NORTH ADAMS -- Passenger rail service will return to Northern Berkshire in 2014, when the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum debuts its "Hoosac Valley Service" on five miles of track running between Adams and North Adams.
"One little known fact is that Berkshire Scenic Railway has been trying to operate train rides up here since 1985," Jay R. Green, director of government affairs and special projects for Berkshire Scenic, said Friday. "Our board of directors, in 1984, began working with the then Berkshire County Commissioners on bringing rail service here, but after a lot of red tape, things fell through We're very grateful, almost 30 years later, to say that Berkshire Scenic is coming to North County."
Mayor Richard Alcombright, Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler and Green announced the service, which will operate on weekends and holidays, at City Hall on Friday.
"This region has a rich railroad history, and this service will compliment the many cultural and regional attractions in the area. We see this as another visible piece that will make Northern Berkshire an even more viable destination for visitors," Alcombright said.
Glenn Diehl, a resident of Adams and volunteer with Berkshire Scenic Railway, said he was very pleased by the announcement.
"One of the things that Adams lacks is a destination," he said. "North Adams is a destination with art and things like that. What really excites me is that now Adams will be a destination. People drive into Adams and park at the Visitors Center, which is a block of a very beautiful, very welcoming main street. I expect to see an uptick in people, over a couple of years, visiting our businesses and restaurants."
MassDOT will support the project by completing the acquisition of the active Pan Am rail line -- approximately five miles between the two communities -- and by providing the funding needed to complete the design work on a shared right-of-way needed to replace six-tenths of a mile of track, running from the Adams Visitors Center on Hoosac Street to Burke Construction.
Alcombright said discussions between the two communities, Berkshire Scenic Railway, MassDOT and Pan Am Railways began in early 2011.
"We also worked with MassDOT Rail District 1 and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to see how we could accommodate rail service along the already designated extension of the [Ashuwillticook] bike path from Burke Construction to Hoosac Street," he said.
Butler added that the shared six-tenths of a mile would not delay work on the extension of the rail trail from Hoosac Street to Lime Street.
"When this whole thing came to fruition, the last thing we wanted was for [the rail trail] project to be delayed," he said. "It has only held up a couple of months, and it is our understanding that it will be proceeding through MassDOT, as scheduled this spring."
MassDOT Deputy Rail Administrator John D. Ray confirmed that work on the rail trail would be proceeding as planned.
"Along the shared portion of the trail, there will be a fence that will be located about 14 feet off the center line of the railroad and there will be an unpaved portion between the fence and the bike path," he said. "That is what the design is about -- how the two will share the right of way. That piece is under way at this moment."
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Details on the Hoosac Valley Service:
* The service will run on 5 miles of track originally known as the Adams Branch.
* Regular passenger rail service ended in the 1950s, with the last passenger excursion being offered in 1984.
* Six-tenths of a mile of the tracks, running from Hoosac Street to Burke Construction in Adams, will need to be reinstalled.
* Stations would be located in Adams near the Visitors Center and in North Adams near the Brien Center
* 6 to 8 trains would operate per day on weekends and holidays.
* Rides between Adams and North Adams are expected to take 25 minutes
* Special events including the Polar Express, the Peanuts' Great Pumpkin Express, fall foliage rides, wine-tastings and murder mysteries will be held.
* A special Hoosac Tunnel Ghost Train is in the works. The program will be a family-friendly event focusing on educating riders on the history of the tunnel.
* Information sessions for volunteers will be held in the coming months.