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MassDOT Releases 21st-Century Transportation Plan; Fully Funds South Coast Rail

massdot-new-bedford-rails

Crews work on a New Bedford rail bridge in October 2010. Photo © MassDOT

Highlights:

Building on the Patrick-Murray Administration’s record of commitment to the South Coast, the plan includes funding for the completion of the South Coast Rail Line with diesel-fueled commuter trains to connect Boston to Fall River and New Bedford. The $1.8 billion investment will result in greater mobility for South Coast residents and less congestion on Route 24. The project is expected to create 3,800 jobs and generate $500 million in new economic activity statewide annually.

The plan will also include a $5.4 million increase in funding for the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) in FY14. The South Coast investments in the plan, including interchange improvements at Routes 24 and 140 in Taunton, improvements to Route 6 and Fauce Corner Road in Dartmouth and reconstruction of Route 18 from Cove Street to Griffin Court in New Bedford, are designed to ensure regional transportation equity, create jobs and expand economic opportunity.

The plan addresses systemic budget deficits at the MBTA, MassDOT and the 15 Regional Transit Authorities, much of which has been caused by the debt burden related to the Central Artery.

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Comments on NEC Future

mbta-providence-place

Photo (cc) Sean_Marshall

The Federal Railroad Adminstration (FRA) is running a planning program dubbed NEC Future to determine the future path of rail development in the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to Washington. Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard submitted the following comments to the FRA in response to the study’s request for public comment.

Content Summary

  1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
  2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
  3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track NEC corridor in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
  4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
  5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
  6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
  7. New England track electrification and use of DMUs and EMUs
  8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
  9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
  10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
  11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
  12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
  13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
  14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel

1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
The study should include planning for a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station. Amtrak Regional service, as well as MBTA commuter trains could serve the station. Service models for this station would be the BWI Airport Station in Baltimore and Newark Airport Station in New Jersey.

2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
Study a HSR bypass option that would link the existing NEC between East Haven and Westerly following the routes I-95 and RI-78 corridor. This bypass would avoid excessively curved sections of eastern Connecticut’s legacy rail right-of-way, which would allow for significantly higher speeds for HSR service. This option could be a cost effective alternative to constructing a second completely new Southern New England HSR corridor from Westchester County through central Connecticut to Hartford and to Providence. There could be an opportunity to combine funding for a rail bypass and upgrading and increasing capacity to route I-95 simultaneously.

3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track corridor in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
Amtrak has proposed creating a four-track rail corridor between Providence to Westwood. Other sections of Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence had the corridor width to accommodate four tracks. Also many bridges had been designed to allow for four tracks throughout the state. When the New Haven to Boston NEC segment was electrified in the 1990s, replacement tracks were installed off-center in much of Rhode Island to allow for the tilting feature on Acela trains.

Develop an alternate that would reserve the option to re-build Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence Station to four-tracks and if a HSR bypass is not planned for or constructed between East Haven and Westerly in Eastern Connecticut, to accommodate for future expanded track usage of high-speed and regional trains, commuter rail/mass-transit, and freight service. A Rhode Island four-track corridor would typically only require the acquisition of narrow strips of land adjacent to the existing corridor to meet current standards for high-speed track centers, while in other instances no land acquisition would be necessary.

Even if four tracks are not built in Rhode Island or Connecticut for decades, planning for a their future installation would insure that other federal and state funds will not be wasted when infrastructure, such as bridges are constructed or replaced over the NEC. With the current offcenter track configuration in Rhode Island, off-center abutments or column placements for new bridges could make future track expansion problematic and unnecessarily expensive.

4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
Develop year-round rail service from Cape Cod to Providence, T.F. Green Airport, and beyond to New York. Service could be provided by Amtrak or alternately by a commuter rail agency from Cape Cod to Providence and T.F. Green with connections to Amtrak. Study the reuse of the existing rail right-of-way from Providence to Attleboro to Cape Cod.

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And you want a train, and you want a train…

New London

Amtrak train at New London Station. Photo (cc) mjpeacecorps

The Day of New London editorialized this week about our new train service to Wickford Junction. The gist of the editorial being they like more trains and want even more. Currently, New London is stuck in a bit of a train void, Shore Line East service to New London does not run on weekends, and at this point neither does MBTA service to Wickford Junction. Nonetheless, a weekday drive from New London to Wickford Junction, parking in the garage, and a ticket to Boston cost less than either driving straight through, or paying for direct Amtrak service from Boston to New London.

