Our opinion: The rail service dream
The dream of someday reinstituting passenger railroad service from the Berkshires to New York City is a long way from being realized and many obstacles loom on the tracks. If it happens, however, it has the potential to greatly benefit the Berkshires, and the study to be conducted over the next 18 months by the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organ ization should expose the pitfalls and clarify the benefits.
The $240,000 study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation will explore establishing passenger stations in Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Sheffield. Berkshire passengers could travel as far south as Danbury, Connecticut, where they would take MetroNorth trains into New York's Grand Central Terminal. A study commissioned by the Canaan, Connecticut-based Housatonic Railroad and undertaken by Williams College professor Stephen Sheppard asserted that this NYC-Berkshire link could increase local economic output by nearly $350 million over the first decade of construction and service.
The planners will have to determine if any former stations in the six communities are still available, and if so, if they are in good enough shape to be used again. The largest undertaking would be the upgrading of the Housatonic's freight rail lines to make them suitable for passenger service. This would not be inexpensive nor would it happen quickly.
Governments in Europe and Asia, understanding the value of passenger rail service in reducing oil use and pollution and lessening highway traffic, heavily subsidize passenger rail, but here in the United States, underfunded Amtrak is again being threatened with a total reduction of funds. The realization of a passenger link from the Berkshires to New York City may depend on a dramatic shift in that attitude, which is likely the longest of shots.