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Advocacy Group Launches New Effort To Support Passenger Rail Expansion In Berkshires

The Berkshire Train Campaign

A group advocating for passenger rail service from the Berkshires to New York City is launching a new volunteer effort to bring its message to a wider audience.

Karen Christensen, a Great Barrington resident and founder and CEO of the Berkshire Publishing Group, said she first became interested in advocating to bring passenger rail service from New York to the Berkshires after returning from a trip to China in August of 2011. After communicating with her neighbors, colleagues, and other business owners, by late 2012, she had founded the Berkshire Train Campaign.

"As a business owner with a global business based in a small town...I believed that this kind of connectivity - the connectivity that a train would provide would be the single-most transformative thing that our political leaders could make happen," said Christensen.

Christensen believes the reintroduction of rail will bring vibrancy and economic stability to the Berkshire region, and she’s not alone.

In a 2011 study commissioned by the Housatonic Railroad Company – the company that owns the rail lines that now only carries freight through the Berkshires and Connecticut to New York – Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard predicted that restoring the service would amount to a $343 million increase in sold goods and services in the Berkshire area over 10 years.

And others, including Nat Karns, Executive Director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said that restoring the service would have other significant economic impacts.

"If the service is well-designed and works the way the railroad claims it will you would undoubtedly expect to see enhanced real estate values in station proximity," said Karns.

Currently, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is conducting its own study on north-south passenger rail in the region. Two public meetings were held in June and July to gather suggestions and concerns on possible station rail station locations in communities throughout Berkshire County. The study will continue through 2014.

But Christensen thinks that more needs to be done to motivate the public to embrace and advocate for rail. On July 20th, the Berkshire Train Campaign kicked off a new effort focused on outreach and brought together new volunteers. Christensen said the grassroots efforts and events throughout Berkshire County will rally residents and businesses to speak up in support.

"We're for the first time looking for sponsors for the website and for activities, educational outreach, and promotional materials so that we get the word out very, very widely," said Christensen.

Returning passenger rail to the Berkshires has also been on the  minds of politicians.

In his initial fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, Governor Deval Patrick included funds to bring passenger rail from Pittsfield to New York. However, the plan was part of a larger package that hinged on significant new tax increases, including a bump in the state’s income tax. It was rejected by state legislative leaders.

Christensen said that a common voice is needed to transform the ideas to reality.

"What I want more than anything else is to have people here understand that this is a real prospect and then, because they know its something real - it's something  close - then we will all have a common voice and we will say to the political leaders that we need some of that money to come here to make this happen fast because this is going to change our lives for the better," said Christensen.

For more information visit: http://berkshiretraincampaign.org/

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