New Londoners seem pleased that at the Wickford Junction ground breaking, MBTA officials expressed optimism for extending service further south the Westerly, which would put MBTA commuter rail service within 15 miles of New London. At the same time, weekend Shore Line East service to New Haven from New London is set to start in a year (putting Westerly within 15 miles of commuter rail service to New Haven and New York).

Meanwhile, The Herald News of Fall River reports that officials in Bristol County, Massachusetts are a little miffed that we’re getting commuter rail service built deeper into Rhode Island while Fall River, Taunton, and New Bedford still lack commuter rail service. Though Mass. State Sen. Michael Rodrigues is realistic about the issues involved.

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News & Notes

Mass. buys more South Coast rail tracks [PBN]
Gov. Patrick pledges to have rail service running between New Bedford/Fall River and Boston by 2016.

The UnCaucus schedules a series of one-on-one coffees with the mayoral candidates

Northeast Corridor High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Planning
Eleven Northeast states from Maine to Maryland, with close support from Amtrak and the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), submitted a multi-state proposal requesting that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) lead a planning effort to further define the role that intercity and high-speed passenger rail can play in helping improve the region’s transportation network, expand capacity, relieve highway and aviation congestion, and stimulate sustainable economic growth along the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Spotlight on the World Cup: Transit in Durban and Pretoria [The City Fix]

New report shows biking and walking gains [The Fast Lane Blog]

What Would It Take to Fully Invest in the Northeast Corridor? [The Transport Politic]

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Casino urbanism

Truth be told, I’d rather we not have any casinos in New England. But I have said in the past, if Rhode Island were to legalize casinos, I would want to see one built in Providence rather than expansion in Lincoln or a new casino some place like West Warwick. People in Lincoln will already tell you they’re not too keen on Twin River’s traffic and noise, and that isn’t even a real casino (yet). I’d prefer the traffic and noise and other problems attached to a casino confined to the city, which can site a casino in a district suited to 24-hour use, and also hope that the casino has a positive effect on the city’s hotels, restaurants, and shopping. A casino outside Providence guarantees that people would leave Providence or never come to Providence to begin with.

Basically, my feelings are spelled out in this post by Lefty on A View From Battleship Cove. Lefty compares the proposal by the Wampanoags for an all-inclusive resort style casino on 300 acres of land at the edge of Fall River, on a site off Route 24; against a proposal by a private developer for a casino situated right in Downtown New Bedford which intends to funnel it’s patrons out into the downtown area.

It seems inevitable at this point that the casino debate will come back to life in Rhode Island at some point. With expansions at the Connecticut casinos and the likelihood of casinos in nearby Massachusetts, our state’s dependence on gambling as a major source of our revenue will be in danger. I’d prefer we diversify our economy and ween ourselves from the gaming teet, but the question will be asked again. So let’s discuss it now. If full scale casino(s) were legal in Rhode Island, where would you want to see one built and why?

Image: Rendering of proposed Fall River casino complex

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Cahill, Patrick at odds over paying for South Coast rail

Railroad Tracks

Photo by Eric Rice from Flickr

Ted Nesi reports for Providence Business News about how Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy Cahill and Governor Deval Patrick are not seeing eye to eye on funding for restoration of Commuter Rail service to New Bedford and Fall River.

Cahill, who may make a primary challenge against the governor next year, says there is no way, in the current economic climate that the Commonwealth can fund the $1.6 billion project. The only way he sees it being built is with federal money, and the Feds, he claims, are not to eager to give a post-Big Dig Bay State any more money. Cahill’s basic claim is that Patrick made promises to South Coast voters to get elected, and Cahill claims to be stating the facts instead of playing politics.

I tend to agree with Cahill in so far as Massachusetts cannot afford a $1.6 billion infrastructure project right now, no one can. But I had always assumed that federal funding was the governor’s way forward on this. How long is the Bay State’s contrition in regards to the Big Dig to last? The claim that federal tax payers were fleeced by Massachusetts are false, the lions share of the Big Dig was paid for and is continuing to be paid for by Bay State taxpayers alone.

We have an administration in Washington that is at the least paying lip service to mass transit. Cahill might want to change tack. Being honest with the voters is good, but telling the people on the South Coast you give up, without a fight, seems not a good way to win a primary. It behooves the Massachusetts delegation and the entire New England delegation to fight for more equitable funding for mass transit in upcoming federal transportation bills. Each state has transit plans that desperately need building, and each state is in an economic quagmire. The economic impact of a fully functioning mass transit system has to be the way forward for the region. Now is not the time to declare that all hope is lost.

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Mass. takes baby step forward on South Coast rail

Scary city hall

Fall River City Hall photo by twentysixcats from Flickr

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.

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