PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state Senate adopted a budget amendment Thursday to develop a blueprint for more consistent passenger rail service to New York City.
State Sen. Adam Hinds filed the amendment which would task the state Department of Transportation to create a working group to study what it will take to establish the service.
"When we are trying to improvement out economy and address population loss, getting our infrastructure right is a key part of that," the Pittsfield Democrat said on Thursday. "This was identified as an important first step."
Some four years ago, former Gov. Deval Patrick had pushed a plan to purchase and upgrade the Housatonic Rail line and the state followed through with purchasing and starting to perform upgrades. That line was eyed to go south to Connecticut and into New York City.
"Connecticut has indicated a lack of interest in upgrading their tracks," Hinds said of the current state of that plan.
Hinds' amendment will now ask to consider other options, particularly looking at heading west and connecting with the current Amtrak lines south of Albany, N.Y.
"This one in particular is a direct Berkshires to New York," Hinds said. "This is essentially laying out a strategy of how we get there."
Passenger rail is eyed to help the Berkshires in two ways: in increased tourism and the ability for more people to own homes here. Hinds said this opens a greater possibility of someone living in the Berkshires and commuting to work in New York City. As for tourism, Hinds said many who live in New York don't own cars and do not take trips to the Berkshires so this would make it easier to attract more visitors.
Someone can currently take a train to Albany and then go south, but not often. Hinds hopes to develop a more consistent schedule.
A second component of the bill is to have consideration given to implementing seasonal passenger rail services. In 2013, a program was started to run extra trains from Boston to Cape Cod during the tourism season. Hinds is looking to replicate that successful program in the Berkshires.
The amendment requires the study to be done between this October and completed by next March. The working group must also included the mayor of Pittsfield, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and existing rail stakeholders.
"There is no money attached to it. It is tasking the Department of Transportation top the work," Hinds said.
Much work has already been done through the previous push, including a BRPC study identifying stations in the Berkshires.
While the state Senate has adopted the amendment during its budget deliberations, there are still a number of steps to take. After the senate passes a budget, it will then go to conference committee. There both the Senate budget and the House of Representatives budget will be merged and detailed ironed out. After passage with both bodies, it goes to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Hinds said he is confident the amendment will stick through the conference committee, but he isn't so sure it won't get vetoed by Baker.
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