Getting to the Berkshires, one of Massachusetts’ most-popular tourist destinations, can be challenging.
Well, that used to be the case, anyway. Amtrak recently announced it will offer seasonal service from New York City to the Berkshires this summer in a pilot program that will also run in the summer of 2023.
The passenger rail service, known as the Berkshire Flyer, will begin on Friday, July 8. On Fridays during the summer, the train will depart from New York’s Penn Station in the afternoon and arrive in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, that evening. A return trip will then run Sunday afternoons. Both trains will make several stops along the way.
“Western Massachusetts and the Berkshire Region offer a whole host of cultural and recreational opportunities during the summer,” Charlie Baker, governor of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “We are pleased to work with our partner agencies to run passenger train service between Pittsfield and New York City on weekends during the busiest tourist times this summer. We hope this pilot service will encourage even more people to visit this part of our state.”
Stephen Gardner, Amtrak president and CEO, added, “We’re appreciative of the support and cooperation of CSX for the Berkshire Flyer service, which will offer a more comfortable and convenient transportation option that’s also more environmentally friendly for people traveling between New York City and Berkshire County — along with easy access to musical performances at Tanglewood.”
Why The Berkshires Are Popular
The Berkshires are named after the Berkshire Mountains, a range of the Appalachian Mountains in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. The 950-square-mile area, which is about 150 miles from New York City, is bordered by Vermont to the north, New York to the west, and Connecticut to the south.
So just how popular is the area? Approximately 2.6 million people visit the Berkshires each year, according to the Berkshire Visitors Bureau.
Here’s why the Berkshires are so popular. First, since the area is mountainous, it’s home to mountain vistas, deep forests, and clear blue lakes. Consequently, the Berkshires are known for outdoor adventures such as hiking and all manner of water sports.
The Berkshires are also known for its numerous cultural experiences. For instance, the Clark Art Institute is in Williamstown, the Norman Rockwell Museum is in Stockbridge, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is in North Adams. You can even visit the historic Herman Melville House, known as Arrowhead, in Pittsfield.
There is also a thriving performing arts community in the Berkshires. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is in Lenox, while Jacob’s Pillow, a dance center, school, and performance space known for its annual 10-week Dance Festival, is in Becket.
Much-Needed Train Service
The Berkshire Flyer service is a collaboration between Amtrak, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the New York State Department of Transportation. Those entities have also worked with CSX Transportation so Amtrak can use its rail tracks. Efforts to launch this type of service have been underway since 2018.
Here is the Berkshire Flyer’s schedule. The train will depart from New York Penn Station at 3:16 p.m. on Fridays and arrive at Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield at 7:12 p.m. That train will make several stops along the route. Then, on Sundays, the train will depart from Pittsfield at 3:00 p.m. and arrive in New York at 7:05 p.m. after making the same stops as Friday’s train.
As a pilot program, the Berkshire Flyer will be used to better understand the feasibility and demand for the service, as well as identify specific infrastructure improvements or service changes that may be necessary if the service is to continue.
Know Before You Ride
In addition to being more environmentally friendly than driving a car, taking the Berkshire Flyer means passengers can relax rather than being stuck in traffic. The train will offer typical Amtrak amenities, including free Wi-Fi, the opportunity to travel with small pets, and, of course, the ability to stand up and walk around.
Ticket sales will begin in May. They will be available on Amtrak’s website, the Amtrak app, at Amtrak ticket desks and kiosks, and by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL.
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