Ditching the Car and Enjoying the View on a Trip to the Berkshires – The New York Times
Evan Gottesman and his fiancée, Gabrielle Kleyner, were meeting friends in the Berkshires one weekend in early July. The couple, who live in Brooklyn, were trying to figure out how they would get to the rural region of western Massachusetts, which annually draws thousands of hikers, theater lovers and music aficionados with its mountains, lakes and myriad cultural centers.
A friend told them about the Berkshire Flyer, a new Amtrak train between New York City and Pittsfield. The couple quickly booked tickets and jumped on the 3:15 p.m. sold-out train from the Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan on July 8.
Without realizing it, they had stepped onto the Flyer’s maiden voyage, a milestone at least four years in the making and the result of countless emails, meetings and phone calls between Amtrak and state legislators and transportation officials, who have been eager for more direct rail lines between New York and Massachusetts.
When Mr. Gottesman and Ms. Kleyner arrived in Pittsfield that evening, they saw dozens of people on the platform, cheering wildly and snapping pictures. State and city officials held a triumphant news conference. Someone popped a bottle of champagne.
“It was the nicest welcome I’d ever gotten stepping off an Amtrak train,” Mr. Gottesman, 27, said.
For the first time in 50 years, a passenger train from New York had arrived in Pittsfield, a city of more than 40,000 people that is often overlooked by tourists going to better-known parts of the county like Tanglewood in Lenox, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.
More than 60 people arrived that evening on the Berkshire Flyer, which runs only once on Friday and returns Sunday afternoon. The number of passengers was modest but it still encouraged business owners and state officials who are closely watching the pilot program, which will run through Labor Day.
Also encouraging: the number of sold-out trains. After the inaugural journey, trains to Pittsfield continued to fill up regularly, and while northern-bound seats remain available in August, trains back to New York have completely sold out through Labor Day weekend, according to Amtrak.
“It’s in the beginning stages,” said Lindsey Tuller, 42, a co-owner of the Berkshire General Store in Pittsfield, about two blocks from the train station. “But I think it could be a big deal.”
It “starts with local interest”
The Flyer is one of many new services and restored rail lines that Amtrak has announced in recent months.
On July 29, the Ethan Allen Express, a rail line from New York to Rutland, Vt., will be extended 66 miles northwest to the city of Burlington as part of another new program.
In Virginia, Amtrak has added more daily rides from Roanoke and Norfolk to Washington.
International routes that were shut down because of the pandemic are humming again, including the Maple Leaf train between New York and Toronto and the Cascades train between Seattle and Vancouver, which resumes in September.