PITTSFIELD — Unresolved legal issues have stranded a planned trial run this summer of passenger rail service between Pittsfield and New York City.
Mayor Linda Tyer said Friday it now appears unlikely officials will be able to resolve those questions in time for the new Berkshire Flyer service to begin in 2020.
"We had hoped that we might pilot it in the fall of 2020. I don't know if we're still going to accomplish that," she said in a media call related to passenger rail service in the Northeast.
In an interview later, Tyer said that the city has not worked out terms of its official sponsorship of the project. The state Department of Transportation requires that the pilot, supported by a cluster of local groups, have a designated sponsor and fiduciary agent able to record and verify findings. Pittsfield came forward to serve in that role.
"We want to make sure we understand what's required of us," Tyer said of additional time being taken on legal language. "All the things that are going to be important to keep track of during the pilot." Tyer said service is likely to debut next spring.
The plan calls for a train to leave New York's Penn Station at 2:20 p.m. Fridays and arrive in Pittsfield at 6:10 p.m. A return trip Sunday would leave Pittsfield at 2:45 p.m. and arrive in New York at 6:45 p.m.
As of last year, a two-year pilot run of the service, championed by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, was to begin this June, providing weekend transportation between the cities for 20 weeks a year.
Hinds secured initial funding in 2017 as a way to develop tourism in the Berkshires. He said Friday that until the pandemic arrived, plans were being firmed up to launch the test runs this year.
"Ultimately, when it was time to pull the trigger was exactly when we faced the reality," Hinds said of the pandemic. About the same time, Amtrak, which will provide the train service, went to Congress seeking a bailout, as its ridership plummeted in early March.Hinds said he expects legislative funding secured for the pilot of the Berkshire Flyer will be extended into next year. One year of funding includes $240,000 to underwrite operations for the service, a $30,000 fee for a program director and $100,000 for marketing to build ridership. The service needed a subsidy, even with the sale of tickets.
Hinds said 1Berkshire, a project partner, has already spent some of the marketing money. Other partners are the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Given the pandemic, the postponement moves the pilot to a new year, when its success or failure might not be influenced by the current public health crisis."
To use this season as a pilot year started to make less and less sense," Hinds said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.