Will we get a train to NYC?

Hinds launches Senate working group to take up passenger rail from Pittsfield to the city

Attracting tourism. Promoting relocation. Fostering economic development.

To meet those key goals for Berkshire County, the Senate has taken a first step toward a future seasonal passenger rail service between Berkshire County and New York City, said state Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

The Senate on Thursday adopted a budget amendment issued by Hinds that directs the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to convene a working group to study the feasibility of establishing direct passenger rail service between New York City and Pittsfield from Memorial Day to Columbus Day weekends.

The group would be convened by Oct. 1 and deliver its findings no later than March 1, 2018.

"This is another issue that, as we try to turn the corner on things like population decline and boosting our economy and really put the county on good footing for thriving, transportation comes up a lot," said Hinds, who is also the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. "And getting our basic infrastructure in place is key."

The amendment is subject to change in a six-member conference committee, which negotiates a final budget that is delivered to Gov. Charlie Baker after approval by the House and Senate.

This service would bring out-of-state tourists to the cultural attractions of the Berkshires and encourage seasonal homeowners who would otherwise avoid the long drive from New York City to visit the area, according to a press release from Hinds' office.

Restoring rail travel into the region could bring in almost $1 billion a year in revenue, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel Karns has told the Eagle.

Rail service could even encourage new home purchases, Hinds said.

"Having that ability to come down regularly ... easily could encourage more folks to move to Berkshire County," he said. "And that's critical right now."

Since the last passenger train on the Housatonic Railroad ran on April 30, 1971, fits and starts have characterized the quest to re-institute service.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation acquired the 37-mile Housatonic Railroad line between Pittsfield and Canaan, Conn. State officials touted the deal as a forerunner to possible restoration of passenger service connecting the Berkshires to New York City.

But passenger trains have not been restored on the Housatonic Railroad line. According to the company's website, the railroad now consists of 161 miles of rail lines for freight transportation.

The passenger rail service described in Hinds' amendment would be modeled on the CapeFLYER. The CapeFLYER, launched in 2013, connects Boston to Hyannis on Fridays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

"We've demonstrated that it's possible to do," Hinds said. "We want to point to something that's only recently been restarted, and recently declared a success."

The Senate was also expected to consider an amendment that would explore the feasibility of expanding the commuter rail to Springfield on Friday. The westward section of the rail currently stops at Worcester.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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