The railway is a volunteer-run organization that offers rides through the summer and fall in North Adams.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some 9,600 passengers rode the rails between North Adams and Adams during the Hoosac Valley Service's freshman year.
The 8-mile ride from the city to Renfrew and back in a restored 1955 Budd car kicked off in October 2015 with a few pilot rides. It returned for a few more in December and then went full speed ahead on Memorial Day weekend last year. The nearly 10,000 passengers is more than the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum carried during its first year in its old home of Lenox, according to President Jay Green.
"Berkshire Scenic is back on track," Green said. "We feel for tourist trains in the Berkshires, there is a demand."
The organization offered rides between Lenox and Stockbridge for nine years until losing access to the rail line. Berkshire Scenic took a four-year hiatus from offering rides as it sought ways to operate. The solution was a partnership with the state, North Adams and Adams to run trains between the two towns.
The North County launch was delayed for years as the state negotiated to buy the old spur; another mile of track is set to be laid to bring the line all the way to Adams' station on Hoosac Street by next fall.
After nine years of marketing and word of mouth, as well as more passenger capacity in South County, the museum had grown to some 16,000 riders per year. That could be the future in North County given the success of this first year.
"These numbers are very strong," Green said.
The numbers were so strong that during the summer and fall, multiple rides were sold out. The organization ramped up the effort to find a second Budd car to help meet the demand. It has secured a 1953 New Haven Railroad Budd RDC from the Old Colony and Fall River Railroad Museum. That train had retired in the late 1980s, early '90s, and had been restored as a static display since.
Green says volunteers will be traveling to Fall River to prepare the train for travel and it should arrive in North Adams in the spring. There will still be more work to get it ready for passengers and Green says as long as everything goes smoothly and the time and resources can be devoted, it will be running in the fall.
"Although the Budd RDC fits our physical infrastructure and service model very well, we are limited by its seating capacity. With a second RDC in the fleet, it gives us the option of either running a two-car train or an entirely separate train. Although the RDC is appealing to BSRM from a historical perspective, even 60 years later, the Budd design and RDC operations model is still relevant from a business standpoint," Green said.
One restriction on the organization's ability to grow its passenger numbers further is the volunteer pool. Right now there are 40 active volunteers and some 15 who help out here and there. Berkshire Scenic is now making a push for more volunteers and has training sessions scheduled in March.
"It is hard to do more based on the number of volunteers we have now," Green said.
Volunteers are asked to commit to two days a month throughout the summer and there are jobs for anybody. The group needs people to help on the train itself, with the possibility of working up to become a conductor. People are needed to do mechanical work, including everything from painting to electrical to maintenance, and to work the ticket booth.
"We have roles for skilled, unskilled, and all of the training is provided," Green said.
The trains will be running again with the season kicking off on Memorial Day weekend. Green says the group is already working on special events such as the Christmastime Tinseliner, which sold out all four weekends last December, cabaret trains, and more.
Green added that he has heard many local businesses and cultural organizations have seen upticks in visitors with the lines.
"BSRM has genuinely established itself as a major economic booster in North Berkshire. Thank you to the BSRM volunteers for all their hard work. I am looking forward to another record-breaking season for BSRM with the new car," said State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, in a statement.