Massachusetts backs Berkshire Scenic Railway in dispute

Trains Industry Newsletter
Get a weekly roundup of the industry news you need.
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine. View our privacy policy.
LENOX, Mass. – The recent breakdown of negotiations between the Housatonic Railroad and the Berkshire Scenic Railway to continue passenger excursions has drawn fire from Massachusetts officials, the Berkshire Eagle reports.
 
Responding to inquiries from the Eagle, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation placed blame for the impasse on the Housatonic Railroad, even while citing the value it places on “the public-private relationship” it has with the privately owned railroad.
 
In a statement released by the agency’s press secretary, Sara Lavoie, the department cited letters it has written to support Housatonic’s effort to win a $23 million grant to develop proposed passenger service between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn., with a link to the Metro-North commuter rail line in Brewster, N.Y. The project, estimated to cost around $200 million, has not moved forward because of a lack of public and private funding.
 
The DOT statement expressed support for the “nonprofit work of the Berkshire Scenic [Railway] group and recognizes [the scenic railway rides] as a significant tourist asset for the region.” Last year, Berkshire Scenic trains carried 16,000 passengers on runs between Lenox and Stockbridge, Mass., but its agreement to use Housatonic’s tracks expired Dec. 31, 2011.
 
Colin Pease, a Housatonic Railroad vice president, has told the Eagle that the line does not intend to renew the agreement now or in the future. No specific reason was given. Housatonic Railroad officials have spoken privately of alleged safety violations by Berkshire Scenic Railway.
 
The state agency shot that notion down, declaring that “no evidence of safety violations with the Berkshire Scenic’s operation has been presented to us. We are disappointed that we have been unable to reach an agreement.”
 
Two years ago, Housatonic Railroad extended an expired seven-year accord with Berkshire Scenic after the state spent $3 million for track upgrades and related improvements.
 
Berkshire Scenic, through its attorney and volunteer Pamela R. Green, said “since we began operating over the Housatonic Railroad’s tracks in 2003, no one from the line has ever inspected, asked to inspect, or questioned Berkshire Scenic’s safety or regulatory compliance. It never asked for records or any other paperwork.”
 
Last August, Green said, the museum received an email claiming that a Housatonic employee “heard something wrong” with a locomotive wheel. The wheel was inspected, no issue was discovered, and Berkshire Scenic responded with that information, Green said.
 
A letter from Housatonic followed, Green added, “alleging all of our equipment was defective.” She stated the railroad conducted its own inspection, carried out by the railroad’s owner, John Hanlon, “without notice or cause, according to multiple sources.” Green said that a letter followed Hanlon’s visit from Housatonic Railroad’s lawyer, alleging serious violations. “We were quite stunned to receive the letter because after so many years of cooperative work with the Housatonic, it seemed unwarranted and a draconian act to take,” she said.
 
According to a document from the Federal Railroad Administration obtained by the Eagle, Berkshire Scenic had no derailments, equipment failures, or personnel injuries. According to the documents, Housatonic Railroad filed a complaint against Berkshire Scenic. A resulting inspection on Aug. 12, 2011, uncovered no violations, and only suggested minor repairs to two locomotives.
 
Despite the impasse, Green emphasized, “We have always maintained our professionalism and willingness to work with them. Our organization, while volunteer-staffed, consists of not just railroad ‘buffs’ but career, professional railroaders with just as much, if not more, experience than many of those working for the Housatonic,” she said.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

  • Previous Day
  • May 04, 2012
  • Next Day
Leave a Comment
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of TrainsMag.com are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Please keep your feedback on-topic and respectful. Trains staffers reserve the right to edit or delete any comments.
0 COMMENTS
FREE DOWNLOAD

FREE DOWNLOAD

The Genesee & Wyoming 

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy
Subscribe Up To 58% off the newsstand price!
Subscribe To Trains Mag Today
+