Our Opinion: Anticipate last mile for county-NYC train

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Connecting Berkshire County to New York City by train is not all about trains. Obviously it is primarily, but it is also about assuring that people who get to the Berkshires by train are then able to get around the Berkshires.

The Berkshire Flyer Working Group, led by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, met in Lenox on Monday to continue exploring ways of restoring the Berkshires' lost passenger rail link to a city with long economic and cultural links to the county (Eagle, December 1.) At the meeting, Amtrak's Caroline Mael made the important point that train passengers arriving in the Berkshires must have options to get them from the station to their hotel or to a cultural destination like Tanglewood. It is easy for train passengers from the Berkshires to New York City to find a variety of options to get them to their destination but the opposite is the case in the Berkshires, where public transportation is limited.

Astrid Glynn, MassDOT's rail and transit director, indicated at the meeting that she would be in touch with Bob Malnati of the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority, who was also in attendance, to discuss the problem of the "last mile," usually a term associated with Berkshire broadband service. Completing this station-to-destination link could be an economic opportunity for the county's bus service, and the county's taxi services will need to step up to the plate. Uber, which is sure to grow in the Berkshires in the coming years, could also help address what Ms. Glynn described as "a killer issue if we don't deal with it correctly."

The group was in general agreement that the preferred route would build off Amtrak's existing service between Albany and Penn Station, a trip that would take about four hours. Funding this project will be a challenge and state Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who sponsored the legislative initiative under which the working group was formed, suggested Monday that the Albany route is likely to constitute a better investment than a potential route that would shave off 15-30 minutes but would require building tracks or taking land.

The group is collecting data on how many Manhattan and New York area residents have second homes in Berkshire County. MassDOT has found that 212 residents of Manhattan and nearby communities have second homes in Pittsfield and the figures for South Berkshire are sure to be larger when they are collected. Attracting more tourists is a major goal of the push to connect the county to New York City by passenger rail and bringing in more second home-owners who open local businesses or work from their homes (with better and expanded internet service) is critically important also as an economic generator.

The group has until March 1 to present its research and a potential plan to the Legislature. While there are many details and options to be explored, in general terms, a strong economic case can be made for a passenger rail link to a major metropolis with strong ties to the Berkshires that can be made even stronger.


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