All aboard. Hoosac Valley Elementary pupils board the scenic passenger train.
ADAMS, Mass. — There were squeals from about 25 first-graders, the first of two groups, as the Hoosac Valley Service's Budd car rolled away on Friday morning, the first time in 50 years any passenger train has departed from the Mother Town.
The special rides for pupils from Hoosac Valley Elementary School was in part a thank you for their support in getting the scenic rail line 6/10ths of a mile closer to their Commercial Street school and a chance to instill some safety lessons about trains.
"As a historical and educational organization, Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum is pleased to be able to offer this type of interactive learning activity for our community," Jay Green, president and general superintendent of the museum, said.
The lesson in the school auditorium for several grades was lead by Evan Eisenhandler and Dan Howard, both of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit established in 1972 when deadly crossing collisions topped 12,000 that year. The association is dedicated to educating about rail safety by speaking to groups as diverse as elementary pupils and law enforcement officials. Eisenhandler is executive director of the New York chapter based in Rensselaer.
"Rail safety is extremely important and starting off at this age gives them a good foundation to understand that ... stay away from the tracks," said Kevin Chittenden, the museum's superintendent of train operations and engineer for the day's rides.
In the cartoon, Birdie tells Sly Fox about the dangers of walking on tracks, crossing railroad trestles and walking through train tunnels. Rail yards aren't good places to play and even the seemingly innocent practice of laying a penny on the tracks for smooshing is dangerous -- the penny could fly out and hurt you.
The kids got the point pretty quick. Eisenhandler told them to yell "good" or "bad" and when Howard, a volunteer with both rail safety group and Berkshire Scenic, flipped over a large photo that showed people walking along a train track.
"Bad!" the children yelled out.
"With the new and increased activity of trains in our town, students need to understand the real danger they could be in if they play near the railroad tracks," Principal Michelle Colvin said in a statement. "We appreciate Berkshire Scenic and Operation Lifesaver providing such a comprehensive program for us."
Trains once ran through Adams on a regular basis but that was long ago. The tracks that were left were pulled up between Adams and Lanesborough more than 15 years to make way for the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, the same pathway the pupils walked to reach the new Adams Station on Hoosac Street to board the Berkshire Scenic's Car 6126.
The nonprofit, volunteer railway museum began running scenic rides, the Hoosac Valley Service, along the existing tracks between North Adams and Adams, up to Renfrew Street, a few years ago. But the goal has been to restore the tracks all the way to Hoosac Street. That was completed a few weeks ago by the state after years of waiting.
"These kids did an awful lot, they made pictures and sent letters down to Boston," said Joseph Nowak, a selectman who accompanied the students down to the train.
Back in spring 2016, the students at what was then C.T. Plunkett School wrote letters and drew more than 50 pictures that were sent to Gov. Charlie Baker after the state Department of Transportation said there were no funds for the extension.
Nowak, who also has stepped in as a substitute teacher, spearheaded the schoolwide and delivered the letters to the town's Community Development Office to be sent on to Boston.
The Hoosac students were the first to depart from Adams but they won't be the last. A boarding platform designed to echo more traditional structures will be constructed for the spring at Hoosac Street. Crews were at the site on Friday laying out where the electricity lines for the platform would run.
The Hoosac Valley Service will switch its departures from North Adams to Adams in the spring. The town restored an old carwash into the "Adams Station," a waiting area with shelter and benches next to the rail trail, with bathrooms and other amenities across the street at the Visitors Center.
There are plans for more infrastructure at the city's end but that may be years away.
The children weren't bothered by the lack of a fancy platform. They eagerly hopped up the stairs and found their seats. They oohed adn awed over various, pressed their faces to the glass, and waved at drivers who stopped for the train to go by. The ride stopped at Southview Cemetery, where everyone got out for a picture, and then headed back to Adams and school.
"It was awesome sauce," said Griffin, but his friend Julius, said "it was better." Aniyah thought it terrific and Madison amazing. Others described it as fun and excellent.
"My favorite part of the train ride was the sitting down," said Tyran.
The biggest kid on the train perhaps summed it up. "It was wicked awesome," Nowak said.
The Hoosac Valley Service's fall foliage trips run through this weekend and it is selling tickets for the holiday Tinseliner that begins Thanksgiving weekend and into December.
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