Will Massachusetts Invest in Commuter Rail Overhaul?

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which oversees metro Boston’s public transit systems, wants to electrify its major rail lines to boost passenger service and reliability. But left unanswered is the proposal’s cost.
by Gayla Cawley, Daily Item | November 6, 2019 AT 3:01 AM

(TNS) — The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Fiscal and Management Control Board voted Monday to commit to electrifying the state’s commuter rail system. The transportation transformation would include implementing near-rapid transit at subway rates from Lynn to Boston.

“(The MBTA board) made a major statement today that they’re going to accept a regional rail system and electrification is a major part of it,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee, former chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Thinking big and bold is what the region needs to grow our economy and allow access to everyone who sits near or can access the commuter rail system.

“The infrastructure is in place, but it really is a 19th century system with 21st century needs along the corridor, and this is a big step toward a 21st century system that will work for everyone. This is a big deal.”

Two major unanimous votes were taken by the MBTA board on Monday. The panel approved a resolution that would electrify the state’s commuter rail system, which would create more frequent service to many communities.

With a second vote, the board has determined that a section of the Newburyport/Rockport line, which connects Lynn, Revere, Chelsea and Everett to Boston, referred to as the “environmental justice corridor,” is one of the three lines with the most urgent need for near-rapid transit and that are best equipped to handle the change first, according to state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn).

The other two lines chosen were the Fairmount line in Boston and the Providence/Stoughton line, he said.

“This is a great step forward to getting near-rapid transit at subway prices for the North Shore,” said Crighton. “The congestion we’re seeing makes getting into Boston (nearly impossible) for many folks on the North Shore. We’re not spiking the football yet. We want to make sure it gets implemented as quickly as possible, but this vote is a major deal for the city.”

What hasn’t been determined is how much the changes would cost, or how the MBTA would pay for them, which State House News Service reported are expected to carry a price tag in the billions.

The regional rail, or urban rail system would be based on the MBTA’s 2040 Commuter Rail Vision, which estimates electrification in Alternatives 5 and 6, would cost $10.6 billion or $28.9 billion respectively. A resolution from MBTA board chair Joseph Aiello estimated the three pilot programs would require about $1.5 billion, according to the State House News report.

Electrification of the city’s commuter rail, which is dependent upon procurement of electric multiple unit (EMU) trains, is not expected to take place for another five years. But McGee and members of Lynn’s legislative delegation said they expect parts of the near-rapid transit model, or adjustments in rates and schedules, could be implemented long before the rail is electrified.

“This is a critical step in the right direction for Greater Lynn towards transportation equity in the region and it proves that the MBTA recognizes the needs of our area and are serious about finding a long-term solution,” said state Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn).

Under the subway-like system, trains would run every 15 minutes from Lynn’s commuter rail station to Boston, with expected stops in Revere, Chelsea and Everett. The much lower subway rates would benefit Lynn residents often priced out of taking the commuter rail to Boston, which carries a $14 round-trip price tag, or those who find the service infrequent and unreliable.

“Lynn is uniquely placed with its infrastructure, but it doesn’t work for us,” said McGee. “It costs too much and the trains are infrequent. If they come through, they’re too packed or they’re doing an express through the city.”

Monday’s MBTA approval comes after more than a month of lobbying to the MBTA board by officials, community leaders and stakeholders from Lynn, Revere, Chelsea and Everett, which McGee and members of the Lynn legislative delegation believe was crucial to Monday’s outcome.

“I feel like we’ve been neglected up on the North Shore for 50 years, or forever,” said state Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn), noting the city’s ferry service was discontinued and that commuters pay tolls for a 10-mile drive into Boston. “I just think it was a great victory for Lynn on transportation. We haven’t had many of them.”

©2019 Daily Item, Lynn, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.