Berkshire Scenic Railway gets $200K boost for northern spur


NORTH ADAMS -- Berkshire Scenic Railway has been granted $200,000 to complete the northern spur of its planned Hoosac Valley Service between Adams and North Adams.

The funding, announced on Monday, will allow the Berkshire Scenic Railway to move its four passenger cars, caboose, and two locomotives to Northern Berkshire, as well as renovate an old rail car into a ticket booth and information center. The remaining funds will go toward a train platform behind the Brien Center and a portable ADA-compliant bathroom, according to North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The nonprofit Berkshire Scenic Railway announced plans to connect North Adams and Adams with a Hoosac Valley Service last year. It aims to provide weekend and holiday scenic tours of the region every weekend between the spring and fall, and both towns are hoping it boosts tourism in the region.

"It's just a really good thing," Alcombright said. "It's promoting tourism in Western Massachusetts, and this is a great way to do that. It's money well spent."

The grant was part of $2 million appropriated by the state Legislature last year toward a pilot program to promote tourism in the central and western parts of Massachusetts. The executive office of Administration and Finance administered the funds and announced winners on Monday, including $180,000 for renovations to the Fitch-Hoose House in Dalton.

The funding secures a vision for both the Adams and North Adams ends of the railway. Adams town meeting members approved a nearly $500,000 project -- covered mostly by a state grant -- to renovate a former car wash into a train station earlier this year.

"That's very exciting news," said Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler. "It's exciting to know that the northern end ... is going to have a station."

Jay Green, government affairs director for the Berkshire Scenic Railway, could not be reached for comment.

MassDOT is still in negotiations to purchase the rails from private companies, Alcombright said. Once the state officially owns the 4.6-mile stretch of track and both platforms are complete, the service can likely begin operating.

"Once that's done, there's repairs to be done to the track," he said, "But that shouldn't be long."

The grant will also pay for the Stockbridge-based nonprofit's equipment and railcars to be transported to North Adams, Alcombright said.

Of the funding announced Monday, roughly $40,000 will be spent on what will "likely" be some sort of blacktop platform on land behind the Brien Center, Alcombright said. That platform would host the information and ticket center and passengers until the city can complete a proposed tunnel, under the railroad, between the former Sons of Italy property and the Brien Center lot.

Although funding has not been secured for the tunnel project, it was officially recognized recently by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

"It's a great first step," Alcombright said. "We see the tunnel as a Phase 2 to this."

Eventually, the city hopes to renovate the Sons of Italy building, which it purchased in 2011, could be converted to a shared space for the North Adams Historical Museum and Berkshire Scenic Railway. The space also could host the Department of Conservation and Recreation as a gateway to Mount Greylock, Alcombright said.

In the meantime, the mayor said, discussions are ongoing with Brien Center about the use of its parking lot on weekends, he said.

"This piece, this grant, is so valuable to us," Alcombright said.

Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he hopes the state pilot program continues to cater to the distinct needs of Central and Western Massachusetts.

"Smaller communities, cities like North Adams and towns like Adams and Shelburne, places that have really great bones and great infrastructure," Downing said. "[But] often times have these community projects and they feel like they're in competition for resources ... with the Bostons of the world, the Springfields."

To reach Adam Shanks:
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On Twitter: @EagleAdamShanks


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