 38-mile rail corridor from the Connecticut line through five towns and Pittsfield, which would be the terminus.
Representatives of the rail line owner, Housatonic Railroad Co., and BRPC land-use planner Brian Domina gave a presentation of their findings thus far and answered questions concerning the proposal and how it would affect the transportation center.
Councilors asked for a cost figure and time frame for upgrading Housatonic Railroad's Berk-
shire line to allow passenger service and for linking it with lines in Connecticut and to the Metro-North line to New York. Company President John Han-
lon said that would take several years and require an investment of roughly $225 million for track upgrades.
However, he noted that the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick has supported spending $131.8 million from a state transportation bond to imp-
rove the Berkshire line.
Housatonic Railroad previously assessed the viability of passenger rail service between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn. From Danbury, riders could connect to Grand Central Terminal in New York City via Metro-North.
Domina said the BCRC study will conclude in the fall, when recommendations on station sites and other project aspects will be issued in a report. Presentations on potential rail station sites are planned for the communities on the route.
Dominia and the other officials told councilors that while other sites in the city were evaluated, the Intermodal Center at Columbus and North streets in the downtown has significant advantages. Those include connections with east-west rail passenger service through Am-
trak, a bus service hub, and the center's location in the city's downtown, where it would boost the city and Berkshire County economies.
Hanlon said a short extension of the Housatonic Rail-
road line from near The Berkshire Eagle building on South Church Street to the center would be required, along with a platform for boarding passengers.
Asked by councilors to estimate the number of daily passenger trails, Hanlon and Colin Pease, a vice president with the railroad firm, said it was estimated to be in the range of 1,000 passengers per day with eight trains traveling in each direction daily.
Housatonic Railroad earlier commissioned a study of the economic impacts of a service that would connect with the Metro-North line to Man-
hattan. Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard determined that passenger trains running to and from New York could increase economic output by $344 million in the Berkshires during the first 10 years of construction and service.
In answer to questions from councilors, service on upgraded rail and improved rail connections in Connecticut could result in a 3.5-hour travel time to New York. Tourists visiting the Berkshires, the elderly and college students are considered among the most likely to take advantage of the service.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said that in addition to providing a study update, he hoped the council would now be aware of the decisions the city might have to make if the service is established. Those would include dealing with incr-
eased parking needs to serve an influx of visitors to the Intermodal Center. The long-range need for parking in the area, he said, is expected to be addressed in an on-going downtown traffic study.
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