John Hanlon, Housatonic Railway president, flanked by BRPC Planner Brian Domina, in white, and Housatonic's Vice President for Special Projects Colin Pease, presented the best options for a passenger rail station to the City Council on Tuesday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If and when passenger rail to New York City returns, regional planners say the intermodal center would best serve as its station.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is researching locations and needs for new stations throughout the Berkshires for Housatonic Railway.
Meanwhile, the state has $113.8 million set aside in bond bills to help revamp the north-south lines.
On Tuesday, BRPC Planner Brian Domina presented three options for stations in Pittsfield, the likely terminus of the line. Domina says the best option would be to make accommodations at the already existing rail station for the new line.
"We think it would complement the city's North Street," Domina said.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said it is in the city's best interest to keep from building a brand-new location. But, the city will have to make accommodations — particularly for parking — if the project continues.
"We need to start thinking about this now. I think parking is going to be one of the bigger issues," Hoss said.
According to Housatonic Railroad President John Hanlon, the company would need to build track from the end of its current ownership near South Church Street. The new line would include high platforms for loading. The third line heading into the center would separate it from the CSX freight rail.
With an estimated nearly 1,000 people using it per day through eight trips in each direction, the Columbus Avenue area will get busy. Vice President for Special Projects Colin Pease said the majority of the ridership will be people traveling from New York City to the Berkshires.
"Those people won't have cars. They'll be looking for other ways to get around," he said.
The Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center opened a decade ago. But it ties in with the city's downtown, which has been a major focus of the economic development plans.
Domina said two alternatives were looked at — the current Department of Public Works yard on West Housatonic and Hawthorne Streets and a site off Industrial Drive off Route 7. The city also has plans for the yard and there are environmental concerns with the Industrial Drive location, Domina said.
But, those two are alternatives.
"We don't make final decisions on where the stations go or where the stations are constructed," Domina said, making it clear that Housatonic is ultimately in charge.
Hoss said all options will likely require the city to have some decisions to make and he wants the City Council to be thinking about the project early in the process.
BRPC's scope of work was limited to determining a suggested number of stations, the best locations and then some research on ridership, needs and design of those stations. The research is being done along 38 miles of track from Pittsfield to the Connecticut border, including Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.
The research is being paid for through a $240,000 federal grant. BRPC will conclude their work in the late summer.
Overall, restoring the rail line — giving city residents the option of taking a 3.5 hour ride to New York City — is expected to cost about $225 million, according to Hanlon.
"I think this project will be great for not only Pittsfield but for all of Berkshire County," said Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont.
BRPC's Rail Station Study Presentation to Pittsfield