History of the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum
Named in 2008 by the Boston Globe as one of the Top 10 Railroad Museums in New England, the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum (BSRM) is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of railroading and trolley lines in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. The museum offers educational and scenic train rides using restored vintage railroad equipment, features interactive exhibits, and provides a repository for information and artifacts relating to the history of railroading and its associated industries. Revenues generated by the scenic trains are used for operational and capital expenses. Through an easement granted to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, our trains utilize the scenic Berkshire Line of the Housatonic Railroad Company, an active freight and passenger rail corridor. Founded in 1984, the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum has grown from its humble beginnings to become a premiere destination in the Berkshires.
New Haven "Camp Train" near Great Barrington, 1960s.
Our passenger trains traverse the historic Berkshire Route of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (the “New Haven”) between Lenox and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The New Haven operated freight and passenger trains between Pittsfield and Danbury, Connecticut through to the mainline connection at South Norwalk. From there, the New Haven mainline stretched from Boston to New York. The last scheduled intercity passenger train operated over this route in April 1971, leaving only diminishing freight service. The route between Danbury and Pittsfield was operated by the New Haven until 1969, when they became part of the Penn Central system. Conrail took over the operations of Penn Central in 1976, but freight traffic levels had dropped substantially. Boston & Maine purchased the section from Canaan, Connecticut to Pittsfield in 1982. In 1983, the "new" Housatonic Railroad began operations between Canaan and Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut. Freight traffic increased, and in 1992, Boston & Maine sold the Canaan-Pittsfield portion to the Housatonic Railroad. The entire route from Pittsfield to Danbury was reopened and made active once more.
Founder John W. Herbert at Lee Yard, BSRM's first home.
BSRM was the dream of John W. Herbert, a US Air Force officer and 30 year veteran of the General Electric Company. Herbert was interested in all forms of transportation and he believed the north-south rail line through Berkshire County was a prime candidate for scenic tourist railroad. In 1983, he authored a paper titled “Steam Dreams.” In that paper, he outlined a proposal to start an excursion railway that would use the Berkshire Line. Herbert’s paper interested several other people, and they began to collectively explore the possibility of bringing passenger trains back to the Berkshire Line.
BSRM train at Lenox station, 1988
The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum commenced operations in 1984, operating tourist passenger service between Lee and Great Barrington. Tickets were initially sold from a card table on the platform at Lee station. In 1987, the historic Lenox station was donated to the museum, however operations were not relocated there until 1991. Due to conditions beyond our control, BSRM was forced to cease mainline tourist service in 1989. Never idle, BSRM volunteers constructed storage tracks at Lenox and offered the “short shuttle” in 1992. The museum also offered “Air Show Special” trains at Westover AFB in Chicopee, MA from 1991 until 1996.
Stockbridge station and new siding, May 2008 - Photo by Kate Delasco
Meanwhile, volunteers were hard at work restoring historic Lenox station to its 1903 appearance. The restoration was completed in 1996, and in 2003 the museum celebrated the station’s 100th anniversary. Lenox station is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the heart of the museum.
Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum resumed mainline excursion operations over the Berkshire Line in 2003 with the financial help of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the cooperation of the Housatonic Railroad. Thanks to a $3.7 million investment, tracks were rebuilt, passing sidings constructed, and improved grade crossing protection was installed. Your train ride is made possible in part through the continued support and cooperation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Housatonic Railroad. It is not uncommon to have our trains pass each other en route, giving our visitors a taste of the true railroading experience. Since 2003, ridership has consistently grown. BSRM trains carried more than 16,000 passengers during the 2010 operating season.
Good Morning America Train at Lenox, 2008 - Photo by Ross Mealey
Our Board of Directors continues to move the BSRM forward on its Master Plan to expand the museum's property and exhibits. Special event trains, including the ever popular Polar Express and special excursion trains to Danbury and Canaan, Connecticut augment the regularly scheduled scenic service. Our dreams of the future include the restoration of regular service to Great Barrington; and offering bike and kayak service north to New Lenox where BSRM can integrate its service with the natural beauty of neighboring October Mountain State Forest. No matter where we end up down the line, we're glad to have you on board!
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Photo rendering of the proposed improvements to the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, including proposed new Restoration Shop, Block Station, and Freight House.
Photo rendering created by William Calligari
Our plans for the future
BSRM is currently seeking funding to proceed further on its Master Plan prepared by William Calligari which includes construction of a replica freight station (featuring a library with exhibit space), construction of a restoration shop (with visitor’s gallery) and purchase of the neighboring property which will return the area to its authentic turn of the century appearance.
Restoration of Scenic Vista and Open Space
Many of our guests note that Lenox station cannot be seen from Willow Creek Road. This was not always the case. By purchasing the adjoining property and demolishing the industrial building on the site, this area would be restored to its turn of the century appearance and allow an uninhibited view of Woods Pond and October Mountain State Forest. This property was acquired by BSRM in 2010, and we are currently seeking support to help us expand our museum facilities and further our mission of education through restoration.
As part of our maintenance program, an engine service track with inspection pit was installed in 2005. This allows the museum’s volunteers to conduct periodic FRA-mandated inspections of its equipment. However, our mechanical staff still works outdoors, in all weather, performing routine maintenance and restoration work. Due to the harsh Berkshire winters, most of our restoration and maintenance work is halted during this time. Because our locomotives are not stored in a heated environment, this also limits our ability to offer trains during the winter season. An engine house will allow for expanded restoration work and provide a venue for guests to view ongoing maintenance and restoration. Guests will learn what it takes to keep these machines operating by walking safely along a visitor’s gallery above the shop floor.
Currently, Lenox Station houses our ticket office, museum store and administrative office. The waiting room also serves as an exhibit hall. Over the years, the BSRM has collected many railroad artifacts and documents. However, due to space limitations, most of these items are not on display. Our freight station will be a replica of a structure that once stood on the property. The freight station will allow us to display more of our artifacts and build additional exhibits. The library would allow guests to perform their own research, further enhancing our collection as a historical resource.
We can only do it with your help!
Please take some time to browse through our Master Plan document and imagine the possibilities with us! BSRM is seeking funding to realize this plan. Please do not hesitate to contact the museum for more information on how you can help support our efforts. Consider helping us write the next chapter in the history of the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum!
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