Greater City Providence

CityLab: For a Better Economy, Add Commuter Rail?


Dozens of Amtrak and commuter trains pass through the two forlorn Rhode Island mill cities of Central Falls and Pawtucket, every day without stopping.

In more prosperous times, both had direct rail service to Boston and New York. But, in 1959, the historic Beaux-Arts station on the border between the two cities closed and train service ended for good 22 years later. Now, local leaders are betting that building a new train station will help both cities latch onto economic forces that have left residents struggling with poverty, unemployment and even a municipal bankruptcy.


A report on the state’s economy from the Brookings Institution, championed by Raimondo and released in January 2016, urged the state to focus on its competitive advantages, including its historic urban centers. It prioritized a new Pawtucket-Central Falls station to both improve access to Boston-area jobs and spur development in the heart of the two mill cities.

[alert type=”muted”]See also: The Providence Journal: Editorial: A catalyst for economic growth[/alert]

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  • Downtown Pawtucket has so much opportunity if a train station went in. Narragansett Brewery (Isle Brewers Guild) will be opening at 461 Main Street, and the other breweries are a short distance away (Foolproof, Bucket, Crooked Current, and now Providence Brewing Company which is planned for down the road from Crooked Current over the line in NP). There are so many storefronts over there and it is a very walkable pedestrian-friendly area.

    I see the Pawtucket/CF and East Greenwich station ideas as the “critical core” of the RI Rail system. Clearly, Pawtucket would probably benefit the most from this, but I also believe that Providence would see more full-time residents as a result. The trains would have to run late on the weekends — It has to be easy to travel to EG or Providence for dinner and safely return to Pawtucket/CF. Connecting Pawtucket to the airport also has its benefits. The Pawtucket station will have benefits for multiple communities, that’s the point.

    I can’t stand people using Wickford as an excuse to not expand RI Rail. The most shortsighted thing to do is tear up rail lines and install bike paths. I find it to be terrible that we’ve actually moved backwards with rail travel. At one point, RI had 106 station stops — and you could take the train all the way to Provincetown on the tip of the Cape. We have to get back to that…

  • A commuter rail station in Pawtucket / Central Falls will not magically lift people out of poverty. The people who live in the area aren’t going to all of a sudden get a job in Boston that they would otherwise not be able to get to. Busses already exist to get people into the core of Providence, so commuter rail isn’t much of a benefit there, really.

    If anything, a commuter rail station will encourage new people to come to Pawtucket/CF and displace (er, “gentrify”) the area close to the station, as housing prices rise modestly, but enough to push the existing residents out.

    I do think it would be good for Pawtucket/CF, but not necessarily for the people who are already there.

  • One aspect of such proposals that is rarely mentioned is not the workers having access to job opportunities in thriving markets, but the access to habitable spaces for jobs in undervalued areas. If a fledgling company wants access to a competent work-force, but can’t afford Boston prices, let’s say, having rail access to the core of the metropolitan area allows them to set up shop in a walkable core with decent amenities, without having to dedicate a disproportionately large amount of money to rent. This is a manner where stations such as this can be a boon for the local populace. If we’re going to discuss the merits of these types of projects, it helps us to be thorough in making our cases.

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