A vintage Pan Am passenger train pulls underneath the under-renovation Hadley Overpass at Western Gateway Heritage State Park on Thursday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The last regular passenger train rolled through the Hoosac Tunnel in 1958 but Mayor Richard Alcombright is hoping to revive that ride.
"I've had the dream of a passenger rail through here, at least minimally a scenic rail to say, Shelburne Falls, connecting two very nice tourist communities," said the mayor on Thursday after a vintage Pan Am passenger train deposited U.S. Reps. John W. Olver and Richard Neal at Western Gateway Heritage State. "We're looking at these options and talking with Berkshire Scenic Railroad."
Alcombright bent the ear of Pan Am President David A. Fink, who said the main issue is that of liability.
"We certainly have passenger rail on some lines with Amtrak and the MBTA," Fink said. "But we have no scenic railways operating right now ... There are some real insurance challenges right now."
A scenic railway could utilize something like a Budd Rail Diesel Car, sometimes called a Buddliner, that were once heavily used by Pan Am's predecessor, Boston & Maine Railroad. The self-contained rail cars can carry between 60 and 90 passengers and a quick search turned up models ranging from $25,000 to $385,000.
The city would not own any cars because of the expense and maintenance, but rather seek a private or nonprofit partner.
"There are number of them out there," said the mayor of the rail cars. "This is nothing that's going to happen this week or next ... the first thought is if they do what they're going to do with the rail this would create more limitations but there are a lot of positives."
The U.S. Department of Transportation is funding an engineering study of obstacles along Pan Am's rails to running double-stack containers. The biggest challenge is the five-mile Hoosac Tunnel. But once work is done on the tunnel, more freight rail is expected to use the historic tunnel, which was reduced to a single track in 1973.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said $78 million was put aside to improve rail transportation in that region.
"Again, I think it's a worthwhile investment in terms of allowing us to have not only greater efficiencies and productivity but to take the some of the pressure of the Federal Highway System as well," he said.
There has been some hope that should the passenger line make it to Greenfield, it'll be able to take a left under the mountain to reach North Adams. Until then, the mayor is thinking small.
"It's a bit of a dream but it's not far out there," he said. The visit by rail personnel did give him a chance to press for work at the bumpy rail crossing at Ashton Avenue. "We're hoping we can get that repaired in August."
Fink said he's open to discussions about scenic rail possibilities.
"We've been talking with the mayor," he said. "He's a real reasonable man. We run through his city so we try to be good neighbors."
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This is a wonderful idea. Bring more people to Heritage Park,and the downtown on train stops. North Adams needs as many new "tourism draw" attractions as possible. Between museums, galleries, restaurants, a hopeful bike path extension, and this scenic rail proposal, I feel we're on our way. Filling up the downtown with "spenders" is a huge priority towards bringing North Adams back. Staying positive, and straying from being negative, certainly helps these projects grow. :)
guy My spelling isn't has bad a peoples math. To think that spending 700 million for a train to North Adams is at best crazy. This idea should be filed with the one to cut down the flood walls. The mayor and city council loved that idea too.
Did any of you actually read this story or the accompanying piece on Olver and Neal's visit?
There is absolutely no chance of a passenger rail service to North Adams - the executive along for the ride says as much! The whole purpose of this trip was to promote the expansion of the Hoosac Tunnel to accomodate more freight, not passengers.
This story is nothing more than a press release for Mayor Alcombright. We learn what he's thinking about something that can never happen anyways - very nice.
But I suppose when the only accomplishment you have to talk about three months into your 2nd term in office is the installation of some diagonal parking, you need all the help you can get.
Editor Joint effort ?? Just how much of the 700 million do you and the mayor think the taxpayers of North Adams can afford ?? Or do you expect the Goverment to print more money to throw away on a train to nowhere.
All postitive change starts with dreaming and I give the mayor a big thumbs up. I'm not currently living in the Berkshires, but hope to be back "home" one day. North Adams is one of the most unique places around even speaking on a worldwide scale and the more we can do to make it a happier, more prosperous place, the better we as the people will do. When the city prospers, so do its people. Being in my thirties, I too have always been intrigued with stories of the past and the mysterious Hoosac Tunnel. I can't think of a more beautiful ride than through N. Adams and along the Deerfield River to Charlemont and Shelburne Falls. I love the idea!
I enjoyed reading the story and hoping that someday I'll get to ride through the Hoosac Tunnel myself. It was heartening to see how many "agree" votes Joe Artisto's comment got. Between people complaining about 'liberls' and big 'guberment', it is too easy to lose track of the big picture. North Adams, like its larger cousin to the south, Pittsfield, were hit hard by the exodus of their manufacturing bases. While tourism is not a panacea, there already are HUNDREDS of millions of dollars coming into Berkshire County on a yearly basis. The problem is that all of this money seems to dry up once it hits the Pittsfield-Lenox line. The efforts in Pittsfield and ones like these in North County are our best hopes to drive some of that flow of money into the rest of the Berkshires. By creating a unique destination like this, there is also a chance to increase the share of the pie by drawing in others to the market. The Berkshires are blessed with historical sites (Hoosac Tunnel), quaint towns and small slices of urban life (Lenox vs N.A/Pittsfield), and natural beauty (Mt. Greylock). It's about time we take advantage of this low hanging fruit.
Yes a scenic railway will be great because nobody wants to use scenic Union st with all the dumps.Maybe all this effort could be used to clean up what we have!I know lets buy the mill thats falling apart and rebuild it with the millions we dont have and give it to somebody to create new jobs.