'Train to nowhere' not so sweet -- just ask the kids

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ADAMS — Reaching the end of the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service on Lime Street instead of at the Adams Station is like "a cake without frosting," according to one local student.

That sentiment that the ride could be sweeter was matched by about 50 other first- and third-grade students at C.T. Plunkett Elementary who also sent letters to Gov. Charlie Baker this week imploring the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to fund construction of the final Scenic Railway piece.

"It will be beautiful," one student advised the governor. Asked another, "Will you ride the train with me?"

Town officials asked students to bolster their efforts to make the ride complete as the Hoosac Valley Service prepares to begin its first full season in motion on this Memorial Day Weekend. The train will depart from behind the Brien Center on American Legion Drive in North Adams and will reach as far south as Renfrew Street in Adams.

That final railroad—less stretch, shorter than a mile into downtown Adams, still needs to be built. But it has yet to he be funded by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which purchased the freight line from PanAm Railways last year and renovated an existing 4-mile length of track between North Adams and Lime Street in Adams.

The full plans call for the line to be extended from Lime Street to the newly built Adams Station, which was the result of the purchase and renovation of a former car wash on East Hoosac Street.

The Adams Station project was paid largely by a $386,820 federal grant and backed with about $150,000 in matching funds by Adams taxpayers. But until a train can pull up beside it, the station can't be used for its original purpose.

But the Hoosac Valley Service's opening weekend will roll on despite the work that remains, said Jay Green, Berkshire Scenic Railway's director of government affairs. In pilot runs at the end of 2015 and two more this month, the service received positive feedback on its 8-mile, hourlong round-trip ride, Green said.

The ride includes a historical narration that can inform even those who grew up in the area.

"It's not necessarily about duration, it's about the quality of experience. And those people who have taken the trip have realized there's quite a bit to learn," Green said.

In addition to the service itself, passengers will be invited on a free walking tour of downtown North Adams and into Western Gateway Heritage State Park sponsored by the Department of Conservation and North Adams Historical Society. On the Adams side, passengers will have the option of paying for a shuttle provided by the Adams-Anthony Center from Renfrew Street into downtown Adams.

"We want to fully integrate our train ride with the other cultural and economic attractions of the area, and the community has stepped up," Green said. Community Development Director Donna Cesan said the town has taken heat for the project, though she stands by the town's push to renovate and build the Adams Station, which she adds has already resulted in one less long-blighted property downtown.

"We certainly have made it much more attractive," Cesan said.

With the Adams Station still not in use as an actual station, some residents have joked the Berkshire Scenic Railway is the "train to nowhere," she said.

The cost of materials for the final piece of railway downtown has already been funded, but the work is estimated at more than $1 million.

As work is set to begin on the extension of the Hoosac Valley Service's neighbor, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, the Scenic Railway's fate will depend on where it falls in MassDOT's 5-year list of capital priorities for fiscal 2017 to 2021.

"MassDOT continues to consider for its 5-year proposed capital budget the proposal to extend the railroad track to the station building. At this time the FY17-FY21 capital budget is still pending approval from the MassDOT Board," said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for MassDOT.

The comment period for the MassDOT 2017 Capital Investment Plan has already ended, and Cesan said town officials made their voices heard. Officials from North Adams and Adams have spoken with state officials about the project and pleaded their case.

"The investment that's required to finish the project to make it fully marketable, versus [the significantly greater] investment that's already been made in it ... we think there's value to it and it's not going to break the bank," Green said.

More information about the service can be found on its Facebook page titled "Hoosac Valley Train Rides."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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