The Berkshire Line

The Berkshire Line project is the proposal of the Housatonic Railroad Company (HRC) to operate passenger service from New York City to Pittsfield, MA via Danbury, CT. It will provide 8 round trips a day, originating and terminating in Grand Central Station, and will allow passengers to travel the 160 miles from Pittsfield to New York in 3 hours and 55 minutes.

hrrc proposed route map

Route Description

From Grand Central Station, the route connects to Danbury, CT, either by following Metro North’s New Haven Line, or by following the Harlem line to the Southeast Station and following the Maybrook Line to Danbury. From there it passes through Connecticut and Massachusetts, with proposed stops at New MilfordKentCornwall Bridge, and Canaan, CT, and then moves on to Great BarringtonStockbridgeLeeLenox, and Pittsfield, MA.

Cost and Upgrades

Most of the rail in Massachusetts and Connecticut is 107-pound jointed rail, built almost a century ago. Passenger rail service cannot operate along the Berkshire Line unless all the old ties and jointed rail are replaced with new ties and 136-pound welded rail. It will take 3-5 years and an estimated $200-250 million to do this.

The Housatonic Railroad Company’s plan, because the project requires start-up public funding, is to create a public-private relationship. This means that public investment in the project is fully protected and the private railroad will operate the service with private-sector efficiencies and cost savings.

In 2014, Massachusetts passed a transportation bond bill that included funds in support of the Berkshire Line. They purchased the 37 miles of track in the state from HRRC for $13 million. The legislature also allotted $35 million to replace 30 miles of rail and replace old ties on all 37 miles.

If upgrades begin on the Connecticut portion of the route, Massachusetts is willing to spend an additional $78.8 million for more extensive repairs. At this time, Connecticut has not authorized funding for the project.

Background

Public Interest

In 2010, the Housatonic Railroad commissioned a market feasibility analysis by Market Street Research. Their first concern was whether their proposed passenger service would be feasible and how much interest there is in the service. Some valuable results from this study include:

  • The proposed service is feasible.

  • There is interest among residents in NYC and northwestern CT and Berkshire County, MA in a train that would travel between these areas.

  • About one in four residents who currently travel between those two areas are highly interested in the proposed train line.

  • The strongest demand for the service will be in the summer, but there is also very strong interest in the other quarters.

Estimated Ridership by Quarter

Benefits

After they confirmed that the service was feasible, HRC hired William’s professor Stephen Sheppard, and asked him to identify the potential benefits of the service. Included is a summary of Professor Sheppard’s findings.

Cumulative Economic Benefits from the First 10 Years of Passenger Service

Chart of Housatonic railroad's benefits and their value

The Berkshire Line passenger service would have the following benefits for the region around it:

  • —Increased total economic output
  • —Increased employment
  • —Increased tourism
  • —Increased wealth and property values
  • —Increased revenues for local and state government
  • —Reduce automobile traffic on regional and local roads
    • —Lower road maintenance costs
    • —Fewer traffic fatalities and injuries