PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Because of all of the work done already to bring the Berkshire Scenic Railway to Hoosac Street in Adams, BRPC says only one environmental review is needed.
The Berkshire Scenic Railway is already operating on tracks between Crowley Avenue in North Adams to Renfrew Street in Adams and plans have been to continue that all the way to Hoosac Street, less than a mile away. The initial round of funding did not support the extension but the project won a $2.6 million MassWorks grant last month to complete the line.
The rail line run will run on a pre-existing bed next to the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail that has already been built out on the same right of way. In 2011, the extension of the rail trail had gone through a full environmental review and most of any issues were addressed then.
However, because the project is the construction of a new rail line along an unused right of way, the state requires a fill Environmental Impact Report. Berkshire Regional Planning Commission understands a new report is needed but is hoping to streamline the process by calling for one report instead of submissions of drafts and then further review.
"A lot of the stormwater management, the swales, and culverts, were already upgraded with the rail trail extension," said Senior Planner Lauren Gaherty, who visited the site as recently as Thursday.
She said the project is "somewhat benign" because of how limited in scope it is and how much work had already been done. But, the staff did add comments asking the state to clarify some additional aspects of the project. Those include further explanations about the extent of tree clearing in the Cook Street area and outlining what projects were done as part of the rail trail extension and what will be done with the train.
The organization is also asking for more detail about the permitting. The rail trail extension had already gone before the town's Conservation Commission but it isn't clear if that included the train part, too.
The organization's comments to the state also asks for details on how contaminated soils will be removed. That shouldn't be anything new for state officials, who had already encountered such materials during the rail trail extension. The railroad ties that used to be there were infused with arsenic. In 2012, that was found when extending the rail trail.
"That is just common to every rail corridor, frankly," BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said.
BRPC also suggests looking at handicapped accessibility for the trains. Adams Selectman John Duval said the Visitors Center, where tickets would be sold and bathrooms are located, is already handicapped accessible. The only section of concern would be getting on and off the train itself — and with 1950s trains, that's not an easy task to overcome.
"It is the train itself that is the issue here but the rest of the area is handicapped accessible," Duval said.
Jamie Mullen, who chairs BRPC's environmental review committee, had no problems with fast tracking the permits.
"I think there is a lot of support for this. It is an economic engine. It brings people into the region who might not otherwise be here," Mullen said. "I would support a single EIR and overall endorse the comments staff has presented."
Another question arising was about what happens should another operator take over the tracks or if the scenic railway decides to expand. BRPC executive committee members questioned who would have oversight of that. Karns said that could easily be sorted through the agreement the state has with Berkshire Scenic Railway.
Duval added that one concern with the already existing operations has been alleviated already with the extension. Right now at a crossing, the train blows its horn, causing disruption among neighbors. With the extension, there is only one crossing, at Cook Street, and Duval said the plans are to have a person stationed there to wave warning flags so the train does not have to use the horn.
The effort has been a long time coming. The town of Adams has repaired a former car wash into a train station but the track has been about a half-mile short of it. Now, the money has been allocated to bring the train all the way to the station, providing an on and off point for those riding it.
"The money has been awarded to extend this track. I think the expectation is they can do the construction this upcoming construction season and be done with it," Karns said.
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