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

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By Thursday, Oct 26, 2017 Letters 5

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


5 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    Excellent viewpoint Mark and how true.

    It is not the first time Massachusetts government officials have totally screwed Berkshire Cointy Residents in favor of the wants of Boston area residenrs and votes .
    Look at North Adams. For years paid millions of tax dollars to the state. What did the state do when the supporting business, Sprague left? Made it a playground for Boston area residents while the local North Adams residents are left with no means to support themselves. No business incentives means no jobs, and a lot of drugs.
    Look at Pittsfield with GE. The state continues to waffle and handwave at all the things they are doing, With no real effect, but merely squander remaining tax dollars.
    Same for south Egremont. Jog End ski resort went belly up. The state takes it off the tax roles and now spends money to make it a tourist attraction for Boston volume votes
    Sadly, time and time again the governments use your hard earned tax dollars on projects that will secure the greatest number of election votes for themselves.

  2. Fleming Rutledge, Alford says:

    We have one millennial grandson in Boston and a millennial granddaughter in NYC. They love our house in the Berkshires and would come much more often (and shop and eat out) if there was a train–especially the one in NYC.

  3. Chip Elitzer says:

    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 the 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, $5.00) for anyone hopping on the bus in the Berkshires, and a reasonable surcharge (say, another $5.00) for anyone getting off at Wassaic. (Anyone getting on at Wassaic, using this example, would pay $10.00 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.

    1. Shawn G. says:

      Occum’s Razor- the simplest solution is usually the best one. I agree, Chip!

  4. Andrea says:

    I totally agree with Chip Elitzer and wholeheartedly support a bus connection between Wassaic and the Berkshires. As someone who travels at least two dozen times a year between Great Barrington and the NY metro area, it would enable me to take the train and then the bus
    to Great Barrington.

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