Proposed ‘Berkshire Flyer’ rail service needs to serve Berkshire residents, too

In a letter to the editor, Mark Shapp writes, "... if the service, should it ever see implementation, starts as small as I think is being indicated, it will in all likelihood not operate at times that meet Berkshire residents' travel needs.'

To the Editor:

At the Oct. 19 meeting of the MassDOT working group established to do a feasibility study for a passenger rail service between New York City and the Berkshires and dubbed Berkshire Flyer, I learned is indeed literally modeled after the MBTA Cape Flyer. That service is configured to bring residents of the Boston metro region out for weekends on the Cape and take them home. The train schedules are not at marketable times for Cape residents who wish to do the opposite. And so it is for the Berkshire Flyers to bring residents of the New York City metro region to weekends in the Berkshires and return. And if the schedules of those trains returning to N.Y. are at times Berkshire residents want to go there and return it will be happenstance. And if the service, should it ever see implementation, starts as small as I think is being indicated, it will in all likelihood not operate at times that meet Berkshire residents’ travel needs.

All this was made perfectly clear by the MassDOT person chairing the meetings and heads up the rail and transit division within the DOT, Ms Astrid Glynn, after one of the working group participants brought up the subject of whether Berkshire residents would be able to take advantage of this service.

That this legislation was crafted (by Sen. Adam Hinds?) to primarily serve the New York City travel market is at best unfortunate and at worst a disgrace. The Cape Flyer model is utterly inappropriate in this market. All our Berkshire County elected officials know full well that many locals want to travel to/from the New York metro region for both day and weekend trips. Just walk around the parking lot at Wassiac and look at license plates. Somebody is ignoring the needs of the people who put them in office.

Another situation going on at the working group meetings so far is the seeming reluctance to examine the issues out where the steel wheel meets the steel rail, like for example where are the trainsets and the crews to operate them going to come from and will NYState DOT fund the needed track connection between two CSX Transportation rail lines across “virgin” land that is the absolute linchpin of this service? No one seems to want to go there.

Now we are finding out that our Berkshire delegation has finally decided to intervene in legislation being offered by Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) S.1935 for a study of his “East/West” initiative for multi-frequency passenger rail linking Springfield and Boston. Our delegation supports this but wants the scope of the study to be extended to include service to Pittsfield. That is truly a good thing because many of us want more travel options connecting us to Boston as much — if not more — than to New York. Indeed, the Berkshire Eagle, in its editorial of Oct. 25, called for the creation of an “iron triangle” of rail lines/services linking Boston with the Berkshires with New York.

But should the Berkshire delegation be denied, will they then have the spine to withhold support if Springfield remains as the western endpoint of that service? We should all hope so.

Mark Shapp