BRPC Concludes Train Station Study, Encourages Towns To Stay Involved

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The MPO accepted the rail station report on Tuesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The six towns a passenger rail line to New York City is eyed to cut through are being encouraged to capitalize on the benefits and minimize the negatives.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's Metropolitan Planning Organization endorsed Tuesday the study commissioned by the federal government and Housatonic Railroad for station locations.
Four towns have been cited as the best locations to host stations — Pittsfield, Sheffield, Great Barrington and Lee. But, Planner Gwen Miller says all six towns need to be prepared.
"We hope the rail company and the state agencies will communicate strongly with the towns. This will help create an end product that is just as much the communities as it is the states or the railroad companies," Miller said.
For those towns recommended to host a station, BRPC isn't making any suggestions on the scale or the ownership model of the stations. 
"It really varies. In some cases the stations are owned by the host community. Others are owned by the railroad company," Miller said.
Some stations could be more of a platform costing in the quarter-million dollar range while others could include mixed-use spaces similar to the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield, which cost $11 million to build.
Funding for those stations will likely be from a variety of sources. Federal or state funds have been used in some cases while fundraisers have been held to build others.
Beyond that, Miller is telling those towns to look into their infrastructure capacity near the proposed stations.
Do you have the capacity in place to really benefit from a passenger rail station?" she said. "We want these stations to economically benefit the communities where they are sited."
She encouraged the towns to keep looking at parking capacity and how to tell visitors where the parking is located. The stations should be "an anchor" for the community and not just a place to board or disembark from a train.
For the towns that won't have a station but through which the proposed line will travel, Miller wants them to be part of the conversation moving forward.
"Each of these six communities will want to support any mitigation of predicted impacts," she said.
There will be noise from trains, blowing horns at intersections and vibrations from the increased traffic. She said towns can try to create a "quiet zone" and that requires a lot of safety improvements at crossings. There is also Operation Lifesaver, a public awareness initiative of the dangers of trains to pedestrians and motor vehicles.
Gov. Deval Patrick has earmarked funds to purchase and revitalize the railroad tracks to New York City. Connecticut has not followed suit and BRPC says the state should continue to work to get Connecticut officials to commit to the plan. 
In the meantime, Miller says improving the tracks will benefit businesses who use them for freight so she encouraged the state to move forward.
"We've done a lot of leg work for the Berkshire Line communities," Miller said.
MPO member Jim Lovejoy said BRPC did a "comprehensive" job in their study. 
The study looked at locations, railroad operations, anticipated benefits and crafted options for types of stations. The study was paid for through a $240,000 federal grant and the Housatonic Railroad contributed $60,000 — making a total of $300,000.

Tags: BRPC,   passenger rail,   train stations,   

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Pittsfield Kayak Kiosk Proposal Withdrawn After Pushback

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It is the "end of the road" for a kayak kiosk proposal after pushback from community members and the City Council.

Whenever Watersports has withdrawn its proposal for a kayak rental program at Onota Lake. Safety concerns arose around the company's self-serve model though it was stipulated that users sign liabilities away with a waiver as part of the process.  

"It's unfortunate. I had hoped the outcome would be different and I think (Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown) and you as well thought this was an opportunity to provide an additional level of services, recreation opportunity to folks at the park through a modern-app-based system," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said to the Parks Commission on Tuesday.

"It would have cost the city nothing to have this sited. We wouldn't be responsible for any maintenance but there would be maintenance to the units and to the boats, etc. Everyone was going to get life preservers and there are instructions through the app so we thought it was it was safe and secure and a good fit for the park."

In December, the commission granted a request for the pilot program and City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta had been reviewing and revising a proposed contract that had not yet been approved. Last week during City Council, residents Daniel Miraglia and Gene Nadeau submitted a petition requesting a legal opinion on the proposal from the solicitor.

Miraglia expressed concerns about the lack of a bidding process, safety hazards, and the impact on a local business that rents kayaks on the lake. Onota Boat Livery owner Caryn Wendling was upset to hear that an out-of-town company would be allowed to operate the kiosk on the same lake as her business and also cited safety concerns.

Councilors asked that Pagnotta look into items such as the commission's authority with entering into contracts and if a bidding process would be needed for this.

Later that week, a request to the Conservation Commission for determination for the kiosk at Burbank Park located within the buffer zone associated with the inland bank was withdrawn. According to the application, it was proposed to be located before the beach area coming from the main parking lot.

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