State completes buy of Housatonic Railroad

Written by Douglas John Bowen
image description

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has completed its purchase of 37-miles of Housatonic Railroad right-of-way, stretching from Pittsfield, Mass., to Canaan, Conn., the railroad's headquarters city sitting just across the Massachusetts-Connecticut border.

MassDOT, announcing the transaction’s completion Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, said the purchase price was $12.1 million, financed by a state transportation bond bill.

MassDOT and other officials, including former Gov. Deval Patrick, had increased their verbal emphasis on the purchase as a precursor to restored passenger rail service linking Pittsfield, Connecticut points, and even Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Housatonic Railroad President John Hanlon has helped drive the idea, commissioning a study in 2010 identifying passenger potential. Hanlon, interviewed by Railway Age, said such potential includes “second home” customers traveling between metropolitan New York and the Berkshires.

But some observers doubt current Massachusets Gov. Charlie Baker rates the project as a priority. State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli told local media the project is “probably not even on the governor’s radar screen.”

Pignatelli explained that until MassDOT comes up with its own plan, Housatonic Railroad will fund the maintenance of the tracks.

“It’s a good thing we have ownership of the Berkshire line,” Pignatelli added. “An awful lot of work needs to be done, the new administration needs a lot more convincing, and before we spend any more money, we need a [comparable] commitment from Connecticut” to upgrade right-of-way within the Nutmeg State.

Housatonic Railroad Vice President of Special Projects Colin Pease concurred, saying, “We have to close the link in Connecticut, since all the Massachusetts agreements are done.”

Tags: ,