hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial May 2018



Plan for Berkshires train falls far short of need


By next summer, the dream of direct train service from New York City to the Berkshires could finally be realized -- but only barely.

Over the past dozen years or more, we’ve reported periodically on efforts to restore southern Berkshire County’s long-lost rail link to New York. For most of that time, the goal of supporters has been to restore passenger trains to the freight line that runs from Pittsfield south along the Housatonic River to Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Danbury, Conn., the northern terminal for commuter runs to Manhattan.

Many local officials and planners have embraced the concept, and supporters organized a citizens group, The Train Campaign, to push for funding to get the trains running.

In 2011, a study by Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard estimated that restoring the train service would yield $625 million in economic benefits to the region in the first decade of operation. Massachusetts now owns the tracks from Pittsfield to the Connecticut border, and then-Gov. Deval Patrick rode a special train on the line to show support for the idea.
But the up-front cost to fix up the old Housatonic line and create new train stations along it has been estimated at $200 million. Many officials in Boston are unwilling to spend that kind of money on a project at the farthest corner of the state, and Connecticut’s leaders appear even less interested in the project.

So last year, state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, began steering the conversation in a different direction. A working group organized by Hinds has proposed running a Berkshires train along Amtrak’s busy Hudson Valley route from New York to Albany, then east to Pittsfield along Amtrak’s Albany-to-Boston route.

The result is the state’s developing plan for the Berkshire Flyer, a summer-only weekend train between New York and Pittsfield.

The great upside of the Berkshire Flyer is that it could start running without any real capital investment. Amtrak has trains and crews available at its base in Rensselaer, and there’s already a station in Pittsfield. A feasibility study released in late March concluded the Berkshire Flyer would cost $400,000 in its first year.

And because trains run at 90 mph or better on much of the route from New York to Albany, the time needed to complete this roundabout routing to Pittsfield actually would be about the same as running up a rebuilt Housatonic route.

But without the Housatonic routing, the train won’t go through or near Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox – all of which are major destinations for visitors from New York.
Worse, the train would only run in the summer and make just one round-trip per week – up from New York on Friday afternoon, back from Pittsfield on Sunday afternoon. It will only be useful to a certain subset of weekend visitors.

For the many people in the southern Berkshires who now shuttle back and forth regularly to metropolitan New York, and for the region’s future growth, what’s needed is a rail service that offers several trips each way every day, all year, with some additional service in the summer – on a line that serves more Berkshire County towns than just Pittsfield.
The Berkshire Flyer certainly is worth trying and might even succeed in filling a niche. But if it’s a flop, don’t let anyone claim that this was a real test of the potential for Berkshires-to-New York rail service.


Tracing Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign train ride

Maury Thompson


Like Sheldon Cooper, the character on the television comedy “Big Bang Theory,” I love trains.
And I love political history.

So the story of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders taking a train trek through the Hudson Valley at the height of Roosevelt’s 1898 gubernatorial campaign is double the fun.

On Oct. 17, 1898, Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, who had returned from Cuba weeks earlier as heroes of the Spanish-American War, set out from New York City and chugged their way up the west shore of the Hudson, reaching Glens Falls by day’s end.

“The party was in excellent trim, and the Rough Riders were as pleased with the trip as a Sunday School class at a picnic,” the New York Tribune reported of the delegation, which made its first stop in Rockland County at West Nyack, where about 500 people were waiting at the station.
“In approaching many of the stations at which the train stopped, Emil Cassi, the bugler, gave from the platform of the rear car the cavalry calls,” the paper reported.

The New York World called it “the most picturesque stumping tour of this state that has ever been undertaken by a candidate for governor.”

The campaign train consisted of an engine and two Wagner passenger cars – “Wanderer,” which carried Roosevelt and other dignitaries, and “Oswegathchie,” which transported six veteran Rough Riders and a horde of newspaper reporters, the Tribune reported.

Wagner Palace sleeping cars, built in Buffalo, were known for their luxury and comfort.
“There is a well-stocked larder aboard and an excellent chef,” the World reported.
Reporters witnessed bands, glee clubs and “an abundance of enthusiasm” at stops all along the way, the New York Herald reported.

Other scheduled stops included Cornwall, Newburgh, Kingston, Wilcox, Saugerties, Catskill, Cohoes, Waterford, Mechanicville, Ballston, Saratoga Springs and Fort Edward.
At Kingston, Roosevelt said maintenance of the state’s canal system would be a priority, and at Newburgh he touted his three years of service in the National Guard, the Herald reported.
“If I am elected governor, I will put the National Guard upon a thoroughly soldierly and effective basis,” he said.

There was an unplanned stop at Albany, where Roosevelt said, “Character is above intellect. I will administer every public office for the people.”

So many had gathered at the Albany station to watch the train pass through that Roosevelt decided it would be impolite not to stop and greet the crowd.

When the train arrived at Glens Falls at 6:05 p.m., Roosevelt received a sensational welcome.
“As Col. Roosevelt’s train neared this place, the blare of a brass band penetrated the car windows,” The New York Sun reported. “The citizens of Glens Falls had turned out to make their political guests welcome.”

In the evening, Roosevelt delivered a planned speech to a capacity crowd at the Glens Falls Opera House on Warren Street. (The opera house, which later served as a movie theater until its demolition in the late 1960s, seated 1,600.) Several of the Rough Riders, in military uniform, appeared with Roosevelt on stage.

Roosevelt, a Republican, went on to defeat Democrat Augustine Van Wyck by about 18,000 votes. Some 1.35 million people cast ballots in the governor’s race, which also included Socialist Labor candidate Benjamin Hanford, Prohibition candidate John Kline, and Independent Citizens candidate Theodore Bacon.

Roosevelt devoted a portion of his speech to the concerns of organized labor, a strong voting block in Glens Falls at the time.

“During the last 15 years most of us have, I think, seen a good deal of light upon these labor problems. I know I have,” the Sun quoted Roosevelt as saying. “Fifteen years ago, I shrank from taking part in any steps for their solution, which I now believe to be wise and proper.”
At one point, hecklers in the audience disrupted Roosevelt’s speech, drawing a rebuke from the candidate.

“Colonel Roosevelt, in criticism of the disorder, said his men of the battle at Las Guasimas [a battle in Cuba] behaved better than those particular persons in the gallery,” the Herald reported.
Roosevelt made two additional impromptu speeches in Glens Falls, one to an overflow crowd in the basement of the opera house, and another from the balcony of the Globe Hotel to about 1,200 people gathered on Warren Street that could not get into the opera house.
Two years later, he was elected vice president of the United States on a ticket with William McKinley, and he ascended to the presidency after McKinley’s assassination in 1901.

Newspaper reports referenced in this column can be found in the Addison B. Colvin scrapbooks at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls.

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in September. He now is a freelance writer specializing in the history of politics, labor and media in the region.


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