Hinds: MassDOT backs seasonal weekend trial run of proposed Berkshire Flyer

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, speaks during a town hall-style event in Sheffield on Monday night. Hinds told the crowd that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation supports a seasonal pilot run of train service from New York City to Berkshire County starting in 2019.

SHEFFIELD — Berkshire Flyer, the proposed passenger train line connecting the Berkshires to New York City, recently got a major shot in the arm that could soon launch the plan into action.

During a Monday night Town Hall meeting in Sheffield, state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation supports a seasonal — July 4th through Columbus Day — weekend trial run of the railroad network.

The rail service could be up and running — taking people on the four-hour ride from Pittsfield to New York City — by as soon as next year, said Hinds, who founded a Berkshire Flyer feasibility working group last year and sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, as well as the joint committee on tourism, arts and cultural development.

"They're open to running a pilot as soon as next year," Hinds said before an audience of 50 to 60 people at the Bushnell-Sage Library.

In addition to talking about the Berkshire Flyer, the senator also gave residents updates on bills that could overhaul rural school funding and another that would establish a progressive personal income tax that would set a higher tax rate that could only be applied to earnings over $1 million. So, if someone earned $1,000,002, they would pay the higher rate only on $2. He also filled in attendees on a possible ballot initiative to waive the state sales tax.

Although thrilled by the chance for a pilot season, Hinds said the Berkshire Flyer is far from a done deal.

"I don't want to get ahead of it," he said. "They'd start with seasonal transportation and then, obviously, expand once it's a proven market and we would have full, year-round service."

In addition to the Department of Transportation's blessing, the Berkshire Flyer would need financial support from the state, at least in its first few years, and the approval of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Eddie Sporn, a real estate consultant who brought the possibility of the Berkshire Flyer rail to Hinds' attention, said he is beyond excited by the news.

"I feel like there is a very high possibility that this is going to happen," Sporn said. The Berkshire Flyer "provides huge economic potential for Berkshire County, and this is our foot in the door to begin to realize that."

The Berkshire Flyer would provide passenger rides from Pittsfield to Albany, N.Y. Passengers could then hop on the New York line to get to New York City. The idea is, the rail connection would better accommodate commuting, tourism, quality of life and business.

Berkshire Flyer supporters now have to fix their attention to "the last mile" of the project, a plan that would bring many types of transportation options to the station so that people would be able to get around Berkshire County once they get off the train.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, and 413-629-4621.