I Rode on Amtrak's Inaugural Berkshire Flyer Route—Here's What It Was Like

This sold-out trip revived a route that hasn't run in more than 50 years

Photo of Pittsfield, MA at sunset

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Known for its scenic views and plentiful outdoor adventure, the Berkshires have long been a favorite getaway for New York City residents seeking a change of pace. After more than 50 years of having to transfer trains to get there, Amtrak has finally launched a new route connecting New York City to Pittsfield, Massachusetts (the heart of the Berkshires), making travel much easier for those of us who need a break.

This route is just a pilot run—from now until Sept. 24, 2022, the Berkshire Flyer will depart from Moynihan Train Hall on Fridays at 3:16 p.m. and leave Pittsfield on Sundays at 3 p.m. However, considering the inaugural service was completely sold out, it would be no surprise if the line became permanent by next year.

Massachusetts State Senator Adam G. Hinds—who represents the state's Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden districts—was an integral part of the rail line coming together. "My hope is that we work out some of the kinks this summer and make improvements next summer, and then we're good to go," he told TripSavvy. "The long-term goal is daily [routes] year-round." 

I was able to hop on the inaugural ride of the Berkshire Flyer to try it out for myself—living in New York City makes you miss the greenery of the suburbs, after all. Here's why I think this beta test is promising. 

Moynihan Train Station

Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station is a labyrinth of newly renovated rail lines, with its own food court, a sky-lit atrium, a beautiful and comfortable lounge, and other new and improved amenities for passengers. If needed, this train station is somewhere you can spend a good amount of time waiting for your train—but I got to the station 30 minutes before boarding, knowing exactly where I needed to go. Or so I thought.

Finding the track for my train would’ve been relatively straightforward—with one exception. The track number for the Berkshire Flyer wasn’t posted on any of the many information boards spread around the station, even as we approached the 10 minutes to boarding mark. Instead, the track number was only announced over the loudspeaker. You can imagine the panic as people rushed for the track, praying we didn’t miss our train. Luckily, I was able to board with no problem, but this mishap caused eight people to miss the train—more on this later.

Photo of Moynihan Train Hall

Courtesy of Amtrak

Boarding

I booked it to the train once I realized where it was and was led to a car specifically for those continuing to Pittsfield. (The train stops at seven stations—Yonkers, Croton-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, Albany-Rensselaer, and Pittsfield.) 

There was no cafe car on this inaugural ride, although there are plans to resume cafe car service in the future. (You might want to bring some water or snacks on board, just in case you get hungry.) A conductor scanned everyone's tickets as we left the station, where we were told this inaugural route was sold out.

Then we were off. The ride was relatively smooth, although things got bumpy for a moment as the train sped past Westchester County. Amtrak's onboard Wi-Fi made the four-hour trip seem much shorter, and I got a fair bit of work done. It stayed fast and reliable the entire way there.

Route

The Berkshire Flyer's route is unique. The train runs from New York City to Albany and, interestingly, turns east to Pittsfield. To make this possible, another engine attaches to the back of the train at the Albany station and pulls the car east. At first, it seemed like we were riding backward, but we were headed in the right direction. If you suffer from motion sickness, as I do, I highly recommend packing some motion sickness medication for this portion of the trip.

Regardless of what you were doing, the views on this trip demanded to be seen. I sat on the left side of the train on the way to Pittsfield and took in the beautiful scenery and architecture, from the bridges and boats on the Hudson River to the lush greenery as we pulled closer to Massachusetts. It made the four-hour train ride that much more enjoyable.

Not long after we pulled out of Moynihan, the conductor came on the loudspeaker to inform us about the eight missing passengers on the train. Because they missed the train, they had to hop on the next train terminating at Albany, where we would then wait for them to join us on the last hour-long chunk of the journey. 

This delayed us a bit. We sat at the Albany station for about 30 minutes, an excellent opportunity for people to get out and stretch their legs after the already almost three-hour-long trip. Luckily, the train behind us finally caught up and deposited the eight people where they were supposed to be—on the inaugural ride with us.

Welcome to Pittsfield Mural at Pittsfield train station

Courtesy of Jalyn Robinson

Pittsfield Train Station

Our arrival in Pittsfield brought a collective sigh of relief from passengers—no matter how comfortable the seats were, a train ride that long leaves you feeling sleepy and sore. As my car slowly started to unload, we could hear the sound of applause outside. We had amassed a crowd of not only local reporters and city representatives but citizens of Pittsfield interested in the new train route. 

Pictures were taken in front of the beautiful and colorful new mural created by Jesse Tobin McCauley. I was lucky enough to speak to Jesse about her creation, which she explained is a “deconstructed version of the Berkshire Flyer logo,” only much more colorful. It welcomes all passengers to Pittsfield and perfectly encapsulates just what you’ll see in town—light and fun-hearted artwork, from beautiful murals to amazingly decorated electric boxes. 

If you need transportation upon arrival, there are several options in Pittsfield, whether you want to rent a car or take a cab. Rental and cab companies available are listed on the Berkshire Flyer website.

Pricing

The new Berkshire Flyer offers two types of tickets: coach and business class.

A singular, one-way coach ticket for this new train can cost as low as $45, depending on the train capacity and when you book. Keep in mind that there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll pay the same price for the train ride back, and the later you book, the higher the prices you’ll pay. A business class seat, which can start anywhere around $120 one-way, will include extra legroom, a wider seat, and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages.

Overall Experience

The new route to Pittsfield is an excellent escape for those of us living in New York City without a car. Pittsfield is a great destination for every kind of traveler—from theater lovers to foodies, and especially those who want to spend some time in the great outdoors.

"There are nearly 600,000 households in Manhattan, like mine, without a car," Congressman Jerrold Nadler, representative of New York's 10th district, said in the inaugural press conference. "This new rail service will provide thousands of New Yorkers with affordable travel opportunities they would not otherwise have. It will be beneficial to New York City's economy and the Berkshires alike."

The new route is just the beginning of Amtrak's expansion plans for the next few years. Congressman Nadler said he was in "proud support of Amtrak's 15-year vision for improving transportation across America, which will improve 25 existing routes, add 39 new routes and bring service to over 160 new communities."

Despite the four-hour ride and the current limited service the route has, I am inclined to believe that, once this route grows, it will become a popular choice for New Yorkers looking for a city escape.

Article Sources
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  1. Amtrak. "Berkshire Flyer Train." Accessed July 11, 2022.

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