Letter: Get Scenic Railway back on track in Lenox

Get Scenic Railway back on track in Lenox

To the editor:

Clarence Fanto's Nov. 30 article "'Making spirits bright' for downtown: Weekend festival aimed at getting bigger slice of pre-Christmas shopping pie" got me thinking of what has been missing lo these many years: the Polar Express trains operated by the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum.

They were a tremendous draw to Lenox, and indeed to all of central/southern Berkshire, during several holiday seasons ending in 2011. They operated on what was, until the end of the 2011 season, BSRM's usual territory between Lenox and Stockbridge. They were wildly popular with parents and children alike. Every trip was sold out by mid-August on every season they were operated.

That operation ended, along with the spring to fall operation, when the Housatonic Railroad, at the start of 2012, refused to renew the agreement between it and MassDOT that allowed use of its property by BSRM's passenger/tourist trains. Today, the owner-tenant relationship has flipped. Housatonic Railroad is now the tenant. Mass DOT owns the railroad all the way from Pittsfield to the Connecticut line. In other words that segment is now owned by the taxpayers of Massachusetts. Our elected officials in the county at both the local and state levels should be working to bring the people's trains back to what is now the people's railroad.

Lenox understandably wants tourism and shoppers. As a full-time resident who wants to see the town be able to fund all the needed improvements to its essential basic infrastructure, I want that too.

We especially need to find ways to boost that activity during what has traditionally been one of the slowest, if not THE slowest, period of the year. An infusion of meal and lodging tax revenue during the run-up to the Christmas/New Year's holidays will be a most welcome addition to what we get during the busy months. That additional revenue will make more secure our ability to provide such services as the excellent street and sidewalk snow removal the town is known for county-wide.

Resumption of the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum's tourist/passenger operations from its Lenox headquarters will no doubt boost visitation and tourism during the "high" season. A return of the fall foliage trains followed up by the Polar Express operations during the "low season" between Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's will not be the be all and end all. But based on the crowds I witnessed of parents, grandparents, and their children, filling Lenox Station to capacity when the Polar Expresses were running, BSRM can play a huge part in an effort by Lenox and surrounding towns to bring people up here who will eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, and spend a night or two or three in our incomparable lodging establishments.

Mark Shapp, Lenox


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