Hints Of Summer Tourism Bring Up NYC-Berkshires Railway

Apr 24, 2017

As summer tourism season approaches, Western Massachusetts’ population will balloon with visitors from New York City. And that has some people in the Berkshires thinking about a better way to make the trip. 

Reestablishing passenger rail service from the Berkshires to New York City has been a dream for many for years. A previous plan to use track along the Housatonic River through Connecticut failed due to money problems between the two states.

Eddie Sporn says his new plan would bypass Connecticut altogether.

“The MANY Plan, which is my supposedly cute way of putting Massachusetts and New York together, is a plan to connect New York City with the Berkshires, Pittsfield specifically, via existing railway lines.”

Sporn, a real estate planner and consultant who founded Robin Road Consulting, has pitched his plan to local elected leaders, museums and theatres to get support. He says it could increase tourism and promote residential and commercial real estate growth.

“I have been aware for a number of years of the plan to connect the Berkshires to New York City by the Housatonic Railroad and I also know that the plan, the preliminary cost of it was extremely expensive. And I also know that Connecticut has basically said “no” to the funding of the plan. So I have looked for other alternatives and I discovered that there was a way to connect the Berkshires with New York City via railroad and there was that one half-mile connection that was missing.”

From New York City, the route travels along the eastern edge of the Hudson River using the rail line that connects New York City with Albany. Then, in Columbia County, the route heads east along the CSX Railroad tracks through Chatham and eventually to Pittsfield.

Here is a map showing the route.

Sporn’s plan has the train stopping at three stations: Chatham, West Stockbridge, and Pittsfield. And because of the minimal amount of track and station construction required, he says service could start sooner and cost less than the Housatonic Railroad route.

“If you make this half-a-mile connection, you now have a direct connection with modern railway lines between New York City and the Berkshires.”

Sporn says it will not have the same problem as the failed Housatonic Railroad route, which would require 100 miles of new track and infrastructure.

In 2015, Massachusetts finalized the $12 million purchase of 37 miles of rail from Pittsfield to the Connecticut border. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimated it would cost $35 million in initial track improvements for freight services.

Clete Kus is the Transportation Program Manager for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Kus says the revival of passenger rail from the Berkshires to New York City had hinged on Connecticut’s involvement.

“There is a substantial cost to even just getting a preliminary service going here, you know?” Kus says.

People can currently take Amtrak from Pittsfield to Albany-Rensselaer, and then to New York City. But there is only one train to and from Pittsfield a day, with sometimes a nearly two-hour layover in Albany-Rensselaer.

“If this was so, you know, viable, someone from the private sector, you know, would have already stood up and put up the money forward. Etc. etc. And though there seems to be a desire of the public to have this service, you know, the financial resources are needed in other areas. That could be a contributing factor for why we haven’t seen more momentum,” Kus says.

Sporn admits there are a few challenges to his plan. He says it’s less about funding and more about bureaucracy.  

There’s first buying the land and building the half-mile track through rural Massachusetts; getting CSX Railroad and Columbia County on board — because 160 of the 170 miles go through New York — and finding an entity like Metro North, Amtrak or CSX, or a new one, to run it.

Bottom line: if you’re coming to the Berkshires from the Big Apple this summer, don’t plan on a quick train trip just yet.