Posts Tagged ‘Berkshire Flyer’

Berkshire Flyer to Begin July 8

May 1, 2022

The experimental Berkshire Flyer will begin its run on July 8 between New York and Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The seasonal service will operate on weekends during the summer months.

The train is expected to depart Penn Station in New York at 3:16 p.m. on Fridays and arrive at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield at 7:12 p.m.

It will make all intermediate New York State station stops in the Empire Corridor including Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, and Albany-Rensselaer.

The return trip is scheduled to leave Pittsfield at 3 p.m. and arrive in New York at 7:05 p.m. Tickets will be placed on sale beginning in May.

Amtrak said in a news release that during the trial run it will evaluate the route’s potential, and identify infrastructure and service changes that may be needed.

Efforts to start New York-to-the Berkshires passenger rail began in 2018 and were promoted by various Berkshire County groups, municipal officials and elected officials.

Eventually, Massachusetts officials want to extend the Berkshire Flyer to Worcester via Springfield.

That would put it on the route now used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Massachusetts officials are pushing for the creation of a new rail authority that could seek funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that has been allocated for development of new Amtrak routes.

CSX agreed to provide the train the use of its track between Pittsfield and Springfield as a condition of state support for its efforts to acquire Pan Am Railways.

Officials said extending the Flyer eastward needs more work, including establishing a budget and a timeline for when service might begin.

A 2021 report estimated costs for three alternatives for the project ranging from $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion, and suggested ridership would not be enough to qualify for federal funding.

Amtrak Seeks Conditions for CSX-Pan Am Merger

January 15, 2022

Amtrak asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Friday to impose seven conditions on the proposed merger of CSX and Pan Am Railways.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the conditions were outlined in a letter sent to the STB by Dennis Newman, Amtrak’s vice president of strategy and planning.

For its part, CSX told regulators by letter that it agreed with the conditions although it said institution of the seasonal Berkshire Flyer between New York and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, will hinge on completion of a station track in Pittsfield.

Although the two sides appear to be on the same page, Newman in his letter raised the question of why CSX believes capital investment is needed for Amtrak to operate 80 trains a year over a 40-mile segment of the Boston & Albany route.

He noted that CSX agreed to grant Norfolk Southern trackage rights over the same route without requiring any capacity studies or capital investments.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman said regulators would prefer that Amtrak and CSX work out their differences rather than have the Board step in and settle them.

Newman’s letter indicated that it is unclear if the CSX commitment applies to a stretch of Pan Am Southern used by Amtrak north of Springfield, Massachusetts.

He also disputed CSX assertions that it will add positive train control to the Downeaster route in Maine, saying planning for that had begun before CSX said it planned to acquire Pan Am and that Amtrak will be paying most of the costs of the project.

Patrick Fuchs, STB’s vice chairman, said the Board has never imposed passenger-related conditions in a merger case. Some Board members suggested conditions need not be imposed because existing regulations and laws already give Amtrak access to freight railroad lines and give passenger trains priority over freight traffic.

In response Newman said has faced challenges expanding service on freight railroads.

CSX, Amtrak Reach Pact on Pan Am Merger

January 14, 2022

Amtrak and CSX reportedly have reached an agreement that will remove the passenger carrier’s opposition to the freight carrier’s plans to acquire Pan Am Railways.

Although the two railroads have reached agreements on several items, Railfan and Railroad reported on its website that Amtrak said there are still some sticking points.

On Jan. 3 Amtrak had said it would oppose the CSX-Pan Am merger unless it received some specific concessions that deal with existing and potential new intercity rail passenger service in New England.

In the latest development, Amtrak said CSX has accepted six of the conditions Amtrak is seeking.

These include a CSX promise to give priority to Amtrak trains when dispatching; a CSX agreement to cooperate with potential service expansions on the former Boston & Albany line between Worcester, Massachusetts, and Albany, New York; upgrading the current Downeaster route in Maine with positive train control and allowing expanded service; and allowing operation of the new Berkshire Flyer to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The Flyer would use the B&A route, which also hosts the Boston section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, as part of its trek between Pittsfield and New York City on weekends.

