Despite challenges throughout, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the administration had kept the project on the front burner to get it completed.
ADAMS, Mass. — It was a unique concept in 2011 when state and local officials posed the question: is it possible to connect the downtowns of North Adams and Adams though both a scenic rail service and a bike trail.
Seven years later the answer is yes. It most certainly is possible.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joined local and Berkshire Scenic Railway officials to cut the ribbon on the completed extension of the Adams Branch Rail Line and platform for passengers to board the Hoosac Valley Service.
"This has been a really rewarding project for me. Just to bring something the caliber of this to downtown Adams, it is already bringing visitors to Adams. This is beautiful. It is fun. It is just one of those projects that is win, win, win, win," said interim Town Administrator Donna Cesan, who has been with the project since the start.
It wasn't easy to get to the ribbon cutting. It took five years of taking two steps forward and one step back. It was announced in 2013 after nearly two years of internal consideration and the real work of turning it into a reality began.
It involved numerous players from the town of Adams, the city of North Adams, the state Department of Transportation, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the nonprofit Berkshire Scenic Railway and track owner Pan Am Railways to the property owners along the stretch. There had been plenty of starts and stops along the way.
In total, more than $4.5 million was spent to rehabilitate the entire tracks from North Adams to Adams. That ran alongside a newly built extension of the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail.
"It is essentially a new track now. One story that doesn't get told, it seems like it is all about the scenic train but what was also extremely important is with that $4.5 million investment in rehabilitating the tracks, it was really good for commercial businesses," Cesan said.
But there was still a gap between Renfrew and Adams' downtown. Adams officials were working on a plan to rehabilitate a former car wash into the Adams Station on Hoosac Street -- but the train still hadn't reached that far.
The state's MassWorks program then granted another $2.6 million for MassDOT's railway division to extend the line all the way to the downtown, still aligned with the rail trail.
"As a community we look to build on our strengths. One of our greatest strengths is a variety of recreational opportunities we offer. We are so fortunate to now have both the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail and the Hoosac Valley rail service extending into our downtown, helping it to become a destination and bringing new customer traffic directly to our Main Street merchants," Board of Selectman John Duval said.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Polito's administration wasn't there in 2013 when the idea was presented. But Polito remembers taking office in 2015 and that being presented to her as a priority for the area. She said the administration is supportive of such efforts and helped to keep it on the front burner.
"This is a long time in the making and today is a dream come true," Polito said.
She said the MassWorks program makes such infrastructure improvements to help towns' economic development plans. She said it is one of the most important programs the state offers.
"So far in the Berkshires, since we've been in office, we've been able to contribute over $16 million in MassWorks infrastructure dollars throughout the county. In these two communities alone, from Greylock Mill to Greylock Works to Greylock Glen, which I also know is a priority for this area, we continue to contribute and invest in you and with you," Polito said.
She encouraged the two communities to look into the state's downtown initiatives.
"These downtown initiatives will help build out the restaurants, the culture, the entertainment, and the activities that many people want to come here for as well as get on a bicycle and enjoy the trails and the recreation that also exists here," Polito said.
North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard said that while the ribbon-cutting ceremony is a milestone, there is more work to be done on the North Adams end.
"It helps to bring energy and vitality. It brings tourists. It brings people back and forth from Adams to North Adams. It builds those connections as we work on activating our downtowns, as we work on making our communities stronger," Bernard said.
But, "this project isn't done yet and this project isn't done to my satisfaction until we see a platform on the North Adams end as well so we can have a true connection."
The scenic rail had initially operated out of North Adams but it was difficult without a boarding platform so it's now using the Adams terminus as its base.
Cesan said the town is next looking to bring utilities to the Adams Station so it can serve as the ticket booth and gift shop for the Berkshire Scenic Railway. And North Adams wants a similar setup at its end of the line and to have Ashuwillticook Rail Trail be extended to North Adams, too.
"We hope to support North Adams to the same degree they gave us support," Cesan said.
The new platform and rail line brings the Berkshire Scenic Railway into Adams' downtown.
In the end, the rail and operations of Berkshire Scenic Railway is hoped to infuse more life into the two downtowns, spurring restaurants and businesses. State Sen. Adam Hinds said he can just "feel" that the Northern Berkshires are on the cusp of capitalizing on the economic opportunities around it.
"It feels like we are there. It is going to take all of us coming together like this to make sure we get over the finish line and make sure this becomes a reality. Things are happening in the Northern Berkshires, we all feel it. We just have to make sure that it is having the strong economic impact in our downtowns that we know it can," Hinds said.
The project fits into the theme of outdoor recreational opportunities. Local officials have looked toward increasing such opportunities like the rail trail for years to capitalize on the beauty of the Berkshires.
Selectman Joseph Nowak compared the scenic rail to the ski trains of the past that brought many people to Adams' downtown.
"We have seen an uptick of tourists coming to our town, sort of a rebirth of the snow trains coming to Adams bringing ski enthusiasts to ski the Thunderbolt Trail," he said.
The effort solved another problem for Berkshire Scenic Railway. The popular museum and train ride was kicked off its original route in South County. It found the new home in Adams and North Adams and has been able to continue its ever-popular offerings for the last two years on what was available for track.
The Hoosac Valley Service is drawing visitors to the area and Berkshire Scenic Railway Vice President Tom Delasco says there is more the organization can do with the new platform and rail extension.
"It has been a great project and as we look to move forward, the completion of the track extension and this platform will be a wonderful asset for the town for years to come," he said.
While there had been bumps in the road over the years and the conductors have changed, the train kept moving. Gov. Charlie Baker and Polito picked up the project from former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration; Bernard took it over from former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright; Hinds followed Benjamin Downing, and state Rep. John Barrett III, the late Gailanne Cariddi.
Barrett praised those who had worked on the project in both the past and the current day. He said this was a particularly important project for his predecessor, Cariddi.
Both Cariddi's former legislative aide Kevin Towle and Alcombright had worked on the project in the past and attended the ceremony.
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