GREAT BARRINGTON -- A group called the Berkshire Train Campaign has formed to transform from dream to reality the ambitions to create a passenger rail service from Pittsfield to New York City.
Volunteers met Saturday in Great Barrington to coordinate as community ambassadors to educate and work to lobby legislators to support the return of passenger train service to Berkshire County.
The $200 million proposal that's currently undergoing studies already has a prospective operator in the Housatonic Railroad and a prominent backer in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is in the process of completing a $240,000, 18-month study to examine the structural planning of a passenger rail system in South County.
Preliminary plans suggest the route would include eight trains and the trip from Pittsfield to New York City would take three hours and 55 minutes.
Based in Canaan, Conn., the Housatonic Railroad has proposed upgrading its freight lines to service passenger trains between Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn. From Danbury, riders could connect to Grand Central Station in Manhattan via the Metro North Railroad.
"People don't realize that this is a real project that has been planned ... and there is a company that is willing to do it," said Karen Christensen, spokeswoman for the Berkshire Train Campaign. "The governor has set aside money [for trains] in the transportation budget."
There currently isn't a direct public commute line between Berkshire County and New York City. The project still faces a daunting uphill climb building community support, soliciting funding and reviewing plans, but economic studies show a possible economic boon awaiting over the horizon.
An economic study released in 2011, commissioned by the Housatonic Railroad, concluded that passenger rail service to and from New York City could increase economic output by $344 million in the Berkshires during its first 10 years of construction and service.
Research done in August 2010 concluded there could be between $1.59 million and $2.41 million per year.
Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, could not be reached for comment for this report, but he has previously stated in a letter that the reintroduction of a good passenger rail service is one of the two most important strategic economic infrastructure investments.
"As most people in this region know, the New York metro area is our most important tourism market, many part-time residents come from that area, and it is one of the most important business centers in the world," Karns wrote in the letter. "Having decent passenger rail service is important in both maintaining and growing all aspects of our local economy."
Christensen said residents need to apply pressure on legislators to make it a reality. Each town would need to approve any station location, but early plans suggest proposed stops in Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Great Barrington and Stockbridge, and another in Berkshire County along the Massachusetts/Connecticut line.
"It takes real public energy and voices to tell politicians that this really matters," Christensen said.