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Long-sought NYC-Pittsfield rail link will get its test this summer with Berkshire Flyer

Pittsfield RR Tracks (copy)

Railroad tracks extend west from Pittsfield’s Intermodal Transportation Center, where Amtrak service is provided on a daily basis. These tracks will be used for the Berkshire Flyer service, which is poised to begin this July. 

PITTSFIELD — A delayed experiment to enhance tourist access to the Berkshires will finally roll this summer, five years after a subsidy was secured.

Officials with the Massachusetts and New York transportation departments said Monday that the Berkshire Flyer will provide limited train trips linking New York City with Pittsfield, starting July 8.

If embraced, the service — a Friday afternoon trip from Penn Station in Manhattan to Pittsfield and a return trip Sunday afternoon — could become a regular feature, officials say.

For now, it depends on subsidies and heavy marketing efforts, as well as the willingness of private owners of track to allow trips.

The notion of providing dedicated service to New Yorkers seeking weekend getaways to the Berkshires was proposed as long ago as 2017.

Despite the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, local officials hoped to test the service that fall, until legal issues sidelined the project.

“This has been years in the making,” state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said in a statement. Hinds lined up initial funding for the Berkshire Flyer in 2017, seeing it as a way to develop tourism in the Berkshires.

In an interview in 2020, Hinds said that one year of funding for the project included $240,000 to underwrite operations, a $30,000 fee for a program director and $100,000 for marketing to build ridership.

The service depends on a public sector subsidy, even with the sale of tickets to riders.

A two-year pilot run, for 20 weeks a year, was to start in the spring of 2020, then pushed to the fall — then delayed for nearly two more years.

On Monday, Massachusetts officials said the investment can pay off for the Berkshires.

“Western Massachusetts and the Berkshire region offer a whole host of cultural and recreational opportunities during the summer and we hope this pilot service will encourage even more visitors to this part of our state,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement provided by the state Department of Transportation.

Travel details

The service will leave Penn Station at 3:16 p.m. on Fridays and arrive at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center, at 1 Columbus Ave. in Pittsfield, at 7:12 p.m.

On the way north, the train will make the same stops as a typical Amtrak Empire Service train, officials say. The Sunday return trip will leave Pittsfield at 3 p.m. and get to New York at 7:05 p.m.

Tickets will go on sale in May and will be available through Amtrak. For tickets, visit Amtrak.com or use the Amtrak app, or by visiting Amtrak ticket desks or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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