The Berkshire Line
Latest News: January 2022
- Final repairs on five new bridge decks are nearing completion on Berkshire Line. Work includes walkways, handrails, backwall timbers, and bearing work. Work is substantially complete and punch list is being performed now.
- Approximately 80% of continuous welded rail has been completed on the Berkshire Line Phase I. The remaining 20% will be completed this spring (9.6 of 12 miles).
- Phase II Berkshire Line continuous welded rail bid package is being prepared for advertisement in February and will begin late spring. Phase III for the remaining Berkshire Line is being designed and will be advertised late this year/early next year.
The report can be found on this link: https://www.mass.gov/lists/massdot-board-of-directors-meeting-materials.
The Housatonic Line, also called the Berkshire Line, will again provide passenger service from New York City to Pittsfield, MA via Danbury, CT. The current proposal calls for 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.
In 2014, Massachusetts passed a transportation bond bill that included funds in support of the Berkshire Housatonic Line. The Commonwealth purchased 37 miles of track in the state from HRRC and also allotted funds for initial track repairs to bring the line up to a state of good repair. The goal was to eliminate all track conditions that prevent operation of passenger trains and to provide a solid base for future improvement. Prior to the implementation of through passenger service, however, further investment in the line will have to be made.
The Berkshire Housatonic Line service is still in the conceptual stages. No decisions have been made with respect to train control systems, equipment, maintenance facilities, or station locations (though a $250,000 study has assessed locations in Berkshire County itself). There have been many suggestions, however, such as dual-mode battery electric options, high acceleration, rail cars instead of locomotive-hauled trains, reuse of historic stations within walking distance of attractions, integration with feeder bus services to expand the market area, etc., which are both feasible and appealing, but those decisions have not been made. The time to debate and find the best options will be when the proposal moves to the design stage.
Politicians across state lines to start working together to implement the service and generate the benefits that will be produced. Establishing a new interstate agency with a guaranteed funding stream to plan, promote, and operate a New York City–Pittsfield service may be the easiest and most direct way to get interstate cooperation.
The Berkshire Housatonic Line service will be a link in a much more extensive passenger rail network that will help to revitalize the region and meet the needs of a greener, more connected transportation service.
HB3571 – An Act special act funding a study of passenger service on the Housatonic rail line
Sponsored by: Rep. William Smitty Pignatelli (D)
Download 2-page fact sheet (March 2021) with Massachusetts: Housatonic Line information 20210309-MA
Download 2-page fact sheet (March 2021) with Connecticut map: Housatonic Line information 20210318-CT
- Economic-Benefits-of-Housatonic-Railroad-Passenger-Service Stephan Sheppard-compressed by Stephen Sheppard of the Center for Creative Community Development in Williamstown, MA. This report analyzes the economic impact that restoring passenger service to the Berkshire Line would have on the communities it serves, and is useful for anyone wishing to know more about the economic effects of passenger service on this line.
- Projected Ridership Study MSR 2010 by Julie Pokela of Market Street Research in Northampton, MA. This study gives estimates for projected ridership along the Berkshire Line based on a survey of Berkshire and Litchfield Counties.
- Housatonic Rail Station Locations Study 2014 by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in Pittsfield, MA. This study examines a wide range of options for stations along the Berkshire Line in Massachusetts, ultimately recommending downtown stations in Pittsfield, Lee, and Great Barrington, with the possibility of an additional station in Sheffield.
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 Milford, Kent, Cornwall Bridge, and Canaan, CT, and then moves on to Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee, Lenox, and Pittsfield, MA.
Cost and Upgrades
Most of the rail in Massachusetts and Connecticut is, or was, 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. This work is underway in Massachusetts and will be complete in 2022.
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.
The agreement made then was that Massachusetts would be willing to spend an additional $78.8 million for more extensive repairs when Connecticut authorizes funding for the project.
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
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
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