PBN reported yesterday about Massachusetts moving forward on environmental review of three proposals for transit options between Boston and Fall River and New Bedford.
- Commuter rail through Attleboro: Fall River and New Bedford would gain access to South Station via a new bypass track through Norton and Attleboro to the Northeast Corridor. The study will evaluate both electric and diesel trains.
- Commuter rail through Stoughton, the state’s preferred route: Fall River and New Bedford would gain service to South Station via a new link through Stoughton; an option might extend service to the Whittenton section of Taunton. Electric and diesel options will be evaluated.
- Rapid bus: Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton would gain access to Boston via a dedicated, mostly-reversible bus lane that would be constructed along Route 24 and Interstate 93 / 128. The proposed bus service also would use the existing I-93 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) “zipper” lane, and for a short portion of its trip, would travel through mixed traffic.
The option to route trains to Fall River and New Bedford via the Middleborough/Lakeville line seems to have been dropped.
The Stoughton option is the preferred and would likely provide the most direct and fastest service between the two South Coast cities and Boston. The Stoughton alternative faces stiff opposition from some towns along the route, most notably Easton. There are also environmental groups concerned about reactivating existing rail lines through sensitive wetlands.
The Attleboro alternative is potentially interesting in the future for connecting the South Coast to Providence. Though Route 195 is most direct, the Attleboro alignment would open the possibility of having service from Providence to New Bedford and/or Fall River. Service along the Attleboro alignment could also run from Providence, through Taunton and on to Middleborough, Buzzards Bay, and the Cape.
The third option, “rapid bus” is a non-starter in my eyes. First, a train can transport far more passengers than a bus or collection of buses. Secondly, even if fully built out, part of the “rapid bus” route would run in mixed traffic on clogged local highways. Third, the cost of building special lanes on Route 195, 24, and 93 would be better spent on rail infrastructure. If the “rapid bus” option was chosen, surely in 20 years the Commonwealth would again be discussing rail.
Now, the bus option actually could start running now as it will still be some years before trains depart from New Bedford and Fall River. Get bus services running now to build a passenger base that can be transitioned to the trains when they come online. I favor this for Rhode Island too. We should be running coaches from Quonset and Wickford through the airport and into Providence and Attleboro, creating the service that will eventually become the South County Commuter Rail.
Another thing to keep in mind from the Rhode Island perspective when it comes to South Coast rail is Newport. Plans are afoot to run a rail shuttle on Aquidneck Island. The Sakonnet River rail bridge has been removed, meaning that any island rail service will have to stay on the island. However, bridges can be rebuilt and the rail line runs right into Battleship Cove, where the Fall River Commuter Rail station is proposed. A Newport shuttle could provide commuter services for people from the island to transfer to the T in Fall River. It can also be used for tourist transit. Have Newport visitors leave their cars in Fall River (maybe visit Battleship Cove), then jump on a shuttle to Newport. Visitors from Boston could take the T to Fall River to hop on the island shuttle.