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 Superintendant Warns of Prohibited Toy Guns

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district has been alerted of a concerning trend that is prohibited on school grounds: Orby or Orbeez gel guns.

The toy guns shoot gel or water beads and are said to pose a risk of physical harm and being mistaken for a real firearm. They are a violation of the Pittsfield Public School's code of conduct and could result in a suspension of 11 days or more.

"Though these may appear as simple toys, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks tied to their usage. By raising awareness, we aim to educate our community about the possible hazards associated with these items, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making and responsible behavior," said Superintendent Joseph Curtis in a memo to the Pittsfield Public School community on Friday.

Last fall, someone used a similar gun to target cross-country students and a coach from Lee High. No one was injured in the incident. 

Given the frequency of school shootings nationwide, Curtis said schools cannot afford to accommodate anything that even remotely that resembles a firearm. The toy guns and gel beads are secured behind a locked case in Walmart on Hubbard Avenue, many indicating that they are for ages 14 and older.

"The Pittsfield Public Schools firmly maintains that Orby toy guns and any associated pellets should not be brought onto school premises, including both indoor and outdoor areas. This directive is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, staff, and visitors within our educational environment," he wrote.

"We stress the significance of following this directive to prevent any potential hazards or disruptions that may arise from the presence of these items on school grounds. By upholding this standard, we aim to cultivate a secure and conducive learning environment for everyone within the Pittsfield community."

The superintendent listed three potential hazards of the water-bead guns in the schools:

  • Physical Injuries: The guns have the capacity to propel projectiles at considerable speeds, posing a risk of injury to the eyes, skin, and even teeth, particularly when fired in close proximity.
  • Misidentification Risks: Due to their realistic appearance, some Orby guns may be mistaken for genuine firearms. Such misidentification could result in confusion and potentially perilous encounters, especially if law enforcement or bystanders perceive them as real weapons.
  • Public Disruption: The act of firing Orby guns in public settings can be highly disruptive and alarming to others. Such behavior may instill fear and panic among individuals nearby, potentially leading to charges of disorderly conduct or harassment.
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