New rail service between the Berkshires and New York City could be one step closer.
The team working on the Berkshire Flyer says a new report represents a more detailed step forward for the project.
The report released Friday emerged from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission’s subcommittee on the proposed seasonal weekend train service from New York City to Berkshire County. Democratic State Senator Adam Hinds has been one of the project’s most outspoken proponents.
“We’re transitioning from the first feasibility study to then getting a little more granular and saying, what do we need to have in place before we try to launch a pilot,” Hinds told WAMC.
Hinds says the launch date of June 2020 is on track – especially now that the subcommittee has specifically identified what has to happen before then.
“In that category, it was – do you have a marketing plan? Do you have last mile transportation needs when someone gets off the train? Are those in place? And what do the finances look like?" asked Hinds. "And so, this subcommittee provided answers to all of those, and now we’re ready to move forward with identifying the local sponsor, actually obtaining the funding for the pilot program, and then it’s time for DOT to work with Amtrak and finalize a contract.”
The local sponsor will serve as the linchpin holding the entire collaboration together, between Amtrak, MASS DOT, the marketing team, car rental services – and customers.
“We have another example, which of course, is the Cape Flyer – running from Boston on to Cape Cod – and that person and that local sponsor there, is also getting into welcoming people and greeting folks and really making sure that the experience is a smooth one for the travelers,” said the senator.
Hinds broke down the contract that the state will have to hammer out with Amtrak.
“Amtrak – when they have a service that is under 750 miles – the only way that they can conduct that is through a state contract and a state sponsor, and so therefore, nessecarily, it has to be DOT," he explained. "And so they would set out the parameters – a 20-week program, when that service would take place, how much it would cost.”
Hinds has a number for that too.
“Right now it’s over $300,000 per year," he told WAMC. "And so, it changes. It’s a little frontloaded, and it’s a little less the second year. And so, we feel pretty comfortable we can identify those sources and that’s what we’ll do in the coming months.”
1Berkshire – the county’s economic development organization – will head the Berkshire Flyer’s marketing. CEO Jonathan Butler – also a co-chair of the subcommittee – says successfully branding the pilot is crucial to the long-term success of the project.
“We really view a successful pilot as needing to connect to these audiences so that we can sell tickets, we can fill trains, and we can demonstrate that demand – while also providing the opportunity for a new audience to experience the Berkshires,” said Butler.
That new audience?
“The millennial, and the Gen X generation in New York City, many of them without cars, are more inclined to travel here if there is options like transport through a train,” he told WAMC.
The effort will put the Berkshires up against familiar tourism competitors – the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, and the Hamptons.
“Those are regions within New York state that we’re always competing with," said Butler. "We do outperform those regions for the most part, in total visitor spending and volume. However, New York state has spent a lot more dollars on actual marketing of their visitor regions in recent years than the state of Massachusetts. We have a great partnership with our local delegation and with Senator Hinds and the state representatives, but continuing to support funding for marketing our brand here in the Berkshires is critical because the visitor economy is central to our economy and it’s a catalyst for growth in other areas.”
He pegged the cost of the campaign at around $100,000 for its first year. Butler says 1Berkshire chose Hadley-based marketing firm Brigade based on its work with another Berkshire entity – Ramblewild Adventure Park in Lanesborough.