Hinds seeks to get funding on track for Berkshire Flyer rail pilot

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State Sen. Adam Hinds has filed budget amendments seeking state funding for a 2020 pilot run of the Berkshire Flyer, a proposed train route connecting Pittsfield and New York City.

The two amendments request $270,000 in public funding to operate weekend passenger rail service during the summer tourism season and $100,000 for marketing the new transportation option.

Hinds, a Democrat, said he feels like "everything is on track."

"The [Massachusetts Department of Transportation] has said that once we have the funding, they will move forward finalizing the contractual arrangement with Amtrak," he said.

The Berkshire Flyer is a proposed seasonal train route aimed at drawing more people to the Berkshires by improving transportation to and from New York City. First proposed in 2016, the Flyer would include a 31/2-hour train ride from New York City on Fridays that would make stops in Albany and Pittsfield. A train would head back to Penn Station on Sunday.

If the amendments are approved, the Berkshire Flyer would run between Memorial Day and Columbus Day of 2020.

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The Senate has proposed a $42.7 billion budget for fiscal 2020 and is currently debating amendments. Once the Senate has finalized its budget, the plan will be sent to the House Conference Committee, where any differences between the two versions will be resolved. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Hinds' request contains $30,000 for the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority to hire a project manager for the pilot no later than Dec. 31. The amendments also note that the $100,000 requested for marketing would be granted to 1Berkshire to implement a marketing strategy.

The feasibility of the Berkshire Flyer was investigated by the DOT-led Berkshire Flyer Working Group. The group found that net operating costs would be $237,500 to run the train, not including marketing, for a 20-week season. The group estimated 2,600 one-way trips would be taken on the Flyer per season.

Eddie Sporn, a local Berkshire Flyer proponent and owner of Robin Road Consulting, said people interested in expressing an opinion on the Flyer should contact Joint Committee on Transportation Chairman Sen. Joseph Boncore and Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Sen. Michael Rodrigues.

"It's amazing to consider that a year from now the Berkshires and NYC could be connected by passenger rail for the first time since 1971," Sporn said in an email.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini


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