State earmarks $100,000 to further Berkshire Flyer planning

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Funding to continue work on creation of the Berkshire Flyer, a regularly scheduled train trip from Pittsfield to Albany to New York City, is included in the state budget now on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk, awaiting his signature.

There is $100,000 earmarked in the fiscal 2019 statewide operating "Conference Committee" budget, the draft spending plan that the governor is charged with approving or amending.

The $100,000 will pay for continued work on the pilot program which will include steps such as developing a marketing strategy, identifying private partnerships, and evaluating ridership data, according to Sen. Adam Hinds, who announced the funding Friday. Connecting the Berkshires to New York City by affordable, quick — in this case, 3 1/2 hours — train service has been a priority for Hinds, who was first elected to the state senate in 2016. A recent feasibility study conducted by a Department of Transportation Working Group on the Berkshire Flyer found that the train line could be economically successful.

Hinds said he was glad to see money for the Berkshire Flyer make it into this version of the state budget.

"It's a recognition of the broad impact that [the Berkshire Flyer] would have," Hinds said. "When you're able to go to your colleagues and say, 'We've seen studies that demonstrate an economic impact on the county to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over a period of time' — that get's their attention."

Locally, the effort to get the Berkshire Flyer up and running will be conducted by a subcommittee of the Berkshire Flyer Working Group and co-lead by 1Berkshire, a local economic development and tourism promotion group, and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. The subcommittee is expected to make recommendations for Berkshire Flyer implementation by March 1, 2019. Hinds has said he would like to see a pilot run of the Berkshire Flyer in 2020.

"This is a very exciting next step for the Berkshire Flyer and will go a long way in assuring a successful pilot in 2020," said 1Berkshire CEO Jonathan Butler in a statement.

It would cost about $420,000 to operate the Berkshire Flyer, a seasonal train promoting tourism, according to the Berkshire Flyer Working Group, which released its feasibility study in March.

The operating price tag would be offset by ridership — an estimated 2,600 one-way trips per 20-week season. This would put the net cost of running the Berkshire Flyer rail service at around $230,000 per year, the Working Group estimates, plus another $50,000 to $100,000 for marketing and management. The Flyer would use existing track and trains.

"BRPC will use our transportation planning staff to prepare a program of transportation options for rail users to get to their final destinations in dispersed locations throughout Berkshire County," said commission Executive Director Thomas Matuszko. "This work is needed to guarantee a successful effort and set a strong foundation for ongoing rail service in the future."

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

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