One of the concerns some people have about the proposed Berkshire Flyer is that there is only one round-trip a week, with only a Friday train north and Sunday train south. “What if I want to stay till Tuesday, or for a week and not nine days?” they ask.

2018-amtrak-nyc-pittsfield-service-timetableThis is not the barrier it seems since Amtrak actually today offers service between Pittsfield and New York City today, with a change trains in Albany. (The Berkshire Flyer will be a direct train to Pittsfield, without the need to change trains.) It will be perfectly feasible to take the Flyer north and return by train in the other direction, as long as you don’t mind changing trains in Albany.

Currently, a northbound a 4 hour 49 minute schedule is available, with a 1 hour 15 minute layover at Albany  Rensselaer.  Southbound the scheduled time is 4 hours and 11 minutes if a 15 minute connection is used and 5 hours 11 minutes if a 1 hour 15 minute layover is used (for details, see the detailed schedules showing today’s NYC-Pittsfield-NYC service).

This Amtrak option could be attractive to some users even today, while the Berkshire Flyer plans are developed for a 2020 pilot program. But  Amtrak does not even show the northbound connection in its reservation system, and it is impossible to purchase a single ticket NYC to Pittsfield: you need to purchase two separate tickets on the Amtrak website, which is not in any case user friendly. Currently Amtrak only shows one of the three below service options in their reservation system, the 5 hour 11 minute southbound option. Instead of the single change option northbound schedule shown below, Amtrak shows a longer service option from New York City to Pittsfield with a change of trains at both New Haven and Springfield.  Southbound, only the connection with the 1 hour 15 minute layover.

This is a barrier that could easily be removed by Amtrak.

It would also be helpful if the reliability of the Pittsfield – Albany – Rennselaer leg could be improved.  The latest available on time performance reports (October 2017) for the trains serving Pittsfield show a 46% on time for the eastbound train and a 25 % on tie for the westbound train (Note: these statistics are for the endpoints as Amtrak does not publish the on time performance at intermediate stations such as Pittsfield.) NOTE: The eastbound Lake Shore Limited service, in particular, is very often hours late. (In fact, railroad professionals refer to it as the Late Shore Limited.) You can generate detailed on-time performance reports using this website. Select train 449 and PIT as the station. The westbound train is normally close to on-time because it is “only” coming from Boston.

Of course, we don’t yet know whether the same delay could plague the Berkshire Flyer!