A 1,000-foot siding will be constructed in Pittsfield.  Planning for the Berkshire Flyer has been underway for years but been stymied by lack of an agreement between Amtrak and CSX.

Trains magazine reported that the Flyer could operate as a special service pending construction of the Pittsfield siding.

The Trains report also said CSX agreed to ensure that Norfolk Southern intermodal and automotive trains using the B&A route would not interfere with proposed or existing Amtrak service.

NS trains now use Pan Am Southern tracks between Mechanicville, New York, and Ayer, Massachusetts, but would shift to the B&A after the merger is completed.

In recent weeks CSX has reached agreement with other railroad systems that had initially opposed or raised concerns about the merger.

However, two carriers, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation/Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Canadian Pacific, still have concerns about the merger that have yet to be addressed.

Funding Approved for Berkshire Flyer Pilot Program

August 2, 2019

Funding has been approved by the State of Massachusetts for a two-year pilot program to launch Amtrak service from New York City to Berkshire County in Massachusetts.

The Berkshire Flyer has been allotted “not less than $270,000” for its inaugural year, which is expected to start in Spring 2020.

Legislation authorizing the funding also set aside $30,000 for a project manager and $100,000 for marketing the service.

The Flyer is will operate on weekends during the summer season between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, using the Empire Corridor to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and the route of the Lake Shore Limited east of there.

One train is expected to operate from New York to Pittsfield on Friday while its counterpart will return to New York on Sunday.

Trains will operate from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends with the fare set at $70 each way.

A marketing plan will be created by 1Berkshire, the county’s economic development and tourism council while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation needs to work out schedules and other logistical matters with Amtrak.

Also involved in the planning and implementation of the service will be the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.

Report Backs Berkshire Flyer Proposal

March 14, 2019

A group seeking to establish experimental Amtrak service to Berkshire County in Massachusetts from New York has issued a report calling for a two-year pilot program to start in 2020.

The service, dubbed the Berkshire Flyer, would operate on weekends between New York Penn Station and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, using routes now used by Amtrak.

During the pilot period, one train would operate on Fridays to Pittsfield while the return train to New York would operate on Sundays.

The season would begin with Memorial Day weekend and last through Columbus Day weekend. Fares are expected to be $70 each way.

The report indicated that an earlier option to operate through Connecticut on the freight-only Housatonic Railroad would cost $300 million.

State Senator Adam Hinds of Pittsfield introduced legislation directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to create a working group to study the feasibility of service using Amtrak’s Empire Corridor and CSX tracks that host the Chicago-Boston Lake Shore Limited.

“They reported back that it was, in fact, feasible, would be beneficial economically, and would require no new capital investment for the infrastructure,” Hinds said.

The report also estimated that it would cost $421,561 to start the program in June 2020.

Ticket revenue is expected to be $184,000, leaving $237,561 to be raised elsewhere, Hinds said, adding that a combination of federal, state, and local funding might be used to launch the Berkshire service.

The service will also need a sponsor who can serve as the go between with host railroads Amtrak and CSX, as well as government agencies and private companies involved in the service.

Berkshire Flyer Eyes May 2020 Launch

February 10, 2019

An effort to build another generation of visitors to the Berkshire mountains is behind an effort by Massachusetts officials to launch a pilot Amtrak service to western Massachusetts in 2020.

The plan is to have one of Amtrak’s Empire Service trains that now terminates at the Albany-Rensselaer, New York, station continue operating to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The target market for the service is primarily young couples ages 27 to 47 who live in the New York City metro area who don’t own cars and have a household income of more than $100,000.

“We’d love to see rail as an option for the next generation of Berkshire visitors,” said Jonathan Butler, co-chair of the Berkshire Flyer subcommittee and president and CEO of 1Berkshire, the economic development and tourism agency of Berkshire County.

Butler said another market for the train is older people who might already have a second home in the Berkshires.

