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Four Berkshire Towns Eyed For Passenger Rail Stations

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
03:53AM / Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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The Metropolitan Planning Organization was updated on the study Tuesday afternoon.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lee and maybe Sheffield are under consideration to host passenger rail stations for those traveling to or from New York City.
 
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is three months away from finalizing its report on the county's feasible locations for stations. Brian Domina, who is heading the research, said those four towns make the most sense to have stations out of the six towns the line will run through.
 
"We wanted a station at the north terminus. The north terminus is Pittsfield and will serve the whole region," Domina said.
 
The most logical spot in Pittsfield, according to Domina's research, is the already-existing Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Center. There will need to be some modifications to accommodate passenger rail, but that work would be significantly less than building a new station at either the Department of Public Works land on Hawthorne Avenue or on Industrial Drive, the two other feasible alternatives.
 
One of the focuses is to align stations with easy access to tourist spots and high population areas. Great Barrington is not only home to some of the largest tourist attractions but also has a high residential population. Another focus is access to major highways.
 
"Great Barrington really is the de facto center of South County," Domina said, and the best spot is the historic Great Barrington station.
 
With Pittsfield and Great Barrington fitting the criteria well, Housatonic Railroad says operationally, the stations need to be at least 10 miles apart. That rules out Lenox and Stockbridge from having stations.
 
Domina added the tracks in Lenox go through many wetlands and don't pass highly populated areas, which significantly limits the space.
 
Lee is the most complicated of the towns to potentially house a station, Domina said. The former mills wouldn't work because the curvature of the tracks makes it difficult to build the platforms needed for passenger service.  
 
Ideally, Domina said, a station would be built on the west side of the downtown area of Lee. But there is very little land available and the land that is there has a mix of residential homes and town-owned and commercial land. Finding suitable space could prove to be very difficult, he said.
 
"It is one of the most challenging locations but could also be the most beneficial," Domina said. "It is going to take a lot more work."
 
Outside of the downtown, there is a 6.5-acre lot on Pleasant Street that could serve the purpose. But, that doesn't quite mesh with the goal of tying into downtown areas.
 
Domina said the study also looks to "maximize economic benefits" and couple with existing community development plans.
 
Sheffield could also be a home to a station and there is available land to even make it a regional station, Domina said. But, BRPC doesn't know if there would be a station just over the border in Connecticut.
 
"It is kind of a question mark in our minds," Domina said.
 
While those locations are likely going to be the final recommendations, Domina's work covers much more than just the location. BRPC still needs to refine ridership estimates, create area plans, and craft facility designs and sketches.
 
"We hope to have the draft report released by July 15," Domina said.
 
From there, BRPC will present it to Great Barrington residents on July 23 and Pittsfield on Aug. 6 and release the final draft on Sept. 3. On Sept. 10, BRPC is hoping to present the final version to the public.
 
"Public participation has been a big part of this and will continue to be a big part of this," Domina said.
 
Clinton Bench, from the state Department of Transportation, said Domina's research blends well with the state's goals of "smart growth" by upgrading infrastructure in ways that can help economic development.
 
"I think the concept of making sure the key stations are located where the center of commerce is is the right approach," Bench said, especially with the Pittsfield location.
 
The state is hoping to restore passenger rail from the Berkshire to New York City. Gov. Deval Patrick is proposing spending more than $100 million to buy and upgrade 37 miles of track. Those funds have been placed into a bond bill.
 
Bench says the actual construction is a number of years away, based on what he has seen in other projects.
 
"In terms of time, the reality is that the planning process to get to a conceptual design is still a couple more years," Bench said.

Tags: Berkshire Regional Planning Commission,   intermodal center,   MPO,   passenger rail,   train stations,   transportation,   

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