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Historic train rides offered during Pittsfield's 250th anniversary celebration

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, in conjunction with the Housatonic Railroad Company and the city of Pittsfield, will conduct three 90 minute round-trip train rides Saturday from the city's Public Works Garage to the museum in Lenox.

The event is part of the opening weekend for Pittsfield 250, the city's quarter-millennial celebration, and will also mark the 40th anniversary of the last passenger train to take the route.

Pamela Green is the Special Events Manager at the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum.

"There was a time when you could take a passenger train through the entire length of Berkshire County."

Green says she hopes the event, to which the 1,200 free tickets were sold out in about three days, will be both an enjoyable ride and a chance for the museum to gain local exposure.

Rail transportation has a long and storied history in the Berkshires, as Green explains.

"The history of the railroad in the Berkshires, and in Pittsfield in particular, really goes back into the 1840s."

"The railroad was integral to not only bringing industry into the Berkshires but also tourism. Private coaches would come up to bring the Vanderbilts and all the other wealthy families, as well as tourists, up into the Pittsfield area (and) into Lenox."

From the mid-19th Century into the 20th, residents could ride the rails from the Massachusetts-Connecticut border up to North Adams, including the Berkshire Street Railway trolley system, which ran throughout the county. Green describes the decline of local passenger rail.

"The passenger service aspect of railroading started to become less popular with the advent of the interstate highway system."

"As America became liberated by their vehicles, dependency on rail for passenger service became less important. What happened in April of 1971 is all of the individual private railroads that offered passenger service ceased to do so and Amtrak was created."

The Housatonic Railroad Company is currently working to reinstitute passenger service, connecting the Berkshires to Southwest Connecticut and New York City. The company currently runs freight along 161 miles of rail.

In February, the company announced it would be working with Williams College Economics Professor Stephen Sheppard on a new study on the proposal. Colin Pease is the railroad's Vice President of Special Projects.

"We've done a private market survey, and the market survey came back very positive. Now what we've asked is Professor Sheppard to do a benefit analysis to calculate all of the benefits that would be associated with a new passenger service."

"Places like Pittsfield, where you're coming right into the center of town, I think it will compliment all of the efforts Pittsfield has been doing to bring new development."

Green said the museum and area rail enthusiasts are ready for a restored passenger line.

"It's ambitious and it's certainly something that our museum would support and we're excited to see the possibility of that coming back down the road."

Saturday's train rides are just one of the events scheduled as part of the Pittsfield 250 opening weekend. Several free concerts and exhibits around the city will begin Friday, including an opening ceremony hosted by Mayor James Ruberto.

In a statement, Ruberto said the train rides are a significant part of the celebration because they represent both the city's past and future.