The train would operate seasonally on weekends and officials hope to launch it by Memorial Day 2020.

The service would be funded by the State of Massachusetts.

A key to making the project work will be offering transportation for the “last mile” from the train to Berkshires resorts.

That could be anything from car-hailing services to rental cars to taxis and local buses.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to leave New York City on Fridays at 2:20 p.m., arriving at 6:10 p.m. in Pittsfield.

Return trips would leave Pittsfield on Sundays at 2:45 p.m., arriving at Penn Station at 6:45 p.m.

The pilot program is projected to last 20 weeks and cost the state about $237,000.

Pittsfield is already a stop for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and Boston.

Another task force is looking at adding passenger rail service to Pittsfield from Boston. It is expected to meet in the spring to consider six possible alternatives for that service.

Berkshire Flyer Group Already Seeking Brand Identity

December 23, 2018

The train isn’t expected to begin until 2020, but members of the Berkshire Flyer committee are already brainstorming ideas for branding the service, transporting passengers who arrive in Pittsfield, and fretting about whether the train will operate on time as it travels CSX tracks.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to begin seasonal weekend trial service between New York City and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with funding from the state.

It is expected to make the trip in 3.5 hours and offer a fare of $80 one way.

Trains would depart New York on Fridays at 2:20 p.m. and arriving in Pittsfield at 6:10 p.m.

The Sunday train will depart Pittsfield at 2:45 p.m. and arrive in New York at 6:45 p.m.

Pittsfield is already a stop for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and Boston and some on the committee are already concerned that the Berkshire Flyer might run late as Nos. 448 and 449 often do.

But the primary issue that the committee is seeking to tackle is transportation for those who arrive from New York by rail.

Pittsfield has limited public transportation, including taxi service and rental car options.

The city of Pittsfield has said it will provide space for Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicles.

Another option is to make use of such ride-share services as Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.

Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority’s Robert Malnati said the authority has applied for grants to create different routes.

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission member Anuja Koirala also has been examining transportation options and said Transport the People is willing to carry passengers from the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield to other points.

Committee member Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire, expects ride-share options to increase, saying that during the peak season there is relatively decent Uber service in the more metro areas of the Berkshires during the day.

But one issue is that it is unclear where in the Berkshires most of those riding the Berkshire Flyer will want to go.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to use existing Amtrak routes, including that of the Lake Shore Limited between Pittsfield and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and the Empire Corridor into New York City.

Options Shown for Pittsfield-NYC Service

April 18, 2018

A study has laid out three options for reviving intercity rail passenger service between Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and New York City.

One option is to use existing Amtrak Empire Service from New York Penn Station on Friday afternoons to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, with a new schedule to Pittsfield and on Sundays, doing the reverse.

Option two would involve a new schedule from New York to Pittsfield on Friday afternoon and back on Sunday afternoon.

The third option calls for building a connecting track between the CSX Berkshire Subdivision and its Schodack Subdivision, to connect the new train from the Amtrak Empire Line just north of Hudson, New York, to the line to Pittsfield.

This project would cost between $18 million and $36 million. This includes the need to install positive train control on freight-only tracks on the Berkshire Sub.

The connecting track would be more than a half-mile long and meet CSX’s standards for a curve at 40 mph, the same speed as the Schodack Subdivision.

The route would be 18 miles shorter than operating via Albany-Rensselaer and feature a running time 20 minutes shorter.

Most of this would be time saved from avoiding adding a locomotive and reversing the train at Albany-Rensselaer.

Depending on the option chosen, the proposed service would have a New York to Pittsfield running time of three-and-a-half to four hours.

The study of route options was conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation at the request of Massachusetts State Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield.

Hinds has in mind a weekend service similar to the Boston to Cape Cod Cape Flyer.

The Pittsfield-New York train would not serve any stations in Connecticut.

With adequate funding and operational support from Amtrak and CSX, the service could begin in 2019 or 2020.

Pittsfield is currently served by the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited.