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BRTA service to MetroNorth at Wassaic more practical option

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By Saturday, Oct 28, 2017 Letters 18

To the Editor:

A new train service to the Berkshires from NYC makes no sense. Metro-North already runs a frequent, reliable, inexpensive service between Wassaic and Grand Central 12-14 times on weekdays and 8-9 times on Saturday and Sunday. I have proposed to BRTA that they run buses to meet all Wassaic trains, beginning in North Adams, and making express stops in Williamstown, Lanesborough, Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington, and Sheffield before proceeding nonstop to Wassaic, and then reversing the route.

The primary beneficiaries of this service would not be travelers to and from NYC, but rather Berkshire residents taking advantage of frequent, reliable bus service beginning very early in the morning and ending very late at night. There is a fairly substantial mismatch between where the unfilled jobs are and where the unemployed or underemployed workers are in this county, and this service would enable job-seekers to expand their radius. There could be a low, flat price (say, $5) for anyone hopping on the bus in the Berkshires, and a reasonable surcharge (say, another $5) for anyone getting off at Wassaic. (Anyone getting on at Wassaic, using this example, would pay $10 and would be able to travel to any of the Berkshire route stops.)

Initially it would require 3 to 4 vans to operate this service. As ridership builds, full-size buses would replace the vans. In full operation, I estimate that it would require an annual public subsidy of about $1 million, which sounds like a lot, but would be a pittance compared to the hundreds of millions required to reestablish direct train service that would not have the intra-Berkshire transportation benefit and would almost certainly require an annual subsidy greater than my proposed bus-rail link.

Chip Elitzer

Great Barrington

18 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Deb Koffman says:

    love this idea!

  2. Jeffrey says:

    A few years ago there was a round trip weekend bus service which ran between Wassaic and a number of S.County towns, ending in Pittsfield. The buses seemed to be near full most of the time and the service was obviously very well received. Then it just stopped and I’m not sure why.
    Chip Elitzer’s proposed service is a great idea that would benefit South County residence and the tourism trade. It would be encouraging if Berkshire County political representatives embraced this modest solution to a glaring transportation problem.

    1. Ronna says:

      My husband took this bus all the time and says it was always full. We never understood why the service stops. It takes me around 45 minutes to pick him up in Wassaic and then 45 minutes to Great Barrington. The return of the bus service would be very welcome.

  3. peter greer says:

    We should have both uber and lyft available to the local economy. Plenty of people have idle cars and it’s a good way to meet your neighbors.

    1. Cliff says:

      The issue with Uber and/or Lyft is that the drivers may have an empty vehicle in one direction…not a profitable business at that point. Having fares in both directions is the money maker for these programs…

  4. Paisley says:

    This makes SO much sense!

  5. Fran Weinberg says:

    So, Chip, what has BRTA responded? Or do more of us need to add our voices? Whom should we write to or call?

    1. Chip Elitzer says:

      I spoke with Robert Malnati, Administrator of the BRTA, over a month ago, and sent him my proposal and analysis, but haven’t received any reply to my follow-up calls. I shared my idea with our state legislators over a year ago, and again more recently, without reply so far. If anyone is in touch with these gentlemen, it would be helpful if you could put in a good word, and ask your friends to do the same. Our leaders sometimes need to be led.

  6. Naomi Spatz says:

    Does anyone know why the bus meeting the trains at Wassaic was stopped? Or more important, whom do we all approach to get it reinstated? Naomi

  7. Wendy Linscott says:

    Excellent idea that makes MUCH more sense than pie-in-the-sky dreams of extended train service.

  8. David says:

    Bus/van service is a great idea! We frequently drive to Wasaaic hoping to find parking but often have to then drive on to the next stop to park. We would take the bus or van.

  9. David says:

    Bus/van service is a great idea! We frequently drive to Wasaaic hoping to find parking but often have to then drive on to the next stop to park. K

  10. Joseph Method says:

    Sounds good to me. A lot of BRTA scheduling seems to be self-defeating, like routes that will get you to a place early in the morning but then the last bus back will be at 5 pm, meaning you can’t actually use it to commute reliably. A real bus service would run until at least 9pm IMO.

  11. Eleanor windman says:

    A wonderful idea….no more picking up the guests in Wassaic…love it,

    On the other hand, we’ll probably have more of them.

  12. Mike says:

    Great idea, Chip. Therefore, it will not be given any further consideration.

  13. Eddie Sporn says:

    I am a member of the working group led by the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation that is examining the feasibility of seasonal passenger rail service, the “Berkshire Flyer”, between Pittsfield and New York City via New York State. The views expressed here are my own.

    If the choice were between spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a rail connection to New York City via Connecticut versus a bus connection to Wassaic then I would certainly opt for the latter. But there is a third choice—one that will not cost hundreds of millions of dollars. That is the route that is being studied for the Berkshire Flyer.

    The Berkshire Flyer route utilizes railroad track in a state of good repair that for the most part currently hosts intercity passenger trains. The section of this route that runs along the Hudson River is being upgraded to run trains at up speeds of up to 125 MPH. One option being explored is for the train to pass through Albany-Rensselaer. This option would entail no construction whatsoever. A second option being examined is to lay ½ mile of new track in New York that would allow trains to bypass Albany and reduce the trip time by an estimated ½ hour or more.

    Here is a map of the route that would bypass Albany.


    So, were not talking hundreds of millions of tax dollars to rebuild 100 miles of track and related infrastructure. That train to Danbury has left the station and it ain’t coming back. The Berkshire Flyer plan takes the sensible approach of utilizing existing well-built infrastructure to the greatest extent possible to connect the Berkshires with New York City. If this proves feasible, and I believe that it will, it will be a far superior option to busses from every possible perspective: economic development, tourism, employment mobility, etc. And these benefits would be spread evenly across the county, instead of being heavily weighted to the south. Columbia County would also benefit from Berkshire Flyer service. That’s why I believe there is a reasonably high probability of New York State buy-in.

    I’d be happy to provide more information on the plan to anybody that is interested. And I believe all residents of Berkshire County and Columbia County should be interested as passenger rail service to NYC, along with high-speed Internet, are perhaps the two most significant keys to the region’s economic future. Email me at contact@robinroadconsulting.com

    1. John Breasted says:

      Thank you, Berkshire Edge, Chip Elitzer, and Eddie Sporn for sharing these interesting and viable-seeming proposals. My personal concern is, how would an obligatory wheelchair user like me get access to the proposed vans to Wassaic or the proposed trains to Hudson from Pittsfield? Trains to NY City from Hartford, and, later, from Wingdale, were inaccessible to me for about 30 years until the ramped station at Wassaic was built. Those were frustrating decades of de-facto architectural and engineering discrimination against those of us who cannot walk.

      1. Eddie Sporn says:

        Any new station must adhere to state and federal accessibility requirements without exception. If retrofitting work is performed on the Pittsfield station, any deficiencies from from current requirements must be addressed.

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