Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum hopes to operate rides from Adams to North Adams in 2014.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Richard Alcombright is refuting a claim that the city is "dropping the ball" on the Berkshire Scenic Railway project.
According to The Berkshire Eagle, an anonymous source approached the paper last week claiming that there was "profound silence" from North Adams and referencing the state not building a train station. The paper quoted the source, a railway volunteer, as saying the city does not "seem to be moving forward."
Alcombright says there was never any plans for a train station and that the city is well into the planning for a platform. Building a platform cannot progress because the state has yet to determine where in the city the line will end.
"That accusation is totally unfounded and absolutely ridiculous," he said. "Our terminus will be more of a dock, a place for people to get off the train."
Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum went so far as to question the validity of the purported volunteer on its Facebook page: "The anonymous BSRM volunteer quoted in the article below [is] unlikely to exist."
The location of the dock is the only remaining question mark on the North Adams end, Alcombright said, because the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum has already begun renovating a Baltimore & Ohio Combine 1444 coach car to become the North Adams ticket office, museum, exhibit space and information. The car will include a snack counter and theater, and will be parked at the end of the line.
"The caboose has been completely stripped down from its previous exhibits," Berkshire Scenic Executive Director Jay Green. "Once we know where the car is 100 percent going, we will move forward with design."
The city would then build the platform — wood or cement — but not something "extravagant" because in the future it hopes to expand the project into Western Gateway Heritage State Park, a concept talked about but never included in the current project.
Alcombright said city planners are in the process of figuring out the ownership of multiple properties on what is currently eyed as the city's end of the line to make the acquisitions needed to install the platform. The money for the platform could come from the state's project budget, provided there is leftover funds, he said. The state is buying four miles of track from Pan Am and restoring the 5-mile line (the last mile in Adams is owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation).
"All we can do right now is wait for MassDOT to finish negotiations," Alcombright said. "It's bureaucracy, it is getting through the red tape."
The mayor said he doesn't believe the anonymous source quoted is even a volunteer with the organization.
"Did anyone check if this was a Berkshire Scenic volunteer?" Alcombright said. "There is absolutely no way we are slowing the process or dropping the ball."
Green said there are only three people in the organization who know enough of the details to make any type of comment about the progress, none of whom he believes would accuse the city of some wrongdoing.
"I don't know where that information came from," Green said. "The project itself is on track and on course."
Green, the city's former administrative officer, and Alcombright both added that the idea originated out of the city's offices in 2010, when they first began exploring opportunities for rides through the Hoosac Tunnel and then further developed from there. When that tunnel option was unachievable, the town of Adams was brought into the picture followed by the state.
In 2012, the state committed to the project and has been working on design and acquisition of the land and tracks needed. A representative from MassDOT was not immediately available but both Green and Alcombright said the progress on that end has been ongoing but not happening as quickly as residents expected.
The B&O car used for museum exhibits by Berkshire Scenic in Lenox will be the ticket booth for the North Adams end of the Hoosac Line.
Purchasing and designing the project is the "most difficult," Green said because buying the track required lengthy deed research on all of the properties along the century-old land. The one section owned by DCR is Article 97, or conservation, land, prohibiting trains or other development. The various departments had to sort out an arrangement on that land.
Additionally, the state is using engineers of both rail and bike paths for designing that portion of the track to be shared, which hasn't been done before.
The town of Adams is applying for a grant to convert a vacant car wash into a train station with the two bays opening up to feature displays and information.
Berkshire Scenic has already replaced wheels on the car to be used in North Adams and is plotting out programming. When the state completes the purchase, the museum, too, will be able to finalize programming, Green said.
"We're just in a holding pattern until we know what the track looks like," Green said. "It is moving slow because engineering takes time."
The city, state, Berkshire Scenic and the town of Adams are all still hoping a train will be operating on the line next year.