Report gives three options for restarting passenger service to western Massachusetts

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NEW YORK CITY — After years of debate about restarting train service between Pittsfield, Mass., and New York City, a Massachusetts study outlines three main ways to connect the New England town with New York Penn Station.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation report was the brain child of Massachusetts State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who envisioned a Berkshire Flyer using the former Penn Central-New Haven line over the Berkshire Mountains. Hinds would have the weekender train follow a business model similar to that of the Boston to Cape Cod Cape Flyer. Passenger train service to Pittsfield ended in 1971.

Three distinct plans have been forth, each with resultant pros and cons, although all would provide a one seat ride between Penn Station and Pittsfield. One plan would use current Amtrak trains from Penn Station Friday afternoons to Albany, N.Y., with a new schedule to Pittsfield and on Sundays, the reverse.

The next plan would involve a new schedule from New York to Pittsfield on Friday afternoon and back on Sunday afternoon.

The last plan, with budget estimate of $18 to $36 million, is the most radical.

Forsaking operation through Albany, N.Y., a third option would require a new connecting track between the CSX Transportation Berkshire Subdivision and CSX's Schodack Subdivision, to connect the new train from the Amtrak Empire Line just north of Hudson, N.Y., to the line to Pittsfield. More than a half-mile long, it would have to meet CSX’s standards for a curve at 40 mph, the same speed as the Schodack Subdivision. Train time saving would be minimal on the route, which is 18 miles shorter than an Albany-through route, but it would eliminate approximately 15 minutes of time required at Albany for passenger boarding, adding a locomotive, and reversing the train, resulting in a total travel time savings of approximately 20 minutes over the first alternative. One downside of this would be additional PTC installation over some now freight-only trackage on the CSX Berkshire Subdivision, needed in place prior to Berkshire Flyer operation.

A possible scheduled service would run from three-and-a-half to four hours in each direction, depending on which choice will be selected, but no option would serve the State of Connecticut. If this new service receives adequate funding and operational support from Amtrak and CSX, service could begin in Summer 2019 or 2020.

The full study is available online.
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