Time was, summer tourists from New York City could hop on a train to Tanglewood. Those days ended decades ago, but now transportation officials are raising the specter of a Big Apple-Berkshires rail connection again, as soon as 2019.
A working group formed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation this week concluded that rail service between New York and western Mass. could be established again during summer weekends — so long as they can find a way to pay for it.
The “Berkshire Flyer” proposal, which borrows its name from the seasonal CapeFlyer trains that run between Boston and Hyannis on summer weekends, would bring New Yorkers north on Fridays and send them home on Sundays over 20 warm-weather weekends. The service would cost up to $520,000 a year.
Officials considered multiple proposals, including one that would require new trains and tracks. But instead they believe the cheapest, easiest option is to simply add another stop, in Pittsfield, for the existing train service between New York City and Albany, about a four-hour trip.
Adam Hinds, the state senator from the Berkshires who pushed for the study, said the region’s tourism industry would benefit from the new service.
“This would link us to regional economic centers and enhance our tourism industry,” Hinds said. “That’s why there’s some urgency to it.”
Eddie Sporn, an advocate for the Berkshires rail service, said it would make sense for the state to pay to bring New Yorkers north because they would spend money in the region.
“It’s tax money being spent here in Massachusetts,” he said. “It’s not just to provide leisure opportunities to New York.”
But for now, it’s not clear whether Massachusetts would pay for the service. The state transportation department said that it will “be reviewing the information in order to learn more about the logistics, challenges and opportunities.”
Amtrak said the service would cost around $420,000 a year, and marketing might run another $100,000. With modest ridership projections of about 65 passengers a week, and round-trip tickets priced at $140, Amtrak projects the service would generate revenue of $185,000. That would leave proponents on the hook to find nearly $340,000 to fund the rest of the service and to market it.
Hinds said he will seek more state money to fund continued planning work but not to operate the service. He said the region’s tourism industry or other private firms may be interested in helping pay for the train service.
The study’s release comes amid a small renaissance for passenger rail in the western part of the state. A new service from New Haven, Conn., to Springfield is launching this spring. Governor Charlie Baker has expressed interest in also running trains further north, between Springfield and Greenfield. And after years of lobbying from advocates, transportation officials recently indicated they would study a possible high-speed rail service between Springfield and Boston.