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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Wassaic shuttle a welcome effort to bolster Berkshire transit connections

A view of the entrance to the Wassaic Train Station (copy)

The Wassaic station at the north end of Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line, as seen in 2016.

It’s always a good thing to hear of simple but effective plans to upgrade the transit connections between Berkshire County and other metro areas. We’re glad to see part of a $3.8 billion development package signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month put $150,000 toward shaping shuttle service between Great Barrington and Metro North’s Wassaic Train Station in Amenia, N.Y.

The Wassaic link makes a lot of sense. It’s a train station directly serving New York City that many travelers in the Berkshires might already be familiar with given its proximity. Great Barrington is about 45 minutes away from this station that, unlike the Berkshire Flyer, takes a more direct route to New York City and runs multiple times daily instead of one limited run over the weekend.

While we expressed hope for success in the Flyer pilot and a desire to see a transit expansion plans bloom, we noted that a Berkshire-NYC rail link that runs through Wassaic would make much more geographical sense. Unfortunately, the necessarily ambitious buildout that would be needed for such a plan makes it far less likely than other options, such as a shuttle, which would be quicker and easier to get going.

That said, it would be great to see this shuttle service extend further into the heart of the Berkshires — ideally, all the way to the Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield. It could be a simpler alternative for those who have welcomed the spirit of the Flyer but wish for more expansive arrival and departure possibilities for taking a carless trip to New York City. It’s up to Great Barrington local officials how to spend the $150,000. The funding could be used for a pilot run or a feasibility study, and while we can see the benefit of getting the wheels on the bus rolling sooner, a feasibility study to consider how to get the most buy-in might be the better move.

We want to see transit infrastructure that better serves the Berkshires. That most definitely should include wider, more accessible passenger rail service. Given the prospects on the table right now — from the Flyer pilot to, most importantly, East-West rail — our region has a vested interest in demonstrating an outsize demand for expanded rail access. It’s sad, if not totally unexpected, that the Berkshires might have to prove its worth to be truly included — as in trains to Pittsfield — in ambitious but necessary statewide passenger rail expansion plans. Nevertheless, Berkshire residents who want to see broadened transit options in their lifetimes should jump at any chance to demonstrate a real desire for more opportunities to ride the rails.

A Great Barrington-to-Wassaic shuttle will improve Berkshire travel connections, and it is doable and cost efficient. We can’t wait to see those wheels turn.

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